Do you want to know how to get the most out of your camera and create great images? Award-winning photographer Dale Morris shares with us some tips on macro photography…
Our eyes and our camera lenses take in the larger aspects – the landscapes, the people, and the big dramatic animals, often leaving the smaller details unobserved.
I worked for a professor of entomology for a few years, who helped me get over what he called ‘my size hang up’. “Look at every insect as if it were the size of an elephant,” he said. And that’s exactly what I did. I learnt to go big by going small.
Take for example the shape and texture of an autumn leaf or the patterns on butterfly wings. Lift a rock and find a spider or little frog, take time to scrutinise a marching column of ants. There’s a fascinating new world of detail out there waiting to be discovered and photographed.
Close-up photography of the very small is called macro-photography, once a very specialised field due to the high cost of equipment, but this is no longer the case. Most modern digital cameras, even the cheaper ones, have a macro option that allows the user to fill the frame with small subjects. So next time you pick up your camera, start focusing on the little things and you’ll soon come away with unique and fascinating photos.
Believe it or not this is a punk rocker caterpillar, a photograph that began with with the eye and ended with a change of attitude. You will only take good macro photos if and when you start to look at places from a different perspective. It’s fun, and when you get an eye for it, you will soon discover that many locations that initially appear empty and unphotogenic are brimming with countless tiny elements.
2. A new perspective
We tend to view insects and other small life forms, such as this terrestrial hermit crab, by looking down on them (be honest about how often you’ve felt inclined to lie on your stomach and look at the world with a bug’s eye view). If you only ever saw a city from a helicopter window how could you possibly imagine what a street scene might look to a pedestrian? Try to get yourself (or at least your camera) level with your subject, even if it means lying on the ground. You’ll love the results.
3. Pay attention to the details
Next time you’re photographing something relatively large (i.e. bigger than the average macro subject) take a closer look at its finer details. Often you’ll find textures and elements that make a potentially pleasing image, as was found here by concentrating on the eye of a paper nautilus (a type of octopus). Think of the inner workings of a flower, the curl of a fern head, the shining eye of an animal. The opportunities are endless and they can all make great photos.
4. Pretty patterns everywhere
Be on the lookout for patterns in nature, where symmetry and repetition are common. Once you find these details, you can find the most beautiful arrangements in the most mundane places, as seen here in the concentric leaf spirals of a giant lobelia. A wasp’s nest, the gills of a mushroom and the spirals of a sea shell are just a few examples of patterns in miniature.
Using a light source not attached to your camera will allow you to illuminate your subject from whatever angle you want (and will prevent blur). Consider investing in an external flash gun (one you can hold in your hand) or purchase a simple gold or silver reflector to bounce natural sunlight onto your subject. LED torches also work quite well. For a touch of drama, as was accomplished in this photograph of a backlit praying mantis, try back lighting or side lighting your subject. You can also use appropriately coloured pieces of transparent film on your lights to recreate a sunset or moonshine effect.
6. Set your own scene
Pack some artificial backdrops in your camera bag such as painted or patterned cards or pieces of black or white cloth, which can be placed behind your subject like a miniature stage scene. I often scout around for pretty flowers or brightly coloured leaves that can be carefully set up to turn an otherwise unattractive shot into something that looks bright and vivid or dark and broody. I achieved this here when photographing a tortoise shell beetle on a red autumn leaf. A simple miniature studio can be made by taking a piece of white A4 paper and curving it upwards. Place your subject on the paper and use flash to illuminate it.