Ex­plore na­ture’s amaz­ing pat­terns

Practical Photography (UK) - - The Big Feature -

FROM THE in­tri­cate spi­rals of pine cone scales to the huge hexag­o­nal columns of Gi­ant’s Cause­way, pat­terns and shapes are ex­tremely com­mon in the nat­u­ral world and they usu­ally make stun­ning pho­to­graphic sub­jects. Some ob­jects, such as the nau­tilus shell pic­tured to the right, have such pre­cise and in­tri­cate ar­chi­tec­ture that it’s hard to be­lieve they can be cre­ated nat­u­rally.

Although some­times vis­i­ble on a larger scale, re­peat­ing pat­terns are usu­ally eas­i­est to spot within smaller ob­jects such as flow­ers, shells, feath­ers and frost, so if pos­si­ble you’ll want to cap­ture them us­ing a macro lens. If you don’t own one, don’t worry – you should be able to use your kit lens, es­pe­cially if you mod­ify it with a close-up fil­ter, a re­vers­ing ring or ex­ten­sion tubes (see p40).

Per­haps the big­gest chal­lenge with macro pho­tog­ra­phy is know­ing how to con­trol depth-of-field. This is be­cause when you fo­cus on an ob­ject that is ex­tremely close to the cam­era, the area of sharp fo­cus be­comes very thin – some­times less than 1mm. This is a prob­lem be­cause you lose much of the ob­ject’s in­tri­cate de­tail to blur. To get around this, set a nar­row aper­ture of around f/16 to give a large depth-of-field. Don’t go be­yond f/16 though, as very nar­row aper­tures give softer re­sults. Also try to po­si­tion your sub­ject so that all of the main de­tail lies per­pen­dic­u­lar to the di­rec­tion of your lens – in other words, so that it lies on the plane of fo­cus. The nau­tilus shell, for ex­am­ple, is square-on to the cam­era, so all ap­pears sharp. Some more ad­vanced macro pho­tog­ra­phers opt to shoot a se­ries of images with dif­fer­ent fo­cal points, then stitch them to­gether in Pho­to­shop, aka stack­ing (see p40).

Sta­bilise your cam­era

While a nar­row aper­ture will help solve the depth-of-field prob­lem, it cre­ates a whole new is­sue of its own – shut­ter speed. By let­ting less light through the lens, you’ll get a much longer ex­po­sure time, thereby risk­ing cam­era shake. For this rea­son, we rec­om­mend work­ing from a tri­pod to keep your cam­era per­fectly still. Tripods also help you achieve tack-sharp fo­cus­ing, as you can use man­ual fo­cus to make ex­tremely fine ad­just­ments. Sim­ply switch to MF, ac­ti­vate Live View and zoom in us­ing the mag­nify but­ton. Ro­tate the lens’ fo­cus ring un­til the sub­ject ap­pears per­fectly sharp.

Get the shot

Once you’ve cho­sen a sub­ject, put your cam­era on a tri­pod with a nar­row aper­ture di­alled in and you’re ready take your shot. To avoid mov­ing the cam­era as you press the shut­ter but­ton, ac­ti­vate self-timer mode which will al­low any vi­bra­tion from your hand to die down be­fore the cam­era fires. Al­ter­na­tively, you might pre­fer to trig­ger the cam­era us­ing a shut­ter re­lease ca­ble or wire­less re­mote, or even via Wi-Fi.

Many nat­u­ral items, in­clud­ing the mush­room, shell, fern and mon­key puz­zle tree branch, seen right, of­ten con­tain ex­pand­ing sym­me­try, or ‘frac­tals’, where the re­peat­ing pat­tern grows in size with each rep­e­ti­tion. Look out for these items, as they al­ways make great macro sub­jects.


Set self-timer mode so that your hand isn’t touch­ing the cam­era when the ex­po­sure starts. This elim­i­nates cam­era shake.

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