Macro,  Nature

A Summer Morning Macro Photography Walk

One of the things I love doing in the summer is getting up early and going on a macro photography walk our in nature.  I like to arrive at the park just after sunrise.

Snail Climbing the Tall Grass

Snail Climbing the Tall Grass

Just after sunrise, I’m there by myself in a calm peaceful setting before the joggers and dog walkers arrive at the park.  Also, the light is terrific at this time of the morning.

Also for the first hour or so in the morning the insects have not warmed up enough to starting moving around.  This is a good time to get close ups of the stationary insects covered in dew.

Blue Vervain Wildflower

Blue Vervain Wildflower

I like to travel light when I do nature macro photography but here are a few must have items to bring with you.  I usually just wear a vest and fill the pockets or I carry the small Click Elite Sport Backpack for my gear.

  • A tripod is necessary for early morning macro photography as you will be shooting in dimmer light. You may also want to shoot at smaller apertures to get more of your subject in focus which will result in slower shutter speeds.
  • Use a remote shutter release or timer on your camera to ensure the camera doesn’t move when you click the shutter.
  • A fast, sharp macro lens.  With my Olympus OM-D E-M1, I use the Olympus 60mm f/2.8 macro lens. With my Canon 5d Mark II, I use the Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.
  • Bring along extension tubes if you want to get even closer to your subject.
  • Lightweight, fast drying pants.  You will likely be walking through fields damp with dew.  Pants like jeans will get heavy when soaked in water.
  • Waterproof boots.  Likewise, you’ll want to waterproof boots to keep your feet dry.

Japanese Beetle in the Morning Dew

Japanese Beetle in the Morning Dew

There are a variety of subjects to photograph on a summer macro photography walk.  Here are some of my favorite subjects.

  • Insects.  Spiders, snails, bees, beetles, dragonflies will all be groggy in the cool mornings making them easy to photograph.
  • Wildflowers.  Spring is a hot time for wildflowers, but summer has a good selection of wildflowers as well.
  • Leaves and grasses.  Back lit leaves and flowers in the low morning sunlight make great subjects.
  • Landscapes.  I also pack away a landscape lens (or two) in my pack just in case I find a nice sunrise photo like fog rising on a pond.

Chickory

Chickory

What makes a successful nature macro photograph?  Sharp focus, depth of field, and a clean background.

Sharp Focus. I will often use manual focus to ensure my subject is sharp.  Zoom in on the LCD or electronic viewfinder to adjust the focus.  If you have a camera with focus peaking, it can also be really helpful in ensuring your subject is in focus.  I have set up customized buttons on my Olympus OM-D E-M1 to zoom in and to turn on focus peaking.

Depth of Field.  Depth of field in macro photogaphy is a trade off between getting all of your subject in focus and having a nice blurred background.  There is no set formula for what depth of field to use on a macro shot.  Several variables help to derive the depth of field:  distance to your subject, distance to the background, whether all of your subject is parallel to the camera or parts of the subject are further away from the camera than others.  It’s best to try several depths of fields for each shot.

Clean backgrounds.  This is related depth of field.  But there are several things you can do to help get a clean background.

  • Choose subjects where the background is farther away from the subject.  This will allow you to use a smaller aperture and still keep a blurry background.
  • Gently hold down background weeds and grass to create a greater distance from the subject.
  • Create a replacement background in a second shot.  If you really want a shot of a subject with a cluttered background, try taking a second shot with the background blurred.  Put the camera in manual focus and select a wide aperture.  Move the focus ring to create a blurry image.  In fact, take several of these to have in your backgrounds folder on your.  You can replace the cluttered background with your blurry background using photoshop.

Written by Martin Belan

How to Clean up the Backgrounds of your Nature Photographs – Part 1
How to Clean up the Backgrounds of your Nature Photographs – Part 2
In Cloudy Skies, Reach for your Macro Photography Lens

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