Spring has sprung for many of us and soon gorgeous flora will be popping up here, there and everywhere just begging to be photographed. Capturing flowers and plants up close can give us an entirely different perspective on what we’d usually see.
In this tutorial we'll show you five inspirational floral macro pictures to get you raring to go, and I’ll go through my top tips to nailing your perfect photo and what kit you’ll need to do it.
What You Need
A Macro Lens or Alternative
A macro lens will let you focus really close up on very small things. They’re usually fast (meaning they have a large maximum aperture and let in lots of light) and come in a variety of focal lengths and prices. I find that prime lenses are sharper than zooms, but be prepared to work harder to nail your picture.
A true macro lens will have the ratio 1:1 or greater on it, meaning it produces a life-size or larger representation of what you shoot. Some telephoto lenses (like the popular 70-300mm) will state they have a macro function, but what this really means is you can zoom in to a ‘near macro’ size. Of course the benefit of this is being much further away, handy if you were photographing insects, for example. The small apertures usually mean that this magnitude isn’t feasible for great quality pictures, though.
Of course, you don’t necessarily need a dedicated lens, there are other alternatives such as extension tubes for your existing lenses and even filters you can buy. A compact camera or phone camera with a small flower symbol on it may also take acceptable macro pictures, so you really can try this with almost anything! You can see more in the recommended reading about macro equipment, below.
Equipment: Getting Started With Close-Up Photography
Close-up and macro photography is achievable in many ways, even without a dedicated macro lens. Find out more in this tutorial.
Full-Frame vs. Crop-Sensor Cameras for Macro Photography
It’s a long-discussed topic: full-frame or crop-sensor camera, which is best? Well, there are a number of variables to consider and this article look sat some of the key ones and how they benefit (or don’t!) macro photography.
A tripod, maybe. Personally I prefer hand-held, as you can move into position much faster without the faff of having to adjust a tripod. Also, many tripods don’t go low enough for getting right down to the level of the flowers.
Beanbags are also quite handy for resting your camera on, either dedicated photography ones or just the kind you used to throw about at school.
Introduction to Digital Photography Equipment
Photographic equipment sometimes gets complicated and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the options. In this course you'll find out exactly what gear you need to master the basics of digital photography.
Something to Kneel or Sit On
This sounds silly but it’s worth consideration, particularly if you’re in a damp and rainy country like England! The ground is often wet, even on sunny days and if you’re down low, kneeling on grass or dirt then you don’t want to ruin your favourite jeans. Take an old blanket, wear old clothes or even bring a bin-liner with you!
Flowers and Interesting Plants
We don’t all have flowers in our back gardens so think about good places to get interesting pictures. There are many local parks you could make use of, formal gardens in stately homes, even your local garden centre (with permission of course).
Flash or Speedlight
I much prefer natural light but enough of it isn’t always available and many macro photographers swear by using flash, particularly a ring flash which attaches to your lens rather than on top of the camera.
If you do use artificial light, remember to soften it with a diffuser or bounce light from a reflector instead.
Your Own DIY Ringflash
A cheaper alternative to buying a ringflash: make your own!
to Flash Photography
Learning how to use flash effectively can change your pictures dramatically. Learn the basics here and move on to Intermediate Flash Photography when you’ve mastered the basics.
Clearly this has been edited to make the image entirely purple but nevertheless it demonstrates the effectiveness of a solid block of colour without any real composition. When you have a busy background then making use of a prominent colour can really make a statement; try using complimentary colours too.
- Color TheorySeeing in Colour: How Our Eyes Sense and Cameras RecordDawn Oosterhoff
- Color TheoryBold Colours: How to Apply Colour Theory in Your Photo CompositionsMarie Gardiner
Sprouting in the Forest
Another good demonstration of blocks of colour but more than this, I think the image shows a great use of narrow depth of field. The subject is not entirely in focus but the parts that are, are sharp. This is a good demonstration of keeping your background simple and having a single subject as your focus.
Orange and Blue
Not only a great use of colour with that orange and blue but a really nice perspective! With close up photography it really pays to get down close to the ground and look up, it’s not a view we’re used to seeing and as such, can look very unique and impressive.
A very popular subject for macro photography, in part because it allows you to introduce movement. This generally will require a friend, but once you’ve set up your show, having someone gently blow the dandelion can create a beautiful, almost moving image. This is a good one to use a tripod for as you have limited opportunities to get this right.
Wheat in a Vase
This is a perfect example to tell us that we don’t have to be out of doors to create a beautiful plant photograph. This wheat in a vase has been carefully arranged, the background selected and the colour scheme thought out. It results in a wonderfully soft, fluid image where a nice sharp focus on the wheat melts to a soft bokeh in the background, stunning.
- MacroMake, Find, and Improvise: Creative Backgrounds For Still Life and Macro PhotographsMarie Gardiner
- Still Life10 Top Tips to Get Started with Still Life PhotographySimon Bray
When you’re shooting so close to your subject, your depth of field is limited. This
is a good argument for using a tripod as you can get away with slightly faster
shutter speeds without the danger of camera-shake. However, when we’re dealing
with flowers out of doors, chances are they’re going to be moving in the breeze slightly, anyway.
With lighting, avoid harsh sunlight which can cast very harsh shadows. Golden hour (around sunrise and sunset) is a great time to get a soft, golden glow against your subject. You can even shoot into the sun when it’s lower in the sky to back-light your flowers; this can be a very effective look.
Plants don’t have to be in situ. Try arranging bunches of flowers at home to photograph. The benefit to this is you have full control over the light and positioning of your plants, as well as being able to choose the background. I actually recommend starting off this way to practise. Once you've nailed the basics then it’ll be much easier to tackle the small battles of outdoor light and the elements.
When taking your photograph, take a breath and slowly release it while you squeeze the shutter button, this will help with camera shake. I also recommend you use manual focus so that your camera doesn't ‘hunt’ for focus. It can be worth taking a few pictures with different parts in focus in case you want to use a technique called focus stacking, later.
Top Tips to Getting Flower Macro Photographs
- Use as fast a shutter speed as possible to eliminate camera shake and avoid exacerbating movement.
- Avoid bright sunshine and harsh shadows. An overcast day is actually ideal for a neutral image, or try ‘golden hour’ for sun kissed photos.
- Avoid windy days or you’ll end up frustrated and with a lot of blurry pictures!
- Choose your background wisely. Avoid clutter and too many colours. Aim for simplicity.
- Try taking a spray bottle to cover your flower with ‘dew’ for added interest.
Finding Macro Inspiration in the Garden
When you’ve had enough of flowers, try looking for other items of interest outside.
Macro Photography in 60 Seconds
A quick guide to macro photography.
Creating Macro Photography Scenarios: Tiny Worlds
No need to head straight for nature to get great macro shots, create your own tiny world!
Whether you’re using a compact camera or a dedicated macro lens, close up pictures are great fun to do and I think you get a real sense of achievement when you get it right. Although the technical aspects are pretty straightforward, putting it all into practice with elements you can’t control, like the weather, can be tricker and it may take a little time before you’re nailing your focus points and creating an interesting photograph.
Work on your basics first, like getting your focus sharp, having the right exposure and so on, and then practice with things like composition and background. That way you’ll be able to concentrate on the aesthetics of the image while the technical side will be coming naturally–a bit like changing gears while driving a car!
Share your flower macro photographs with us in the comments below and if
you have any questions, just ask!