One of my favourite subjects to shoot is flowers. I simply love the beauty and detail of them and one of the best ways to showcase them is in a macro photograph. Close up and macro photography may not be the easiest photographs to capture but with a little knowledge and practice you can get some amazing shots.
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If you are serious about macro photography then a dedicated macro lens is the way to go. No they are not cheap but if macro is your passion then a quality macro lens will be a good and worthwhile investment. I use the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8LMacro Lens and it has served me well over the last few years. If your budget doesn’t stretch or you are a beginner looking to experiment then a good alternative is a close-up lens. These are like a filter and screw onto the front of your lens reducing the minimum focusing distance and are a good inexpensive introduction into close-up photography.
#2 Use a tripod
A good sturdy tripod although not essential, is a good addition to your kit. Mounting your camera on a tripod means you can concentrate on getting pin sharp focus without camera shake spoiling your shots. When using a tripod I will often switch to live view, and using manual focus, zoom in to the area I want to be the sharpest point to fine tune the focus and then take the shot using a cable release. If you don’t have one of these then using the two second timer on your camera can help with any camera vibrations particularly if the shutter speed is low. It is also a good idea to use the mirror lock up function (found in your camera settings menu) if you are not using live view to take your shot. If a tripod is not an option then I would suggest upping your shutter speed to a minimum of 1/100th of a second and increasing the ISO speed if necessary to get this for hand held shots. Many modern cameras cope very well with higher ISO speeds now and even if the shot is a little grainy then that is preferable to an out of focus blurred image. Also, when shooting outdoors you need to be aware of any subject movement and so you may need to increase your shutter speed anyway even if the camera is mounted on a tripod.
#3 Manual focus
When working in close-up photography depth of field is very shallow and so it is important to focus on the exact part of the flower that you want to be sharp. The best way to do this is by using manual focus and live view. Depending on the aperture you set, the depth of field can be wafer thin so its important to get this right and auto focus will not necessarily focus on the area you want. If you do use autofocus then select a single autofocus point so you can focus on the exact part of the flower that you want to be sharp.
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As I explained above, when shooting in extreme close-up the depth of field is very shallow so precise focusing is very important. The closer you are to your subject the shallower the depth of field will be. You can use a large aperture such as f/2.8 or f/4 for creatively blurring parts of the shot or a smaller aperture like f/16 for more depth of field. Bear in mind though that with smaller apertures you will have a problem with lens diffraction which will make your subject appear softer. I generally find apertures between f/8 and f/14 give the best results in terms of the balance of sharpness and blurring.
#5 Focus stacking
If you would like more of your subject in focus than the aperture setting on the camera will allow then focus stacking is an option. Basically you take a series of exposures at different focus points from the same angle then merge them together in post processing using a program like Photoshop. A tripod is essential for this technique.
Personally I prefer to shoot in natural daylight using the ambient light available. Bright overcast conditions are best but you can use any kind of light to your advantage if you think creatively. Just because the sun is shining and the light is harsh don’t feel you have to wait for the conditions to be perfect in order to take some good and creative shots. You could maybe try shooting using the sun as a backlight or use a diffuser to soften the light. A white and silver reflector is a good accessory to have in your kit to reflect light back into any shadow areas and also to bounce light onto your subject if its in the shade. A piece of white paper or card or some silver foil scrunched up then flattened out are a good cheap option too if you don’t have a reflector. A reflector is particularly helpful if you are shooting indoors using natural daylight as you can position the reflector so that the light coming through a window for example is bounced onto the flower. There are also various other lighting options too in the form of on and off camera flash, torch and LED lighting to choose from if you wish.
#7 Think creatively
One of the wonderful things about any type of photography is that there are rules that are there to be broken. Don’t just stick to a particular angle or format or aperture because you think that it is the right one. Experiment as much as you like. Take shots in landscape and portrait, use various apertures to get different effects, tilt your camera, shoot up or downwards, the possibilities are endless. Have confidence in yourself and dont be afraid of taking a shot because you think it is wrong. You will make mistakes but you will also learn what works and what doesn’t.
Flowers make excellent subjects to photograph particularly for beginners as you don’t have to rush and can take your time setting up and getting the right composition. Experiment, practice but most importantly enjoy yourself.
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