Backyard Macro Photography Safari

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Editor’s Note: This is part a series on macro photography this week. Look for a new one each day. The next newsletter will have them all if you miss any!

As photographers, we often have the opinion that in order to capture a great image we need to head out to an exotic location. But, what if you don’t have the time or opportunity to go to one of those places? Say you have free time some morning, and would like to go outside and capture some stunning images. You might be surprised at what you can find to photograph right in your own backyard!

If you don’t have a backyard, take a trek to a nearby park. Everywhere you look, you will find subjects to photograph in macro. Spring and summer are great seasons to go on a backyard macro photography safari. There are many advantages to such a shoot. For one, you don’t need to be up and at’em before the crack of dawn to travel – though it is beneficial to take full advantage of the early morning light. Also, keep in mind that if you are planning a Backyard Macro Safari for your weekend, you should put off mowing your grass until after your macro adventure, because your mower will likely destroy some potential subject matter in your yard.

New growth on a pine tree creates a unique color burst effect.

New growth on a pine tree creates a unique color burst effect.

Necessary Equipment:

Keep it simple! Start out with your camera and macro lens on a tripod. Other equipment you might find useful includes a mat or knee pads, an off-camera flash, a reflector, and a diffuser. Another great thing about a backyard safari is, if you decide to use another piece of equipment you can just go back in the house and get it!

Tripod

As with almost every type of photography, the tripod is one of your most important pieces of equipment, for a couple of reasons. The most obvious reason is to avoid camera shake, But also, in many cases, your depth of field will be very shallow, and keeping your camera still on a tripod will help keep your subject in sharp focus. Another benefit to using a tripod is that to do so will slow you down, which is very helpful with setting up the composition and lighting of your image.

Mat or knee pads

Not every capture will be found at standing level. A mat or knee pads are great tools for helping you get to ground level conveniently and comfortably in your yard.

Off-camera flash

Sometimes you’ll find some of the most interesting subjects in the deep shadows of your yard. In these cases, using an off-camera flash will add some light to better reveal or enhance your subject.

Light Reflectors

Reflectors come in very handy when you need to add some light into the shadowy areas of your image.

Light Diffusers

If you are dealing with very harsh light, diffusers or light modifiers can soften the light.

Black and white

Converting to black and white can bring out the patterns and textures of your images.

Take time to look around

Yogi Berra once said “You can observe a lot by just looking around.” In macro photography, sometimes less is more, so slow down and seek out even the smallest detail that could create a great macro image. Try to find new angles that make even the simplest object interesting. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new techniques such as multiple exposures.

What to look for, subject-wise

There are many objects right in your own backyard that make great macro photography subjects, such as flowers and insects. But don’t just stop there! Look for repeating patterns, textures and leading lines. Water droplets and spider webs can become beautiful subjects if photographed carefully. Just as in any other form of photography, look for the color red to compose a powerful image.

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Choose your background wisely

The background is one of the most important elements of a good macro. Setup your camera at the level of your subject. This will allow you to move 360 degrees around it, and carefully choose just the right background to enhance the subject. Be aware that if the background is too busy or too light, it will draw the viewer’s eye away from the subject.

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The muted colors of the background causes the subject to stand out sharply.

Light

Avoid harsh lighting or flat lighting. By looking for side light, or even back-lighting, you can create more dramatic images. Adding an off-camera flash is an effective technique to enhance your subject and separate it from the background. By setting your fastest flash sync-speed, and using a small aperture, you can make your subject pop from an otherwise boring background.

Focusing

Focusing can be the most difficult component of macro photography. Here’s a little trick to help you get the focus result you are looking to achieve: First, set your lens on manual focus. Next, turn the focus ring to the minimum focus length. Now simply move your camera closer to your subject until the part of the image that you want to be sharp is in focus and take the shot.

The wind is not your friend

Windy days make it very difficult to capture sharp macro images, and even harder to compose one if your subject is swaying back and forth in the wind. Try adding a flash to freeze your subject in windy conditions. In some cases the wind can help create interesting effects, but it’s a challenge!

Found this in the under growth in my backyard. Because of very low light I add a off camera flash set to low power on the side. I wanted to add some light to the top so I used my hat to reflect some of the light from the flash to the top of the plant.

An off camera flash was used here to add side light to this Jack-in-the-Pulpit. A light colored hat was used as an impromptu reflector to add light to the top of the wild flower.

Conclusion

Capturing images of nature in your own backyard is rewarding and convenient. One of the best things about a Backyard Macro Safari is that you don’t have to go anywhere for the shooting experience, so if things don’t work out, you don’t have that long disappointing ride home with nothing to show for it. If it was successful, you can kick back and celebrate right away, though you may still have to face mowing the lawn! What macro images can you capture in your backyard safari?

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Bruce Wunderlich is a photographer from Marietta, Ohio. He became interested in photography as a teenager in the 1970s, and has been a passionate student of the art ever since. Bruce recently won Photographer’s Choice award at the 2014 Shoot the Hills Photography Competition in the Hocking Hills near Logan, Ohio. He has also instructed local classes in basic digital photography. Check out Bruce’s photos at Flickr

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