One of my favorite techniques to demonstrate on a workshop is the technique of “shooting through.” It’s really very simple. You need a large group of flowers and with a long focal length or macro lens, position flowers very close to your lens. The petals can actually touch your lens. Then, focus on a flower beyond the close petals and capture the shot with a wide aperture. While demonstrating for the group, I captured this image of golden lupine with a 100mm lens, f/4, 1/250 sec.
A clean background can make or break an image. While walking near a waterfall outside of Ouray, CO, I spotted a Richardson’s Geranium with buds just beginning to open. So, I set up my tripod and grabbed my macro lens. After capturing the image on the left with the natural green background, I placed my diffuser behind the bud to block the wind. Then I noticed I could capture an image with a white background as well. Both backgrounds are clean and simple, but express the buds differently.
The image on the left has noticeable backlight on the buds but the image on the right highlights the red balls on the hair of the stem. Which do you prefer? The Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark II, 60mm macro lens and settings: Left image: f/4.5, 1/180 sec, ISO 1600. Right image: f/4.5, 1/60 sec, ISO 1600 (notice the faster shutter speed due to the white background.)
On more than one occasion, I have taken photos of a fantastic macro subject only to realize I didn’t know it’s identity. Then I discovered the Seek App by iNaturalist (available on Google Play and the App store). As long as I have my phone with me, I snap a photo of the subject and load it into the app. In a few seconds the app gives me the identity. If I’m without cell service, I still take the photo and load it into the app later.
The below screen shots demonstrate how easily the app works. The image on the left is after loading a photo from my camera roll. The image on the right is the result. This is a very powerful free app. I use it wherever I go to quiz myself of plant species. Give it a try.
When we saw the “Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary” on our Google search, we knew it was a must visit location. The name is almost as good as the Great Dismal Swamp (we’ve been there too!) It is located in Southwestern Florida and is known for alligators, waterfowl and other swampy visitors. We arrived shortly after they opened to capture wildlife in soft light. What we didn’t expect to see was a buttonbush shrub (Cephalanthus occidentalis). Resembling a Dr. Seuss tree, this unique bush caught our attention quickly. I used my 300mm lens (it was attached) and focused on the button closest to me. Although I had my macro lens, I really like how the buttons fill the frame from using the 300mm lens. Buttonbush plants are found from Mexico to the Artic and mostly in wetland areas.
The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary didn’t disappoint. In addition to the buttonbush, we saw a red-shouldered hawk, barred owl, woodpeckers, and a green anole. Next time you are in Southwestern Florida stop in to the swamp!
It is an amazing wildflower season in Arizona this spring. These five tips will improve your success in capturing macro wildflower images.
- Light. Great photos have great light. Arrive at your destination before the sun comes up to catch the soft light. Scout the day before so you know where the great flowers are located otherwise you might miss the great light.
- Tripod & shutter release. Use a tripod and shutter release to avoid camera shake. Macro photography requires sharp focus and the slightest movement from no tripod or pressing the shutter can result in a blurred image. If you don’t have a shutter release, place the camera on a 2-second timer to avoid touching the camera during the exposure.
- Blur the background. Open your aperture as much as your lens will allow (f/2.8 – f/5.6) to blur the background. Long focal length lenses (100+mm) have a similar effect. If you don’t own a macro lens then use the longest focal length lens you own and capture a “close-up” image. See the samples below.
- Diffuse the light. So, you like to sleep in and won’t photograph flowers until daylight. Then, take a diffuser or scrim (basically a sheet on a frame). Place the diffusion material between the sun and the flower to soften the light. See the samples below.
- Have fun. If all this is too much for you, then go straight to step 5! After all, it is about being out in nature and having fun.
I hope you make use of these macro wildflower tips and enjoy this amazing season! It will be gone before we know it.