Discovering the Joy of Macro Photography

Springing into Macro Photography

Earlier on this year I tried my hand a street photography.  This was a genre of photography very much outside of my normal photography comfort zone.  There is also another genre of photography that I've wanted to try for a while and that's macro.  It's arguably a little more aligned with my landscape photography work but as I was to find out, still very challenging.

Every spring I promise myself that I will allocate some time to explore the world of macro photography.  I've long been inspired by the work of some photographers I know who produce stunning macro photographs of flowers and insects.  As spring started to draw to a close though it was looking like I was going to miss out again and I would have to be satisfied with looking at the work of others.

Fortunately for me though I had to meet up with a friend to finish a photography related project we were are working on and he suggested we do some photography beforehand.  The weather forecast wasn't looking suitable for landscape work so he asked if I fancied giving macro photography a go.  He even had a 105mm macro lens he could lend me.  Well, I jumped at the chance!

The only downside to this great opportunity was how early I would have to get up.  Though I wouldn't need to be at the location for sunrise, I still needed to be there early before the insects warm up and get active.  As I needed to drive to Cornwall as well I had to set my alarm for 4 am.  Nothing a cup of coffee wouldn't sort out though.

I arrived to meet my friend in plenty of time, a little bleary-eyed but very excited.  Thanks to my friend's local knowledge we were quickly able to identify a number of damselflies that would make for good subjects and we got to work.

The Challenges of Macro Photography

As I soon found out though, picking out a subject is just the first of the problems I would need to deal with.  I'd heard that focusing can be challenging with a macro lens but I really didn't appreciate how shallow the depth of field can be.   Even at modest apertures you can have your subjects eye in focus but the rest of the body not.  Very minor adjustments to camera position in relation to the subject can have a dramatic impact on what is in focus and what isn't. 

Changing the aperture to help increase the depth of field also came with challenges as well.  Wide open on a macro lens is normally enough to throw even the messiest background out into a nice blur of colour,  but at f/5.6 and beyond keeping an eye on how your background looks becomes more critical.  Rather than enhancing the photograph the background starts to become a distraction.  When you've got a damselfly perched on a blade of grass with a plane of focus that is already tiny, just moving the camera to get a less distracting background puts you all back to square one.

Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx Splendens), Female - Nikon D850, Nikkor 105mm Macro @ f/4.0, 1/160th second at ISO 800.

Don't get me wrong though, I loved working through these challenges.  Careful positioning of the camera, selecting the right aperture, shutter speed and ISO were all part of the fun.  Though I didn't get everything right in one shot I was still immensely satisfied with the images I captured.  The amount of detail you see in the images is staggering.  I've seen damselflies before but to see them in such close-up details make you realise how beautiful and colourful these insects are.

Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx Splendens), Male - Nikon D850, Nikkor 105mm Macro @ f/5.6, 1/125th second at ISO 1600.

So would I give macro photography another go?  Absolutely I would.  I can even see myself buying a macro lens.  There is a lot to learn though.  Not just the technical side, but also understanding your subjects.  Luckily on this trip out with the camera I had someone very knowledgeable with me to make life easier, but knowing what, where and how to find a subject is a skill in itself.  It's a challenge I welcome though. 

Are you a macro photographer?  Got any tips for someone starting out in macro?  What's your favourite thing to shoot with a macro lens?  Let me know in the comments below.