Sat. Feb 24th, 2024

Macro photography exposes you to a whole new world.

Macro photography gets very close to the subject, making it appear larger than it really is. You may never notice the beauty and strangeness of a creature until you examine it up close.

Focusing your attention on new photography subjects will also allow you to experience your favorite park in a whole new way.

Instead of walking down the same path to the same lake, you start to notice new details. You may discover a strange and magical collection of mushrooms on a rotting log next to the trail, or jewel-like damselflies like to sun themselves in the cattails along the lake’s edge.

Equipment

Closeup of a green frog on a branch. Eastern gray tree frog (Hyla versicolor). Photo: Dave Caughey Photography

It doesn’t take much to start doing macro photography. You’ll be amazed at the quality of close-ups you can get with just a smartphone camera!

If you have a point-and-shoot camera, you’ll probably find that it has a “scene setting” that includes a macro mode. Sometimes this is indicated by a flower icon.

If you have a DSLR, you have a couple of options to go beyond the capabilities of the lenses you currently own. The most convenient way is to buy a dedicated macro lens.

However, the most economical way to get into deep macro is to start with “inverted lens macro photography.”

This is where a special adapter is used that screws onto the filter ring. With the adapter you can connect the lens to the camera upside down, thus turning it into a magnifying glass. Adapters for your particular lens can be purchased on eBay for a couple of dollars.

Make small things seem big

Generally, there are three ways to make something small seem big.

Closeup of a green fern. Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). Photo: Dave Caughey Photography

First, you can get as close as possible. This usually gives you the best photo quality as it allows you to capture the most light. More light leads to the best image quality and its fast shutter speed will freeze any action.

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However, getting too close to a live subject can put its health at risk, so it is often not the best option for birds and wildlife.. You’d be scared too if someone stuck a huge camera in your little face!

Second, you can zoom. Unfortunately, zooming can reduce the amount of light hitting the camera sensor. Therefore, it can introduce a) the risk of motion blur if the subject is moving and b) noise in the image when the sensor tries to compensate for the lack of light.

Zooming is generally not recommended on smartphones, as their definition of “zoom” is only to make pixels appear thicker.

When zooming with a point-and-shoot camera, be sure to stay within the range of your camera’s “optical zoom.” Once you go into “digital zoom,” you are simply artificially inflating the pixels, like a smartphone.

Thirdly, you can crop your photo. Even with high-end equipment, very small subjects will likely only take up a small portion of the photo. Cropping the photo makes the subject appear larger.

Knowing your subjects

A white spider with an orange background.Goldenrod Crab Spiderwatt saws). Photo: Dave Caughey Photography

With macro photography, you always get to know your subjects.

For example, you will find that dragonflies like to return to the same resting places over and over again. They also quickly get used to you, so you can get great close-ups.

Either you’ll discover that certain flowers are magnets for butterflies, or you’ll discover that morning dew burns off spider webs quite quickly.

Composition

An insect clings to the stem of a flower.Great Black Wasp (Sphex pensylvanicus). Photo: Dave Caughey Photography

Good composition is an art. Below are some general tips to help you create your own masterpiece.

Get down and get dirty

Instead of photographing something from above, try getting down to the ground to show people a new perspective. For example, if you photograph a mushroom from the side, you may discover that it has delicate gills that house hidden creatures.

Avoid profile photos

When taking a photograph of an insect or other small creature, you will find that a head-on or 3/4 profile perspective is more attractive than photographing it from the side. If you can’t focus on the entire creature simultaneously, try to make sure the most interesting part is in focus. For most creatures, this means eyes, but it could also be a delicate pattern of wings, etc.

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Closeup of an orange dragonfly. Autumn Meadowhawk (Neighbor symmetry). Photo: Dave Caughey Photography

Take a lot of pictures

Macro photography inherently produces images with very narrow depths of field. Even the slightest sway of your subject in the wind can cause it to be out of focus. Be sure to take lots of photos to increase your chances of getting that great in-focus photo.

Pay attention to the background.

Sometimes changing the angle a little can significantly improve the framing of your subject. A distracting twig in the background can move to the side of the flower, rather than appearing to be sprouting from behind.

Close up of a red beetle on a leafCommon red soldier beetle (Rhagonycha fulva). Photo: Dave Caughey Photography

Control your lighting

Macro photography is often done in low-light locations, so a flash can be helpful. If you use a flash, consider placing a reflector outside the scene to reflect the flash light back toward the subject and soften shadows. If you’re in bright sunlight, consider shielding your subject or using a flash to reduce harsh shadows. Cloudy days are a great time for macro photography!

look for a story

A photo of a creature doing something is more convincing than one of something sitting passively. Luck plays a role, but sometimes it can help if you change your position or perspective. Patience is a virtue!

Resources

When it comes to identifying what you photographed, you will find that many of the parks have printed guides to the local flora and fauna.

Also, for arthropods (insects, spiders, and other similar creatures), Bugguide.net has a lot of useful information to help you identify what you photographed. If you’re completely lost, you can even post a photo there and someone will point you to the likely species.

And of course, make sure you’re an ecologically responsible photographer as you search for the perfect shot.