Weekly Photo Challenge: Close up garden photography

I love close up photography. It can give you stunning and sometimes unexpected results. Just taking the photographs makes you so much more observant of the special markings on the individual plants or insects.

Allium Chrisophii

Allium Chrisophii – taking after a shower of rain always gives a stunning effect.


Damsel fly, taken in France

Damsel fly, taken in France – this was taken using a zoom lens as I could’t get close enough to use a macro lens. I used a tripod so the quality was good enough to magnify afterwards.

Wild purple Foxglove

Wild purple Foxglove taken with a macro lens

Pair together macro photography with digital magnification and it is like looking down a microscope.

It is difficult to believe some things are produced by nature and are not man-made.

guess what

Guess what?

This picture fooled a few people because of the markings on the spheres.

It was actually insect eggs, and eventually little tiny caterpillars hatched out.

eggs hatched

Eggs hatched

I try to take a lot of macro photographs as I find them fascinating and stunning, but they are not that easy. When you are taking a photo so close to a plant you have very little depth of field – that is how much depth of the photo is in focus at the time. This causes a few problems. The first is that only a part of a plant may be in focus and the rest is a bit of a blur. This may be the effect you want, but it often isn’t. It helps a bit to use a narrower aperture, say F5.6 instead of F3, but for a deep plant such as an Iris you may need to move further away from the plant and then magnify and crop the image afterwards to get the photo you want.

iris macro

Macro of Iris petals. You can see the closer petals are out of focus.

Focusing at all can be a bit of a trial when you are balanced on one leg in the middle of a flowerbed trying very hard not to crush the surrounding plants.  To get the camera to focus on the exact part you want, it is usually better to use manual focus. Even that is tricky and it is sometimes easier to get it roughly right and then to move the whole camera rather back and forth rather than change the focusing ring.  Of course when you take the photo it is quite difficult not to move the camera again and lose the focus. Ideally then, it is better to use a tripod and a remote release, though I challenge anyone to get a normal tripod in the correct position to get that particular bloom you want. A monopod may be better – does anyone use one?

Whitewell Purple crocus

Whitewell Purple crocus

Individual flowers can look stunning when the background is out of focus – an effect know as bokeh.  It is important in this case to notice what is behind your flower in the shot you are taking. You need the correct combination of distance from the plant and aperture (F number) setting so all the plant is in focus, but the background isn’t. If the plant is some distance from the background it helps a lot.

Galanthus 'Magnet'

Galanthus ‘Magnet’

Early or late shots with the sun behind the plant can lead to wonderful results, but, speaking from experience here, don’t ever look at the sun through a lens – even a setting sun, as it can damage your retina!

Pennisetum Metallicum Rubrum

The afternoon sun sets these grasses aglow.

Finally, the weather conditions have to be correct for close up photography. Although you are often using a really fast shutter speed the depth of field issue mentioned earlier means even a breath of wind will cause your picture to be out of focus.

If you want to see what can really be done with macro photography you must have a look at Rosie Nixon’s site, Leavesnbloom. Her plant photos are so beautiful, real works of art.

If you love getting up close and personal to the insect world then Suzy Blue is well worth a visit.





24 thoughts on “Weekly Photo Challenge: Close up garden photography

      • It’s amazing what you can see with a Macro lens isn’t it? I’m still using mine without a tripod but I do take A LOT of blurred shots. Perhaps I should be more determined to master the tripod!

        • I am still hoping to find a tripod that will take photos directly down without legs that splay out all over the garden. I have to admit I don’t usually use a tripod. I would rather discard loads of shots taken hand held than fiddle around trying to get the angle right. I think you are right though, we should persevere.

  1. An interesting and informative post Annette. I have always been interested in photography, buying a Canon EOS two years ago has taken it to another level, as with life I am still learning! I love the Damsel Fly.

  2. What lovely photos! And thank you for the tutorial. I like taking pictures like this, but have only a fairly basic digital camera with automatic focus. I can adjust settings, but not actually manually focus. Still, I’ll be able to apply some of the principles. 🙂

    • No – I have a single focus macro lens. It is very strange not being able to zoom. Basically your composition is changed by changing your distance from the object. You can, of course, focus on more distant objects too – you don’t have to use the lens just for close ups. The beauty of the lens is that it will focus much closer than other lenses. I didn’t know they made a combined macro/telephoto lens. Can you still get as close with one of those? It would be useful not to have to change lenses, but I would wonder if the lens quality was as good. I would spend some time reading about the lenses on the internet. My children bought mine for me and saved me the trouble of research. It is a Nikon – AF -S Micro Nikkkor 40mm 1.28G. It is a great thing to have – lots of fun.

      • Thanks, Annette! I appreciate all your comments about macro lens. That helped me when I went to the store and started looking. I’ve decided to save up and buy a proper macro lens. That will give me more time to practice as well with my other skills. I’m going to a macro workshop next week and I’ll ask about the macro/telephoto lens. I think they will let us put one on a body to try and that will help answer that question about quality! My understanding though is it is not a 1:1 or 1:2 (?) lens so it wouldn’t be a true macro.

        • I hope you do a post on your workshop. That would be really interesting. Not sure what 1:1 means unless you are referring to full frame which my camera/lenses aren’t either.

          • I’ll give it a shot. 😀 There are plans for our little group to meet again for more sharing, which I’m excited for. I heard it again in the workshop how a true macro lens is either 1:1 or 2:1?? 1:1 means that the thing you are taking a photo of takes up the same amount of space on the camera’s sensor. I’m still not 100% sure I understand??

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