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Intro to Macro Photography – how to get incredible close-up shots this summer

I am so excited to have guest blogger Susan O’Conner today teaching us some tips for macro photography.

Susan O’Connor is a self-taught, award-winning photographer living in Maryland. She exhibits her work at local art galleries, as well as selling her fine art prints on Etsy. Her photography style is an eclectic assortment of genres. She tends to gravitate toward lonely-romantic imagery, as well as abstract and minimalism. Her favorite type of photography is macro (flora) and she enjoys processing many of her photos with grungy textures, frail pages from old books, and scans of vintage lace or fabrics. She shoots digital but also adores non-traditional methods, such as Through the Viewfinder (TTV), Polaroid, and Holga.

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How I got started:

Before I started with photography, I was an artist.  I enjoyed painting close-up details of flowers and often found inspiration in the work of Georgia O’Keeffe.  I like to look at flowers as though I were a ladybug or bumble bee…a bug’s eye view.  When my son was born, I didn’t have time to paint any more, but found that the camera I bought to photograph him also allowed me to capture nature in a similar way that I did with painting.  My husband bought me a macro lens as a gift and that was it.  I was hooked!

Gear:

I’m a Canon girl and began shooting with the Xti and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens for Canon SLR Cameras Intro to Macro Photography – how to get incredible close up shots this summer.  I’ve since upgraded my camera to the Canon 5D, but the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro is still my favorite for shooting macro. For Nikon users the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor Lens Intro to Macro Photography – how to get incredible close up shots this summer is great. I’m a natural light photographer, so I don’t use a flash and I post-process my work with Photoshop (CS2), as well as some favorite actions and textures.

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Focusing:

95% of the time I use AF (automatic focus) but change my focal points depending on where I want emphasis.  And because I love that bug’s eye view, I’m often laying or kneeling on the ground.  I also like to shoot wide open so most of the time I shoot at the largest aperture, 2.8. This focuses on my main subject and blurs the background, hopefully producing beautiful bokeh.

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Light:

The dreamiest light is two hours before sunset.  I love that light!  I tend to study my subject in the light from every angle before shooting.  And with early morning or late evening light, you won’t get harsh shadows or blow outs.

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Tips and tricks:

I bring my camera with me wherever I go and can often be found pulled over on the side of the road photographing something that caught my eye.  My trunk usually contains my tripod, step ladder, and a square piece of cardboard, just in case.  I rarely use my tripod, but the step ladder has been used to get a closer view of blooms on trees, nests, or shooting down into a field of flowers.  The cardboard is there in case I need to kneel on dirt, mud, or even wet sand!

In my camera bag…my lens hood, which I always use, and odds and ends like vintage scrapbook paper and a small water mister…for inspirations of unique perspective.  The paper can be placed behind a flower and blurred out to give a colorful background and the mister is great for adding droplets to petals.  (Plant identifier sticks are great for holding the paper if you can stick it in the ground behind a flower.)  I also scour antique shops for vintage vases and bottles.  These are lovely to use when photographing flowers that you might have bought from a flower shop and want to shoot in your home near a window that gets lots of natural light.

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Post-processing:

I use Photoshop CS2 to post-process my photos and I shoot in Raw (using ACR to adjust white balance, exposure, etc.).  For me, I believe cropping is the most important factor to the photo that I’m working on.  I want it to be unique, so I might try several different crops before I’m satisfied.  (You don’t want your subject dead center.  I often crop so the subject is off-center or do a very tight crop on detail.  I always keep the Rule of Thirds in mind.)  Once I’ve decided on a crop, I make other minor adjustments to color or clone out detail that I don’t want in the photo.  My last step, depending on the subject and my mood, is to add a texture layer on top of the photo.

I have a huge collection of texture photos.  Some of which I’ve taken myself (I love going into abandoned houses and taking pictures of the peeling paint on walls or fabric on left behind furniture, etc),  bought, or collected from those generous photographers that give away freebies on Flickr.

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To add a texture on a photo, I open it up in PS, drop it on top of my macro photo and change that texture layer to Multiply.  Then I adjust the opacity of that texture layer to my liking.  If you don’t want the texture on your focal point, say a bloom, then you can select the bloom using the lasso tool – feather at 20.  Then go to Filter, select Blur, Gaussian Blur, and put the radius at 17.7 or so – and walla…you have a beautiful fine art floral print!

 Intro to Macro Photography – how to get incredible close up shots this summer

Jodi Friedman, MCP Actions

Jodi Friedman is the founder of MCP Actions. She designs popular Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets that make editing faster, easier and more fun.

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32 Comments

  1. 1
    Hope says:

    I am so inspired right now. I want to call a babysitter grab some scrapbook paper, a spray bottle of water, my camera and GO! Thanks for this post!!

  2. 2
    Shey says:

    Awesome interview!!!!! I’m a huge fan of Susan’s work and her tips are awesome!!!

  3. 3
    Jill R. says:

    I always carry my camera with me too…but I never thought about keeping those other items in my trunk! Off to go gather and place some new items into the back of my van! :) Thanks Jodi!

  4. 4
    amy says:

    Fabulous tips & photographs! Thanks! :)

  5. 5
    Sarah says:

    I have a new macro lens being delivered today so this post came at just the right time! Can’t wait to try it out! Thanks!

  6. 6
    Peggy says:

    I am inspired too .. you make it sound so easy.

  7. 7
    Gayle says:

    I have been enjoying macro photography for the last 6 months or so. I never really thought I was doing it right because I haven’t been using a tripod. I am glad to hear that it isn’t always necessary and that someone else pulls over to the side of the road occasionally to get a shot :)!!

  8. 8
    Puna says:

    I added you to my rss this week and boy am I glad I did! This photos are beautiful. I would love love to purchase all of your actions. In any event, I have a question. I love texture on a photo. However, I don’t seem to choose the right one. Is there a rule of thumb? Just curious. Thanks Jodie!

  9. 9

    Great tips, Susan’s work is gorgeous!

  10. 10
    Morgan says:

    I love it! I’m bookmarking this for my macro stuff!!

  11. 11
    rebekah says:

    awesome post!! i haven’t ventured into macro but this definitely makes me want to try it and play around with some beautiful shots!! thanks for the inspiration & all the fabulous tips!!!

  12. 12
    Laurie says:

    Very nice pics and thanks for the tips on macro!

  13. 13
    Phatchik says:

    Man, I’m like…foaming at the mouth! More, more, more! I want to know more!! And I want to grab my camera and leave work now!

  14. 14
    Katy G says:

    Photographing flowers is one of my favorite hobbies, and I have hundreds of images. In fact I planted a flower garden just so I could have my subjects close to home!

  15. 15
    Cindy says:

    Wow, thanks for all the info. Great interview. Thanks for sharing what’s in your trunk and camera bag, the scrapbook paper idea is great.

  16. 16
    Sunny says:

    Oh, thank you! I love this post. I just got my Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM this week.

  17. 17
    Erin says:

    Fabulous post! Susan, Thank you so much for this information. I can’t wait to try it out. Thanks to Jodi too, for featuring Susan!!!

  18. 18
    Mary says:

    I love the idea of the paper behind the flower! I’m jazzed!!!!!! Thanks for the inspiration…….gotta run…..camera’s waiting…….

  19. 19

    I loved this tutorial! It was brilliant! Her pictures are magnificent!

  20. 20
    Johanna says:

    wow, unbelievably gorgeous images. they are pure art. great information as well. thank you for sharing. makes me want to run out and get that macro off my wishlist and on my happy-I-spent-my-money-on-that list! :) thanks Susan and Jodi!

  21. 21
    Iris Hicks says:

    You got my juices flowing by the second photo. Beautiful work and your generosity in sharing your process is much appreciated.

  22. 22
    Tamara says:

    Thank you Susan for sharing. Beautiful images. Off to find some flowers!!!

  23. 23
    Shelly Frische says:

    Wow!! This is so amazingly inspiring!!! Thanks for sharing this talent.

  24. 24
    karen gunton says:

    i have never tried macro photography before, nor have i ever shot flowers – but i want to go try it RIGHT NOW!! (too bad it is bedtime in australia!) thanks for a very informative and truly inspirational post!

  25. 25
    Esther J says:

    Susan, you rock the flower macros! Thanks for this tutorial, you’ve inspired me to go out and shoot some more flowers this spring!

  26. 26
    Kerri Mathis says:

    Susan – thanks so much for this awesome tutorial! I hope to have a macro soon and I’ll be coming back to this.

  27. 27
    Sarah says:

    Wow, these are amazing photos! Thanks so much for all of your great advice.

  28. 28
    Christina says:

    Great work Susan!!!

  29. 29

    have look at closeup and nature section of my website

  30. 30
    Daine Okubo says:

    I admire the valuable information you offer in your articles.Great post, You make valid points in a concise and pertinent fashion, I will read more of your stuff, many thanks to the author

  31. 31

    Very interesting points you have observed, thank you for posting.

  32. 32
    John Scarborough says:

    Nice post and photos. I was also inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe art to take photos of things really small and enlarge really big for dramatic poster photos. In my go bag I have half a dozen pennies glued to heavy wire to use as size indicators so people will realize just how small my blooms are. Also a small white umbrella for bright sunny days. Poly file folders in 4 colors for backgrounds. I started with construction paper but that got wrinkled and wet. I cut down a yard sale sign metal frame to fit in my go bag. I use allagator clips to attach backgrounds to sign frame or hold pennies. Also a small tripod that will support my pocket camera.

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