Macro photography proves that small is beautiful, and is a wonderful way to reveal the intricacies of flowers. Sue Bishops gives her tips

If I was allowed to keep only one of my lenses, it would have to be my macro lens. It’s a Micro Nikkor 105mm and probably my oldest lens – so old that it doesn’t have any new-fangled features like vibration reduction. But the reason why I love it is that it allows me to see things in a completely different way. As an adult you probably wouldn’t choose to lie flat on frosty ground to look at a crocus. Add a macro lens into the mix and perhaps you would – just to see each delicate crystal of ice on the petals. It’s a whole new world of beauty!


Snowdrops

Credit: Sue Bishop

1. Use a tripod

I always use a tripod if possible, as it helps with very precise focusing. It also means that you can really fine-tune your composition. For very low-growing flowers, use of a tripod can be awkward. So I usually lie flat on the ground and brace myself on my elbows.


2. Group shot

It’s always lovely to photograph one fl ower with others of the same type in the background, using a wide aperture to throw them out of focus. They support the main subject in terms of colour and shape, but are soft enough not to distract from the main flower.


3. Light conditions

Very often the best light for photographing flowers is bright and overcast. Because the light is diffused by high white cloud, it doesn’t create any shadows. If you do photograph on a sunny day, using a reflector will help to boost the light on the shadowed side of the flower.


Tulip

Credit: Sue Bishop

4. Creative cropping

It’s also fun to photograph just part of a flower, cropping right into it so that the petal edges are cut off. Make sure though that your crop looks definite enough to come across like it is obviously intentional – if you only crop off a couple of petal tips, it might just look like a mistake.


Windflower

Shooting in close proximity to your subject will reduce the depth of field significantly. Credit: Sue Bishop

5. Focus manually

When you are working on close-ups, your depth of field will be very shallow, especially at your widest aperture. So it’s important to decide exactly which part of the flower you want to be sharp. To achieve this, manual focus is best, and live view can help you check that you’ve got it perfectly right.


Cherry blossom

Credit: Sue Bishop

6. Consider your backdrop

If you fill the frame with your flower, you won’t have to worry about backgrounds. But if there is a background in your image, make sure it isn’t distracting. Avoid bright colours, especially if your subject is a paler colour. If the background is messy, use a wide aperture to throw it out of focus.


Anemone

Credit: Sue Bishop

7. Viewpoint

Think about your viewpoint. It’s often good to get down to a flower’s level and approach it from the side, rather than looking down on it from above. Look through your viewfinder as you move around – every tiny change in your angle to the flower will affect the image radically.


Kit list

  • Close-up lens If you don’t have a macro, try a close-up lens. They screw onto the front of a lens like a filter and reduce the minimum focusing distance of the lens. They are inexpensive and a great introduction to macro photography.
  • Reflector The smallest Lastolite reflector is big enough for flower photography, or I even use just a piece of white card. A diffuser can be useful if the light is really harsh.
  • Tripod This helps me to take time over my composition as well as focus precisely. I also use a cable release to avoid moving the camera when I press the shutter button.

Sue Bishop specialises in flower and landscape photography, and is the author of three books. She has exhibited her work many times and sold her images worldwide. In 1994 she and Charlie Waite founded Light & Land. Visit www.suebishop.co.uk.