Solving Macro Photography Problems
Special Guest post by noted nature and landscape photographer, Peter K. Burian. All images © Peter K. Burian, All Rights Reserved.
The following tips are those that have proven highly useful in my own outdoor stock photography. A few came from “brain storms” in a moment of need; others were suddenly remembered from something I read years earlier; and several were offered by fellow photographers who generously shared their own tips.
In close-up nature photography, the single most useful accessory is the reflector. Used to bounce light into the essential subject area, this produces a pleasing effect. Diffusion screens held between the sun and the subject can be just as useful for modifying light that is harsh and contrasty. If you have someone to hold an accessory, use a (large translucent but not clear) plastic sheet between the sun and the subject. This portable diffuser will soften the light producing richer colors and a more pleasing overall effect.
If you’re shooting alone mount the camera on a tripod and use your body to shade the desired area. This will make for an acceptable photo but the results will be better if some light can be directed into the subject. Use wrinkled aluminum foil attached to a sheet of cardboard to bounce light for fill. Long after other photographers have packed up, considering the light “terrible”, you can get excellent results with a bit of practice.
Cloudy/bright days are perfect for nature photography but a dark gray overcast sky is terrible for flower close-ups. As well, in such situations, a reflector can be useless as there is no sunlight to bounce. During a Macro photography workshop, while waiting impatiently for the conditions to improve, I found a small flashlight in my camera bag. Deciding to experiment, I directed the artificial light onto a flower, moving it continuously during a long exposure. Surprisingly the results were really quite pleasing.
For this technique, use a flashlight with an adjustable beam; narrow it down, or widen it, depending on the desired effect. The light will be somewhat “warm” (yellow) reminiscent of sunset. This can be corrected by taping a Lee or Rosco 80A gel filter over the front glass to modify the color temperature. While a flashlight is not a perfect solution to cloudy day blues, it has expanded the window of opportunity for my macro photography.
In nature photography, we often encounter a great subject against a cluttered background. It’s easy to remove dead vegetation, but extensive “gardening” to clean up the background is not always appropriate. First, I try shading to background by propping a large black umbrella in the right spot. By metering for the brighter flowers in the foreground, the background will registers as much darker on the film. Even a tangle of weeds will not draw the eye if it is adequately dark. Adding extra light to the subject (but not the background) can also be useful in this technique.