Macro nature photography: tips for taking pin-sharp close-ups of flowers and insects

Macro nature photography: tips for taking pin-sharp close-ups of flowers, lichen and butterflies

Macro nature photography tips for planning your shoot

Macro nature photography tips for planning your shoot: photograph subjects face-on

Photograph subjects face-on
Jan says… No bigger than your fingernail, it would have been so easy to have walked straight past this unfurling miniature fern (the Hard Fern, or Blechnum spicant).

There was no shortage of these fiddlestick heads to photograph, but Ross suggested picking a specimen that was far enough away from the log behind so that the background was really blurred.

Some ferns had backgrounds that had white spots behind, which proved particularly distracting. Ross explained that it was best to photograph such subjects face-on so that you could get the whole head in focus without having to use a narrow aperture – again, helping to ensure the background was not intrusive.


Macro nature photography tips for planning your shoot: remove distractions

Remove any distractions
Ross uses a pair of scissors from his backpack to remove blades of grass that weakened the background.


Macro nature photography tips for planning your shoot: choose the best subjects

Choose the best subjects
Jan says… We had hoped to start shooting damselflies at dawn, but the windy conditions made this impossible. We headed instead to the sheltered woodland of Coombe Valley near Kilkhampton in Cornwall. Close to the path we spotted a pair of Early Purple Orchid (Orchis mascula).

Ross explained that it always paid to spend time finding the best specimen you could, and to find the one that offered the clearest backdrop behind.

It seemed like a straightforward shot, but by the time we had the Plamp in place and had added a reflector to help make the flower’s colours stand out even better from their surroundings, I began to see how organised you need to be to take pictures like this.


Macro nature photography tips for planning your shoot: focus manually

Focus manually
Autofocus is difficult to use efficiently when you are up close to a subject. Ross teaches Jan to focus manually without judging sharpness by eye, turning the focus ring until the green AF light appears in the viewfinder.


Macro nature photography tips for planning your shoot: prefocus

Prefocus and move slowly
Jan says… I had been hoping to find butterflies, but the windy conditions and the late spring meant that Ross was not 100% confident that we would find any. We therefore waited until later in the day to make the trek down into Marsland Mouth nature reserve.

Ross pointed to this hedgerow at the bottom of the valley from half a mile away, and said if there were any butterflies they would be here.

Incredibly as we reached this fork in the path, we spotted four Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary butterflies (Boloria selene), and I set to work following them up and down the path.

Ross explained that I needed to prefocus the lens, and then move in slowly to take the shot. Although a wide aperture gave the best shots, he said that on windy days like this you need more depth of field so recommended an aperture of f/5.6 or f/8.

Although I shot most pictures of the upperside of their wings, I love the alternative underside patterns of this fritillary too.


Macro nature photography tips for planning your shoot: pushing the histogram

Pushing the histogram
Ross shows Jan how to give a shot as much exposure as you can, without blowing out highlights.


Macro nature photography tips for planning your shoot: try something different

Try something different!
Jan says… Ross explained that this abstract technique is one that has been made popular by a young German photographer Sandra Bartocha. The trick is to take a double exposure of the same flower,  but blend one sharp exposure with one that it is out of focus.

Unfortunately, my Nikon D60 does not have a multiple exposure facility, so I had to use the D7100 that Ross had on loan from Nikon. In the Shooting Menu, you go to the Multiple Exposure option and set the Number of Shots to 2, and leave the Auto gain facility switched on.

I then took one frame as usual with the focus set for the wild garlic flower (Allium ursinum), and took the second exposure with the lens focused.

How far the second shot needs to be defocused is a matter of personal taste, so I found I needed to take quite a few shots until I found one I was completely happy with.


Macro nature photography tips for planning your shoot: look for pictures in unlikely places

Look for pictures in unlikely places
Jan says… Ross insisted that you could find fantastic macro pictures in the most unlikely of places, so after lunch we headed to the churchyard at Morwenstow.

Nestling on a slope close to the Cornish coast, the gravestones had certainly seen some weathering. But it was this headstone dating from 1798 that took my eye. There was a beautifully figurative carving of an angel etched into its surface, covered in Map Lichen (Rhizocarpon geographicum).

Framing in really close, I could concentrate on the picturesque patterns of the lichen. The key with this shot was to make sure that my tripod was aligned so that the back of the camera was a parallel as possible to the grave’s surface – so that I could keep everything sharp despite the desperately narrow depth of field.

PAGE 1: Meet our professional photographer and apprentice
PAGE 2: Macro nature photography tips for planning your shoot
PAGE 3: Final macro nature photography advice from our professional photographer
PAGE 4: Our professional photographer’s recommended gear
PAGE 5: Shot of the Day


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