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Riverside Lupine, Cosumnes River, Sierra foothills

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 17 April 2010 in Plant & Nature and Portfolio.

It's just that wildflower time of year. One of the things I most enjoy about macro photography is the surprises I find in my viewfinder. I've done enough macro work to have a general idea of what kind of foreground and background combination I want, but the extremely close focus point of a macro shot makes it virtually impossible to predict exactly how the scene will look to the camera. To my eye the entire scene is in focus, but the camera's focus plane is very specific and narrow. Even the slightest focus adjustment can completely alter an image. So I do much more of my image seeking through the viewfinder with my camera off the tripod, moving around, high and low, up and back, changing the focus point.

When I find something I like, in comes the tripod. In my last post I talked a bit about the importance of the tripod in landscape photography. Unfortunately, the inconvenience and discomfort of putting the tripod near the ground often causes even the most ardent tripod users to discard it when shooting macros. But I'm afraid the tripod's importance is magnified for macro photography. Given the changes caused by even the slightest shift of position, focal length, and focus, composing a precise shot, then duplicating it so you can make small adjustments, is difficult to impossible without a tripod.

My tripod doesn't have a centerpost, so I'm able to get it almost to ground level. When I need to get lower, I get resourceful--sometimes using a beanbag (homemade with a Ziploc resealable bag and dried beans or lentils), and sometimes simply fashioning ground-based support with rocks, a jacket, or anything else that will hold my lens still. Live-view makes composing and focusing much easier--with it I can work on a composition from a foot or two away rather than contorting myself in the mud and weeds. I focus by moving the box in the live-view LCD view to the focus point magnifying to 10x. All this may seem like a pain, but the extra control over your frame will make a noticeable difference in your results.

On this sunny afternoon last week I was on the lookout for poppies or lupine to isolate against the sparkling Cosumnes River. The graceful curve of this lupine drew me closer, and I dropping down I immediately saw that not only could I put the river in my background, but the vivid poppies as well. With an extension tube on my 100mm macro, getting the entire scene in focus was out of the question. But, as with many macro shots, limited depth of field turns out to be a benefit by smoothing the confusion of background activity to a blur of color and light.

Exposing to retain detail in even the brightest highlights enabled me to hold the vivid color in the lupine and poppies. Depth of field was a bit trickier. Sometimes water in the background can be blurred to a soft, textured green, but not when it's in direct sunlight. With the large aperture I see when I look through my viewfinder, the bright background was just varying shades of white; stopping down to f16 and checking my depth of field preview revealed individual, shimmering highlights. Opting for the sparkling highlights of the small aperture, I dialed my ISO up to 400 for a shutter speed that would stop the lupine's motion in the afternoon breeze. I snapped off several frames to get a variety of highlight patterns, and chose the one I liked best when I could view the results at home on my monitor.

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Thanks for visiting. Even if I don't respond, your comments are always read and appreciated.

Julie from United States

What a beautiful macro shot! They are my favorite types of shots, and my new camera has given me quite a lesson on what I didn't know about DLSR cameras and how spoiled I was with my point and shoot that I go back to using because of my inability to get a good macro shot with the new! Thanks for explaining some of your technics, they are most helpful and I will try and remember them as I endeavor into my new camera!

17 Apr 2010 5:16am

Tamara from Aarschot, Belgium

Nice crisp and clear capture ! The poppies on the background are making a great contrast with the lupin !
Have a nice weekend Gary :)

17 Apr 2010 9:24am

Sandy Weston from Madison, Maine, United States

This shot is really beautiful with the orange poppies and the lupin in the fore ground.....nice narrative about the tripod.

17 Apr 2010 8:57pm

Barbara from Oakland, United States

This is lovely, Gary! I wonder what extension tube you added to your 100. I just received a set in the mail this week and am eager to try them out.

18 Apr 2010 1:46am

@Barbara: Thanks, Barbara. I think with this one I had on the 12mm tube.

Julie Brown from Indianapolis, United States

Very nice effect here, Gary. I like the poppies and the highlights in the background. Did the use of the extension tube (can't focus to infinity) allow you to blur the background at f16?

18 Apr 2010 4:00am

@Julie Brown: Thanks, Julie. Yeah, an extension tube allows you to focus closer at the cost of reducing your focus range. With an extension tube on it's impossible to focus at infinity.

The MaJor from TM HooD, Iran


18 Apr 2010 10:03am

Bob Towery from Granite Bay, United States

Wow, it just pops off the background. It's always hard to decide whether to include a vivid background, sometimes it distracts from the flower subject. But this one just really works. Love the OOF water orbs. Lovely curvature. Well done!

18 Apr 2010 3:24pm

Mike from California, United States

I like how you were able to tie all of the different things going on in this image together...background elements, back lit flower, the different colors, etc.

18 Apr 2010 7:49pm

KriKridesign from Cully, Switzerland

Is it an actual pict??? Lupines are already in flowers? Really stunning and really beautifull shot...So marvelous light in the background!

19 Apr 2010 12:33pm

@KriKridesign: Thanks, Christine. Yes, this is an actual picture. You'd be amazed at how little I had to do to it in post processing. Here in Northern California some flowers start blooming in February (and I'm afraid the allergies aren't far behind).

Magda from Vancouver, Canada

The bokeh is just so dreamy! Gorgeous light

20 Apr 2010 8:13pm

Cindy D from Sacramento, United States

Doesn't CA poppy make the best background for a contrasting color? I plant some around a red Bartlett tree for the spring just to photograph. Or Irises

21 Sep 2010 4:38am