Spring has sprung, and she’s showing her colors proudly, in buds and blossoms everywhere! It’s the perfect time to get out and capture the best of Mother Nature with some macro flower photography. In honor of the Season and the opportunities it provides, we’re offering some valuable tips to help you get the most out of your efforts!
Opening Image ©Arjo Van Timmeren, captured with the Irix 150mm 1:1 macro Dragonfly lens.
Understanding Macro Flower Photography
While we’re sure that most of you know what the term “macrophotography” means, let’s take a minute to consider the definition. It’s somewhat important to know how it differs from “close-up” photography.
The term or prefix, “macro” means “large”. In a photographic context, it refers more directly to photographing small objects to produce images of the at life-size or larger. The actual image size is referred to as a ratio, where 1:1 equals actual size, 2:1 equals twice the objects actual size, and so on.
That distinction means that “true” digital macro photography requires a specialized lens, capable of producing images on the camera sensor at a minimum ratio of 1:1. That brings us to our first tip:
1. Choosing a Lens for Flower Macro Photography
The right lens is important in many ways and the ability to produce life-size images is only one of those ways. Throughout this article, we’ll be pointing out how the right lens will help you achieve more captivating and engaging macro photos of flowers, as well as other macro subjects.
We’re also going to be right up front in telling you that we believe we have the ideal solution with our Irix 150mm f/2.8 1:1 macro Dragonfly lens. You’ll find that it more than meets the needs of the most discriminating macro photographers, with a host of features that make it more versatile than most, at a price that even a hobbyist can afford.
2. Get the Lighting Right
Even, diffused lighting is usually your friend in this type of photography. Harsh sun creates high contrast and hard shadows. In most cases those conditions don’t add to a macro flower photo.
A bright, but completely overcast day is ideal.
A bright, but completely overcast day is ideal. This light allows you to emphasize the delicate structure of your subjects and instill a flattering softness. A folding reflector kit can help control shadows and warm or cool the scene as needed. These kits often include a diffuser that can help if you must shoot in bright sunlight.
You can, of course, create your own light manipulation tools very simply. A flash may also be useful, but we recommend diffusing it when working with flowers.
3. Bring the Tripod
While you’ll see a lot of hand-held shots out there, you’ll increase your chances of success in macro flower photography with a tripod. You’re going to be shooting at wide aperture settings and magnification ratios that make stability critical. The slightest movement can alter your focal point and drastically affect the impact of your photo. Use the tripod and a remote shutter release or your camera’s delayed shutter setting.
NOTE: Keep in mind that you’ll need to turn image stabilization off when shooting on any fixed mount. Active VR, IS, etc. may actually cause unwanted blurring when the camera is tripod mounted.
4. Backgrounds Matter
Be aware of the background in your shots. Distractions can often be blurred out, but pay attention to color contrast and look out for “hot spots” caused by large reflective objects or light sources.
Also, keep in mind that with the right lens, other flowers, points of lights and similar items can actually enhance the image when you shoot for minimal depth of field. When bokeh causes the distractions to take on the shape of the aperture, something magical can occur.
One of the most important features of the Irix 150mm Macro Dragonfly is its aperture diaphragm, constructed with 11 curved aperture blades, to produce beautiful bokeh!
5. Don’t use Auto Focus
One of the most important aspects of a macro flower photo is making sure you’re focused on the right spot. Rather than worry about your AF point selection and AF mode, simply taking control of the focus yourself is the most reliable option. Besides, at close range, your camera’s autofocus system is often easily fooled.
The Irix 150mm macro Dragonfly lens features a wide, textured focus ring with a slightly raised tab for leverage and easy location. Its long focus throw helps you achieve precise focus, while it works with your camera’s focus confirmation/peaking system. Maintaining focus between shots is easier, too, thanks to a convenient focus lock ring.
Depth of field is at least as important as focus in macro flower photography.
6. Control the Depth of Field
Depth of field is at least as important as focus in macro flower photography. Once you’ve established your focal point, lengthening or shortening the area that’s in in focus has a tremendous impact on the mood of the final image.
The Irix 150mm macro lens shines here, too! With its extended focal length and f/2.8 maximum aperture, providing wonderfully shallow DoF wide open, and a minimum aperture setting of f/32 for extreme front-to back sharpness. This combination gives you all the creative control you need.
7. Change Your Point of View
Macro flower photographs aren’t rare and many aren’t unique. To create images that stand out, try different camera angles and distances to your subject. Look for ways to show your audience something new.
Our 150mm 1:1 macro lens gives you plenty of room to experiment, with its extra focal length. You don’t need to be right on top of your subject to get a true macro reproduction, and you can use the narrower field of view to compress perspective for even more interesting images.
Whether you’re shooting in the rain or creating your own, you’ll appreciate the weather sealing of the Irix Dragonfly housing.
8. Add a Little Water
A Spring rain adds sparkle and new dimensions to a macro photo of flowers. Water drops will magnify, reflect and refract portions of your image to add interest. Nothing beats the real thing, but you can improvise with a water bottle or hose if you need to.
Whether you’re shooting in the rain or creating your own, you’ll appreciate the weather sealing of the Irix Dragonfly housing. Nothing will ruin your day like a mishap that results in water in your lens.
9. Remember the “Rules”
When you’re working with small subjects, it’s easy to forget composition basics, but it’s never a good idea. Use the same guidelines you use for any other photography genre to keep your compositions interesting.
The Rule of Thirds will help you locate your subjects in the frame in a way that makes the image more dynamic. An odd number of predominant items in a frame is more interesting than an even number (The Rule of Odds). Look for geometric shapes or relationships. Use the leading lines of a flower’s petals to draw a viewer’s eye to its center.
The point is, to create engaging images, use the same elements of composition in macro flower photography that you’d use if you were, for instance, shooting a landscape. Take a look at this article on Landscape Composition and imagine how you can apply these same ideas to your macro shots.
10. Break a Few Rules
You knew this was coming, didn’t you? Clever reader!
One of the most important reasons to learn the rules is to know when to break them. For example, we’re taught to avoid shooting into the sun. Using it as a backlight for flowers, however, can produce beautiful results.
Rather than bore you with dozens more examples of how to break the rules, we’ll let you use your own imagination. After all, that’s the difference between documenting a scene and creating an image!
Catch You Next Time!
We sincerely hope you’ll find these tips helpful in practicing your macro flower photography.
As always, the Irix USA team would love to see your images! Here are a few ways to share them:
Tag @irixusa on Instagram or Facebook.
Post as a message to Irix USA on Facebook Messenger.
Post to the Irix Shooters group on Facebook.
See you soon!