Macro photography opens up a whole new world of opportunities for capturing eye-catching images, and late summer on into early autumn is a great time to get up close to your subjects.
The real bonus is that you don’t have to go far to find interesting subjects. You can spend hours photographing flowers, plants and mini-beasts in the smallest of gardens, and once you’ve got your eye in there will be no shortage of subject matter to focus on.
The ideal kit for garden macro photography is a specialist macro lens with a focal length of around 50mm to 200mm, but there are a couple of cheap and very effective alternatives.
Extension rings contain no optics, but are simply hollow tubes that fit between the camera and the lens, which enable the lens to focus much closer and therefore increase magnification. Extension rings come in various sizes, and used in combination with a short telephoto lens will get you close to the action.
You could also use close-up filters, which screw on to the front of the lens to allow closer focusing. Image quality may be reduced, but these filters are still a great way to get started with macro photography.
Macro work requires very precise control over focusing, composition, framing and lighting. Small adjustments in camera position can make a big difference to the picture, so you should always use a tripod.
It is possible to handhold the camera, and in some cases it can be an advantage to do so – when slowly approaching a resting insect, for example – but in most cases a solid support is a real help when it comes to framing and fine-tuning focus and composition.
The quality of the lighting is also crucial. Soft, overcast light is often best, because it lowers contrast, reducing harsh shadows and bright highlights that can mask detail in the subject.
Backlighting is also effective for semi-translucent subjects when photographed against a dark background, as in our striking opening shot.
But avoid strong, direct light, because this will only wash-out colour. Instead, modify the sunlight by using a white translucent diffuser, which will cast a softer light over the subject for more natural results.
Perhaps the most important aspect of macro photography is accurate focusing. When shooting close-ups, the amount of the subject that will be in sharp focus, even at small apertures (when depth of field is greatest) will still be very shallow.
Any focusing errors will therefore be obvious in the resulting picture and will undoubtedly ruin the shot.
Narrow your focus
For the majority of macro shots you should aim to focus on the most important part of the subject, such as the eye of an insect or the part of a flower that is most interesting.
Don’t get too hung up on having the whole of the subject in focus. Instead, try shooting at your lens’s maximum aperture (such as f/4).
This will create a very narrow depth of field so that only a small part of the subject is in focus. This is great for shooting flowers, creating a beautiful ‘dreamy’ soft-focus effect and a blending of colours.
For the best results, work close to the subject, too, because this reduces the depth of field further and exaggerates the blur.