8 Tips for Macro Photography From a Contest Winner

ciupercaToday I just received that wonderful email I never thought I would see. To quote: “Congratulations! You won People’s Choice in Mushrooms and Toadstools Photo Challenge.

Yes, it totally made my day, and I’m supper happy. Following the big news, I was asked a few questions about my picture, which you can see it at the side. For educational purposes, I’m going to post this little interview below. It is good knowledge for macro photography.

Where did you take this photo?

I took this photo during an autumn photo-trip. I love to shoot pictures during the autumn, when the light and colors are at their best, so I try to plan out and make reservations for each year at the end of October.

What time of day?

Like I said, autumn light and colors are at their best. However, this does not mean that a photographer must stay with the camera pointed up, towards the vivid blue sky and the golden leaves of the trees. This shot has nothing but shades of brown. What makes those shades pop, is the golden morning autumn light. The details of the leaves and the shadows inside their curved shape are enhanced.

Anything worth sharing about lighting?

Apart from what I already said about autumn morning natural light, there is one more thing noteworthy to mention here. Some people use the flash to fill the details in macro shots, especially in dark areas such as those where mushrooms grow. I almost never do that. It kills the beauty of those shadows, and the result would be plain, unattractive. It is worth having dark areas to give the picture a sense of mystery, engaging the viewer longer.

What equipment did you use?

The picture was taken with a Nikon D40X, at 55mm focal length, ISO 800, F 5.6. The high ISO was necessary in the dark area of the forest. While a tripod is always useful, it’s too heavy and uncomfortable to carry when you climb mountains on slippery wet forest ground.


What inspired you to take this photo?

I believe that every nature photographer that sees a mushroom peeking out of the earth beneath the forest, will point the camera and take a shot. Nature photography is about macro photography just as much as landscapes. But, what really inspired me on this particular mushroom were two things.

One: the mushroom was deeply covered under a blanket of beautiful cooper colored leaves, what contrast with the subject not by color, but by darker shades of brown.

Two: the shape and imperfection of the mushroom. Contrary to popular belief, not just perfect subjects are great subjects. Imperfections and crocked shapes easily become more interesting that something ordinary.

Did you do any post-processing? if yes, tell us about it!

Usually, I add a little unsharp mask, and, if necessary, I saturate the colors. When I say that I saturate the colors, I mean just the vibrancy, and not the intensity of the colors. It must keep it’s natural look, with just a little pop to catch the eye.

What equipment do you normally have in your bag?

Apart from my Nikon body and normal lens, when I am going into such nature photo trips as this one, I take the telephoto lens too (70-300 mm). It’s incredibly useful for birds and other wildlife animals I come across. For static elements of nature, such as a mushroom, I prefer to get closer than be lazy and zoom in. Every time I use the zoom of the telephoto lens, I kill the image quality.

My bag must contain a spare battery (seriously, the most important!), an UV filter, and a polarizing filer. Additionally, I recommend having a simple home-made bag filled with sand or beans. This will replace the tripod, and it’s lighter to carry.

Any advice for others trying to capture something similar? (The more specifics the better)

It is probably a known fact that the morning light is the best for every type of photography, and most commonly for nature photo, but, one should not stop at shooting the landscape. Yes, the beauty of the scene, enlightened by a warm strong light, with profound shadows, is capturing the attention. At the same time, though, this light does miracles to the small world beneath our feet.

So, my advice is: always look down and use your eyes to see the details, not just the big picture, even if that was not your goal and purpose. Capturing great macro shots includes a detective search over all surfaces. You need to find that little thing that no other person who passes by would normally see. That’s that macro photography is all about.

Technically, you should be concerned about setting up the correct aperture in order to have your subject fully in focus, and not blurred into the background – try between F4 and F8. Most photography beginners make the mistake of using a small aperture number (F2 – F5) in order to obtain the greatest DOF. However, it’s rather more important to have your subject focused and a little details of the scene (like the leaves in my case), than to have more than 70% of the picture blurred.

By Laura

I started photography as a hobby in 2005, during college. My passion slowly became a more important part of my life since 2008. Because of using a combination of my photographic knowledge, with those of internet marketing, I like to call myself a "photomarketer".

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