Explore nature’s amazing patterns
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.
“THE CHALLENGE WITH MACRO IS BEING ABLE TO CONTROL DEPTH-OF-FIELD”
Set self-timer mode so that your hand isn’t touching the camera when the exposure starts. This eliminates camera shake.