Autumn, or Fall if you prefer, is full of stunning imagery and colours. In the run up to Halloween I thought it would be fun to give you some photographic inspiration and tips on how to make the most of the season. In this tutorial you'll learn some great places to go autumn exploring with your macro lens.
If You Go Down to the Woods Today…
Autumn isn’t all about pretty coloured leaves and conkers; what can you do to make your macro photos more interesting? Weird-looking things make for good photographs, and when you get up close they’re even spookier!
Not everyone has a forest near them but if you have a grove of trees, or even an area in your back yard, you can probably find most of things I’m going to cover in this article. Ideally, you'll need a macro lens to be able to get in really close but at a push, a 50mm lens or some extension tubes will do the job.
Spider webs are always great to macro-photograph. I hear you shouting that they’re around all year, not just autumn, and that’s true enough, but early morning in autumn is a great time to get dew caught on the webs.
Using a lower aperture can create a nice shallow depth of field, turning the outer drops into pleasing bokeh–something you can see happening right on the edges here.
Try to balance yourself against something or use a tripod when attempting to nail the focus on water-drops. If you don't have a tripod, take a breath in and exhale gently while you take the photo, squeezing the shutter rather than pressing it, to minimise camera shake.
Even webs without dew are pretty. In the autumn they get all sorts of interesting things stuck in them, like bits of bark and fallen leaves. Look between fat tree branches for these more abstract, haphazard webs.
2. Creepy Crawlies
If you’re brave enough to want to catch the owner of said web in situ then cool, damp autumn is a great time to find them hanging out (ha) in webs.
If you’re not a fan of the eight-legged wonders (and I don’t blame you) then look among moss and under fallen wood to find wood-lice, slugs, toads and snails.
Always be very careful when lifting up and putting back a piece of wood, you don’t want to squash anything or disturb their habitat too much. When looking for creatures, it’s handy to have a friend help you so that they can hold up the wood while you snap away.
Use a larger aperture to get more of your subject in focus and if they’re moving, use a fast shutter speed. Remember, it’s better to increase your ISO in-camera than to bump your exposure post-production.
Mushrooms, toad stools and members of the fungi kingdom are plentiful at this time of year. If you don’t feel like poking under rotting wood for bugs then this might be the one for you.
Fungi love nutrient-rich soil, so with all those fallen leaves decomposing, combined with the damp, you’ll find an abundance of them in autumn. Look down low in shady areas and also on the bark of gnarled, old trees.
Trees themselves are particularly interesting at this time of year. Not only are their leaves falling but you’re more likely to notice their bark doing weird and wonderful things.
They’re more likely to peel in colder weather so watch out for interesting nooks and cracks revealing some amazing macro opportunities:
The picture on the left is sap from a split in a living tree trunk and the one on the right is an old fallen tree where the remaining trunk has become brittle and broken.
Sometimes photographing like this if you’re in a forest or wood can be difficult as it’s so dark. If you don’t want to use flash, think about taking a small torch with you so you can light your subject.
There’s so much to photograph in autumn! If your interest is macro then it’s a great time of year for you to get some weird and wonderful stuff. Here are my top tips for taking close ups this autumn:
- Use a low aperture to get shallow depth of field and create bokeh on things like spider webs.
- If you’re photographing insects, use a large aperture and fast shutter speed to get pin sharp photos.
- Protect your camera if you’re and about in the damp–even keeping silica gel in your camera bag can help.
- Let your camera adjust to the temperature of the outside before you take your pictures or you’ll have a fogged up lens.
- Wear sensible shoes and old clothes when you go macro hunting, then you can get down low and close to where the interesting things are.
- Take a friend with you to hold kit or a torch. If they’re into photography too, take turns and help each other out.
- When shooting hand-held, take a breath in and slowly let it out while squeezing (not pressing) the shutter to help with camera shake. Ideally, use something to brace against.
- Always treat your subjects (even the eight legged ones) and your surroundings, with respect–look under objects carefully and put them back where you found them, gently.
Hopefully you’ll get some brilliant shots and if
you do, my next tutorial is going to take you through how to create a fun montage with your macro pictures that you can use as alternative decoration this Halloween.