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.
* Website: Eloquent Images
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