Challenges of macrophotography

Budding of pink rhododendron flowers

In this post I will discuss two challenges of macrophotography:

  • small depth-of-field (technical)
  • right background (creative)

Due to the corona crisis I spend a lot of time in the garden. I never realised the variety of flowers in our garden, including our tub plants. Almost every day I scout my garden to find new flowers or new compositions. I rediscovered macrophotography. Also a webinar of Janneke van de Pol about macrophotography inspired me to look at taking macro pictures differently.

Only first row of stamens of Delosperma is sharp

The first thing you notice when you enter the macro world is that the depth-of-field is very small. For example, with my 105mm macrolens at a distance of 30cm with an aperture of f/8 the depth-of-field is only 2mm. By just moving a little bit the subject is already out of focus. I find it difficult to judge the quality of a picture on the screen of my D800. So, in practice this means that I have to go to my computer to see whether the subject is in focus or not.

To deal with this small depth-of-field I have two approaches depending on whether the picture is for Instagram (have a look on the right) or for Dreamstime. For Dreamstime I try to keep the ISO as close as possible to 100 to avoid noise in the picture. For Instagram this is less important. The settings of my camera are normally:

  • ISO is automatically increased if the shutter speed becomes below 1/60sec. If the ISO exceeds 6400 then the shutter speed is lowered.
  • AF-ON is used to focus. Normally I use that for focussing on moving subjects. Now I use it also to compensate for my own stabilising motions.

For Instagram this is perfect. I take a couple of pictures with different apertures and on my computer I decide which picture I want to share on Instagram. For Dreamstime, I want to keep the ISO close to 100. So, I switch off the automatic increase of the ISO. If there is sufficient light this is no problem (fast shutter speed). Otherwise, due to the slower shutter speed, I use my Peak Design Travel Tripod. To avoid any further vibrations I use Arsenal for wireless control to focus and to hit the shutter. The resulting pictures are of very high quality.

Cornflower with waving corn as background

The second thing you notice with macrophotography is that the right background is very important. I observed that in the beginning I was too concentrated on getting the subject in focus that I often forgot about the background. Sitting behind my computer I saw the disturbing background which is of course hard to fix in Lightroom.

So now I spend more time on the composition (which includes the vague background) before getting my camera. Although this is not an easy task -we deal with the imperfections of nature – it is important to look at lines and light and dark spots. Also colours are more important than I thought. Try to look at the subject from different angles and decide on the one you like. Creativity plays a central role in this decision. Composition rules are helpful, however, do not be too rigid. By experimenting you get a feeling of what wow pictures look like. Feedback on Instagram also helps me.

What I like about macrophotography is the combination of the technical and creative challenge. My appreciation of nature has increased substantially. After the corona crisis I will continue taking macro pictures.

Enjoy the beauty of nature; taken during sunset

Rediscovering macrophotography

Forget-me-not

A couple of years ago I bought a secondhand macro lens (Nikon 105mm Micro) and did some focus stacking with withered roses to get a sharp image all the way down into the roses. Now, during the corona crisis, that I am confined to my house and garden, I start to value the little things in life, like a budding flower, or a bumblebee. So now, I am using my macrolens continuously to capture all these beauties. I never thought I would be taking pictures of flowers and insects. Honestly, it is much harder than I expected. Almost always I am facing challenges, and I love it.

Budding of pink rhododendron flowers

To share the love for these beauties of nature I hunt everyday in my garden to find new buds, flowers, or insects. I know my garden now much better than before. The pictures I like, I share them on Instagram (have a look at the right column of this blog). The pictures that are of the highest quality are submitted to Dreamstime. Currently the review process takes less than one hour.

In the ideal world a flower (or a detail) should be the main subject of the picture, well-lit, tack sharp, with a non-disturbing blurry background. And, of course, no noise in the picture. The combination turns out to be a challenge.

As you probably know, shutter speed, aperture, and ISO depend on each other. Changing one has an effect on the others. This is called the Photographic Triangle.

For example, the depth-of-field at 30cm from the flower for a 105mm lens at f/11 is only 0.4cm. Can you imagine! If you move just a little bit the flower is out of focus. Increasing the depth-of-field to 0.7cm by going to f/22 means either a slower shutter speed or an increase of ISO (introducing some noise in the picture).

A consequence of an increase of ISO means that objects in the background become more visible, distracting attention from the flower. A slower shutter speed, on the other hand, seems fine if we use a tripod; however, if it is too windy or if the insect is moving, it is not going to work. All in all, it is not as easy as I thought.

In the upcoming posts I will have a closer look at some of these challenges.

Tiny white-purple flowers