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.
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!
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. 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!