Monday, April 13, 2009

It's spring! Getting those close-up shots while traveling

Spring has just come to the Northern Hemisphere. Flowers are blooming and the colors are spectacular. Each spring more and more travelers tour famous gardens to photograph and drink in their magnificent blooms.

Around Philadelphia, traffic to Winterthur and Longwood Gardens dramatically increases in the spring. In the Netherlands it’s time to visit Keukenhof Gardens, just outside of Los Angeles, the amazing Huntington Botanical Gardens, and also in Scotland, Castle Kennedy and Gardens. They are all exquisite.

Morris Arboretum - Bee In RoseThis spring, travel photographers will pull out their macro lenses to get close-ups of garden blooms. If you don't have an expensive SLR (single lens reflex), or DSLR (digital single lens reflex), with extra care, a good P&S (point and shoot) camera can grab the shots too.

In general photography, we record sharp images with ease, as most photos such as landscapes, are taken at a distance. In macro photography, we take photographs of small and sometimes tiny objects, which require the lens to be positioned close to the subject, often less than a foot away. That makes it much more difficult to record a sharp image.

Morris ArboretumIf you have a quality SLR or DSLR with a macro lens attached, you will have a great advantage over other cameras to get that sharp close-up image. If you have a tripod you'll have an even greater advantage.

That being said, here are some tips to get great close-up photographs:

  • Compose your photo carefully, as the subject’s background can make or break a close-up picture. Use the background to complement the main subject, not detract from it.

  • Consider opening up the lens’ aperture to reduce depth of field. In the photo above, on the right, taken at the Morris Arboretum, note the background is not in focus, while the plant is in sharp focus, making the plant stand out, almost in 3D. This was accomplished by opening the lens to f/5.6.

  • Garden of Eden Botanical Garden - Bee in LotusFocus your camera carefully. As in telephoto photography, focus is critical. Focus on the most important element in a scene. Shoot at a small aperture (f/11, up) for good depth of field, unless you want the area in front of and behind your subject out of focus. In the lotus flower photo to the right, I focused on the bee, and used an aperture which kept the entire lotus in focus.

  • Steady your camera. Close-up shots exaggerate camera shake. To reduce camera movement, which is most noticeable in natural light pictures, use a tripod. For the photo of the bee in the lotus, I used a tripod when I took it at the Garden of Eden Arboretum and Botanical Garden in Maui.

  • Another way to reduce or eliminate the effect of camera shake is to use your camera or lens’ image stabilization or vibration reduction ability. Please remember, however, while they can really help, they are no substitute for using a quality tripod.

  • Set your digital camera’s image quality to RAW, if your camera has it. The RAW setting gives you more exposure latitude than JPEG (JPG). In close-up photography you try to record tiny details, so save the image at the highest quality available in your camera. If you can’t save images in RAW, use the highest quality JPEG setting, such as "superfine, large."

  • Set your digital camera's ISO (sensor sensitivity) to the lowest possible setting according to conditions, to reduce noise and artifacts which are troublesome in macro photography. For film cameras, use film with a low ISO rating. An ISO of 100 is ideal.

  • Morris AboretumConsider adding light (flash), even when outside. A ring light, or a system like the Nikon R1 is a good choice. The light they produce can add contrast to a photograph, making it look sharper. The built-in flashes in DSLRs and P&S generally will not work well for macro photos, and are better turned off.

  • Look for different viewpoints. Different angles and shooting distances can greatly affect your macro shot. Sometimes moving just a faction of an inch can provide a completely different view of the same subject. Experiment with color, and black & white.

  • Many point and shoot cameras have a macro mode. Use it. Macro mode allows your camera to focus on a subject closer to your lens than normal. Most macro modes will set your camera to choose a larger aperture, so that your subject is in focus but the background is not.

I love visiting gardens myself, and taking hikes through parks and forests while taking close-ups of flowers. I hope you enjoy bringing home great plant, flower, and insect photos from your spring travels.


Fred said...

Ned, thanks for the great article. I'm going to Longwood Gardens this Saturday and will use your suggestions, including bringing a tripod. I never thought to use one for closeups when I had lots of daylight.

That photo of yours with the bee in the lotus blossom is great.



Jane said...

Great photo of the bee in the blossom!

I never knew my Canon Powershot had a macro mode for closeup shots. Thanks for that tip. I'll be using it often.


Ellen said...

Ned - I have an Nikon 18-200mm zoom lens which has normal and active settings for vibration reduction. Which should I use when taking macro photos with my D300 on a tripod.



Ned S. Levi said...

Hi Ellen,

I would turn off your vibration reduction on the lens while your shooting from a tripod. I've seen photos actually get blurry from lens vibration reduction, or camera image stabilization use, while the camera/lens is mounted on a tripod.

What happens is, when your camera goes looking for a vibration and doesn't find one, because you've mounted your camera/lens on a tripod, it will continue to look for one, which can cause a slighly blurry image.

On your lens, normal mode vibration reduction is primarily to reduce camera shake, making smooth panning shots possible, or just being able to get sharp photos at a long focal length, when you have to keep your shutter speed down. In active mode, the vibration reduction mechanism is to reduce camera shake when taking pictures while moving, such as in a helicopter, bus or car. In active mode, the vibration mechanism doesn't automatically distinguish panning from camera shake. Frankly, unless I'm in a moving vehicle, I never use active mode.

Ellen, I hope you subscribe to our site, and/or sign up for our weekly newsletter which alerts you to new articles available on the blog.



John said...

Hi Ned,

Great article. I've got a Canon DSLR. I've always saved my photos in JPG. After reading your article I'm going to try RAW when I go to the zoo this weekend, where I know I'll be taking many macro photos of flowers and hopefully insects.

We'll see if it makes a difference.

Beth said...

Thanks for answering Ellen's question about using VR, and your suggestion to turn it off when using a tripod.

I'm taking some sunset photos this weekend, if the sky cooperates, with my DSLR and tripod, and I'll remember to turn VR off. Now I understand why some of my sunset photos were blurry even using a tripod.

Stephen said...

Great article Ned. I'm going to put your suggestion to work this weekend.

Lisa said...

Thanks for the article Ned. Your photo with the bee in the lotus blossom is fantastic.

Suzanne said...

I went to your galleries to look at your Morris and Maui photos. I really loved the rose with bee photo along with the great lotus shot. They were all wonderful.

Ned S. Levi said...

I want to thank everyone for your kind comments about my photographs. Please use the "Contact Us" link on the upper right side of each page if you have questions, comments, or suggestions about the Blog.

Thanks again.


Richie said...

Great article. Keep them coming.

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