A Beginner’s Guide to Abstract Flower Photography

Abstract flower photography can stop you in your tracks. But unfortunately, when it comes to abstract flower photography, you probably don’t know where to start. What equipment do you need? What techniques do you use?

The world of abstract flower photography can seem distant and difficult.

abstract flower photography aster

Actually, it is no harder than any other genre of photography. It can be a lot more rewarding, though. You just need to know how to get started.

In this tutorial, you’ll learn the fundamentals of abstract flower photography. You’ll learn about the required equipment, as well as several key techniques for getting powerful abstract images. When you finish, you’ll be ready to go out and start applying these tips immediately.

Sound good? Read on.

What is abstract flower photography?

I’m going to define abstract flower photography simply as this – photographing flowers in a way that the viewer doesn’t immediately see the flower.

abstract flower photography swirls

That is, an abstract floral focuses not so much on the flower itself, but on parts of the flower: the curve of the petals, the color of the flower center, the play of light on the stamens.

To do powerful abstract flower photography, you have to stop thinking in terms of flowers, and start thinking in terms of shape, color, and light. This isn’t complicated. It’s easy to do, once you get the hang of it. The tips I share below will help you to do just that, so keep reading.


To get beautiful abstract flower images, you need two things: a camera and a macro lens.

The type of camera doesn’t matter. These days, essentially all cameras are capable of capturing stunning images. In abstract flower photography, it’s the lens that counts.

So what lens do you need?

Any sort of macro lens will do. I’ve taken excellent abstract flower images with cheap, sub-300 dollar lenses. I’ve also used my much more expensive Canon 100mm f/2.8L lens.

The thing is, abstract flower photography isn’t really about sharpness and perfectly rendered detail. It’s about composition, light and color.

abstract flower photography daisy

A tip worth mentioning is that the shorter the focal length of a macro lens, the closer you need to be to your subject to get life-size images. So, for instance, 60mm macro lenses can be a problem when you’re trying to get a close-up of a rose and you keep casting your shadow on the petals by accident.

You may have also heard that for abstract flower photography you need a tripod.

abstract flower photography silhouette

I would disagree. I don’t use a tripod for abstract flower photography, myself because I find that it’s too limiting. I need to explore the flower through the lens, change my composition, take a few photographs, and change my composition again. You can’t do that with a tripod.

Have you got your camera and a macro lens? If so, you’re ready for the bulk of this tutorial on quick and easy tips for stunning abstract flower photography.

Tip 1: Shoot on cloudy days

If you’ve done natural light macro photography before, you’ll know that you can get beautiful macro photographs at a few different times of the day. First, when it’s cloudy. Second, during the golden hours: just after sunrise and just before sunset.

abstract flower photography tulip

I photographed this tulip on a cloudy spring day.

For abstract photography, I recommend that you only shoot on cloudy days.

On cloudy days, the light is even, resulting in colorful, deeply saturated images. And in abstract photography, color is key. In fact, out of all the images featured in this article, all but one were taken on a cloudy day.

abstract flower photography tulip

Once you become a more experienced abstract flower photographer, you can start to experiment with other types of light. But until then, stick to cloudy days. Your results will speak for themselves.

Tip 2: Get close. Really, really close!

In abstract flower photography, you cannot just take a snapshot of your subject. Your goal must be to show the viewer something new, something unexpected.

The way to do this is to get close. Really, really close.

abstract flower photography pink

As I said above, you must think in terms of shapes, color, and light. The way to start is to magnify your subject.

Take that macro lens and crank it up to its highest magnification setting (which should be 1:1, if you have a true macro lens). Then get close to a flower. Look through the viewfinder of your camera, and just move the lens around.

abstract flower photography tulip center

What do you see?

You probably won’t immediately notice a stunning composition. I spend a lot of time looking through my lens without taking any pictures. There’s a lot of experimentation involved, and that’s okay. Which brings us to Tip 3…

Tip 3: Use a shallow depth of field

The depth of field is the amount of an image that is actually in focus.

Images with only a small amount of the subject in focus have a shallow depth of field. Images with a large amount of the subject in focus have a deep depth of field.

Depth of field is controlled by your camera’s aperture setting, also known as an f-stop. A low f-stop (f/1.4 to f/5.6) gives you a nice, shallow depth of field.

On most cameras, you will be able to choose your f-stop. For abstract flower photography, I usually keep it in the f/2.8-3.5 range but feel free to experiment a bit depending on your creative vision. Just keep that depth of field nice and shallow.

abstract flower photography black-eyed susan

Why do I recommend having so little of the image in focus?

In abstract photography, you must photograph flowers so that the viewer doesn’t immediately see the flower. You must work in terms of light, color, and shapes.

By using a shallow depth of field, you emphasize those elements and take the focus off the flower itself. You shift the focus to the shape of the flower, the color of it, and the light falling on the flower.

abstract flower photography aster

This is what I focus on in my final tip.

Tip 4: Look at the shape of the flower

As I mentioned above, it’s essential that you think about light, color, and shape.

Out of these three elements, I think that shape is most important in abstract flower photography. This is because flowers have naturally interesting shapes: sinuous curves, perfect circles, radiating lines.

The photographs are there. You just have to find them.

abstract flower photography coneflower

For instance, flowers tend to have such beautiful, soft petals. You can use these to your advantage in your photography. Think about the petals, not as parts of a flower, but as twisting lines. Try to see these shapes moving about through the flower.

Carefully set up a composition that uses these lines. Keep it simple—one or two lines is all you need.

Only once you’ve composed deliberately, keeping the shape of the flower at the forefront of your mind, should you take the image.

abstract flower photography black-eyed susan


Capturing beautiful abstract photographs can be an intensely rewarding experience.

Make sure you have the right equipment. Then, if you shoot on cloudy days, get super close, use a shallow depth of field and, above all, think in terms of the flower’s shape, you’ll be well on your way to taking stunning abstract flower photographs.

Have any more tips for abstract flower photography? Share them in the comments!

abstract flower photography orange

The post A Beginner’s Guide to Abstract Flower Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School.

5 Tips for Photographing Handheld Without a Tripod

Are you frustrated by the inconvenience of a tripod and you prefer shooting handheld? Do you want to take sharp images, but without having to lug around such a large piece of equipment?

Fortunately, it is possible to get stunning images, even images in low light, without using a tripod. In fact, tripods often limit your flexibility.

5 Tips for Photographing Handheld Without a Tripod - dunlin

I rarely use a tripod, myself. While I do appreciate the added stability a tripod provides, I find myself struggling to compose images. I prefer the ability to quickly flow from composition to composition. I also like to shoot from angles that tripods struggle to cover. Hence, I have a lot of experience in photographing handheld.

In this article, I discuss various ways you can shoot without a tripod while still getting sharp images. I will show you how, with very little work, you can take your handheld photography to the next level.

5 Tips for Photographing Handheld Without a Tripod - golden retriever and woman

1. Stabilize Your Body Against an Object

I’ll start with the least technical tip for shooting handheld, that is to become a human tripod!

By this, I mean that you should seek to stabilize your body and arms against an object. I find that the ground is an excellent choice (after all, it’s reliably present).

So, when shooting handheld, I often get down on the ground. I’ll lie on my stomach and press my elbows firmly against the soil. Then I can feel fairly confident when taking my image that things will remain sharp.

Photographing Handheld Without a Tripod - aster

I stabilized my elbows against the ground in order to photograph this aster.

If you don’t want to get down on your stomach, that’s okay. You can also try out several other positions.

For instance, you can crouch down and put your elbows on your knees. Or you can tuck your elbows into your body.

You can also find some other object to stabilize yourself against. I sometimes use large rocks or fallen trees when shooting flowers. It pays to be creative.

2. Use Your Camera or Lens’s Built-In Image Stabilization

Does your camera or lens possess image stabilization technology? If so, switch it on!

You see, image stabilization technology is built in by clever camera manufacturers. It reduces (or eliminates) camera shake using image stabilization.

Image stabilization technology generally works in one of two ways. If it’s built into the camera, the sensor physically moves to counteract any camera shake that the camera has experienced. If it’s built into the lens, an optical element inside the lens is what moves.

Regardless, here’s the key takeaway: Image stabilization technology help to minimize or eliminate camera shake.

Photographing Handheld Without a Tripod - urban abstract

Without image stabilization, getting this urban abstract would have been very difficult.

The downside of image stabilization technology is that it’s expensive. Only some cameras and some lenses possess it, and they tend to be on the pricier side of things.

For those of us who dislike shooting with a tripod, however, image stabilization is a worthwhile investment.

3. Shoot with Shorter Lenses

An oft-cited rule in photography circles is this: you can handhold your lens at a shutter speed that is the reciprocal of the focal length (that is, 1/focal length).

This may sound complex, but it’s really not. To find an acceptably fast shutter speed, take the focal length and make it into a fraction with a one on top.

For instance, if you’re shooting with a 100mm lens, you can handhold at a shutter speed of 1/100th of a second or faster. When you’re shooting with a 400mm lens, you can handhold at a shutter speed of 1/400th of a second or faster. Finally, if you’re shooting with a 25mm lens, you can handhold at a shutter speed of 1/25th of a second.

Do you see the pattern? The longer the lens, the faster your shutter speed must be. Conversely, you can use a longer shutter speed when using a short lens.

Photographing Handheld Without a Tripod - golden retriever

I used a wide angle lens to capture this golden retriever in low light.

This is for a couple of reasons. First, long lenses tend to be bigger and heavier, causing more camera shake. Second, longer lenses magnify camera shake, resulting in blurrier pictures.

Therefore, if you don’t have a tripod to cut down on camera shake, you should use a lens that is more forgiving of the rule (based on the 1/focal length rule).

So if you’re shooting handheld, use shorter focal lengths for more success.

4. Shoot in Burst Mode

Another tip for photographing without a tripod is to shoot in burst mode (high-speed drive mode).

To activate burst mode, you simply have to set the camera to high-speed drive mode and hold down the shutter button. If you have a camera with this capability, you’ll hear the rapid-fire sound of images being taken.

Photographing Handheld Without a Tripod - white-morph reddish egret

Burst mode was essential for getting this early-morning shot of a White-Morph Reddish Egret.

This mode helps with handheld photography for two reasons.

First, when you jab the shutter button with your finger, it generates camera shake. When you use burst mode, however, you only press the shutter button at the beginning of your image sequence. This means that later photographs are taken with very little camera shake because the shutter button is not actually pressed just before the image is captured.

Second, when you shoot in burst mode, the mirror doesn’t cause extra vibrations. You see, many cameras (DSLRs) have mirrors in front of the sensor. When the shutter button is pressed, the mirror flips up, briefly exposing the sensor to light (to capture the image).

When the mirror flips up, this causes small vibrations throughout the camera, another form of camera shake. Yet when you activate burst mode, the mirror only flips up only at the beginning of the burst. The later shots aren’t affected by the vibrations caused by the mirror and as a consequence, they are sharper.

NOTE: This last point doesn’t apply to mirrorless cameras as they do not have a mirror, hence the name!

5. Use the self-timer

My final tip for photographing without a tripod is to use your camera’s self-timer.

The self-timer allows you to press the shutter button, and then it waits a specified number of seconds before the image is taken.

Photographing Handheld Without a Tripod - cosmos

I love using the self-timer when photographing flowers.

This useful for the same reason cited above in favor of burst mode. It prevents the camera shake generated when you press the shutter button.

So, next time you’re out in the field and you’re struggling to get sharp images without a tripod, try using the self-timer to reduce your camera shake.

Photographing Handheld Without a Tripod - purple abstract


Many photographers think that tripods are a necessity, but this isn’t necessarily the case. There are methods that you can use to shoot without a tripod while still capturing stellar images.

Photographing Handheld Without a Tripod - architecture ann arbor

  • First, steady yourself by placing your elbows against the ground.
  • Second, switch on your camera or lens’s image stabilization software.
  • Third, shoot with shorter (e.g., wide-angle) lenses.
  • Fourth, photograph using burst mode.
  • Fifth, use your camera’s self-timer.

photography without tripod yellow flower

photography without tripod cosmos

If you follow these tips, your tripod will become far less important, and you’ll take fantastic handheld images.

Have any more tips for photographing without a tripod? Please share them in the comments below.

photography without tripod little blue heron

The post 5 Tips for Photographing Handheld Without a Tripod appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Five Ways to Take Stunningly Sharp Images

You can take sharp images. You can take them consistently, quickly, efficiently. However, you just may not realize it yet.

sharp images sanderling reflection

The Problem

The thing is, getting acceptably sharp images is a common problem among photographers. It’s something that I myself often struggled with getting consistently. I can’t tell you the number of times I used to come home, only to find my memory cards full of blurry or out of focus images.

I used to think the problem was my camera optics. In order to take pin-sharp images, I thought I needed a top of the line camera and lens. But it turns out that, when it comes to sharpness, the problem is generally the photographer (or the choices that the photographer makes).

And fortunately, that problem is very easy to fix.

sharp images purple flower

In this tutorial, you’ll learn five ways that you can get sharp images. And then, next time you go out shooting, you’ll consistently take pin-sharp images. Sound good? Read on to find out how.

sharp images tulip abstract

1. Use a fast enough shutter speed

When you press the shutter button on your camera, the internal sensor is briefly exposed to the light. This is how the camera actually captures an image.

The length of time that the sensor is exposed to the light is called the shutter speed.

sharp images yellow flower

Depending on your camera settings, the sensor might be exposed to the light for a long period of time (a slow shutter speed) or a short period of time (a fast shutter speed).

One of the main reasons your images are coming back blurry is that you’re not using a fast enough shutter speed. If you use a slow shutter speed, then your camera sensor remains open to the light for too long. It captures too much. That is, it captures motion.

But if you want to freeze the motion and capture only a sliver of a second so that everything is crystal clear, frozen. To do this, you need a fast shutter speed.

sharp images white ibis

Fortunately, it’s not difficult to do this. In your camera’s settings, you can generally increase the shutter speed. Or you can use the Action (Sports) setting, which many cameras have.

Even if your subject isn’t moving, your hands might not be rock-steady. This causes camera shake which in turn causes image blur.

A faster shutter speed will help fix this.

2. Tuck in your elbows

A shutter speed increase solves many issues with blurry photographs. But what if you can’t use a fast shutter speed?

photography without tripod golden retriever sunset

When the light is low, for instance, when you’re indoors or when you’re outside at night – a fast shutter speed lets in too little light, causing the image to be dark (we call this underexposure). Your camera will compensate for the low light by keeping the shutter open for longer, exposing the sensor to more light.

This is when it becomes important to eliminate camera shake completely. If the camera shakes, your image will come out blurred. So how do you stop your camera from shaking?

The first way that I’m going to talk about is simple: You tuck in your elbows. Don’t shoot with your arms out. Instead, firmly grip your camera while pulling your elbows in. This will serve to stabilize the camera and reduce camera shake.

sharp images woman in window

I tucked in my elbows in order to get a sharp shot of my model in low light.

3. Stabilize your body against a wall (or the ground!)

Sometimes, tucking in your elbows isn’t enough. If the light is really low, you may need to take more drastic measures to reduce camera shake.

One big tip is to stabilize your body against a feature of the landscape, something solid.

sharp images reddish egret

When photographing birds, I often stabilize my elbows against the ground, ensuring a sharper image. If you’re a street photographer, for instance, you can search for walls to lean against. If you’re a landscape photographer, you can hold onto a rock or tree.

It also helps to get down on the ground. You can kneel and stabilize your arms on your knee. Or you can get down on your stomach and use the grass, concrete or dirt as a stabilizer for your camera.

Trust me, it works!

4. Use a tripod

I’ve been talking a lot about stabilizing your camera, and the ways I’ve suggested will generally work well, especially if you’re in a pinch. But there is a more dedicated solution – use a tripod.

With a good tripod, you can completely eliminate camera shake. This will do wonders for keeping your images sharp.

sharp images ann arbor nickel's arcade

I used a tripod to capture this image of a musician at night.

There are a few downsides to using a tripod, however. The first is that you lose flexibility. It takes time to set up a new composition when you’re using a tripod, time that you might not want to spend. This is especially true if you’re photographing in a fast-paced atmosphere (e.g., portraiture or events).

The second downside is that good, solid tripods are expensive, especially if you want one that’s lightweight. Cheaper tripods may seem like a bargain, but they often don’t do the job well, or at all and replacing them costs more than buying one good one in the first place.

So be careful before choosing to invest in a good solid tripod.

5. Use a Shorter Lens

I have one more recommendation for eliminating blurry photographs, that is to use a shorter lens.

This is for a few reasons, but I’ll focus on the simplest one. A longer lens is harder to keep steady. It destabilizes the camera (and the image is magnified), and will, therefore, cause camera shake.

sharp images golden retriever

I used a wide-angle lens to photograph this golden retriever as the sun dipped below the horizon.

Hence, this tip is short and sweet. Especially when shooting in low light, put away your longer lenses and your telephoto zooms. Bring out your wide-angle and portrait lenses, ones that you can easily hold steady.

That’s how you’ll take sharp images.


Capturing consistently sharp images may have seemed daunting, but I hope that you now realize the truth. Getting sharp images is easy!

sharp images cosmos

I urge you to get out and try these tips now.

  1. Use a fast shutter speed.
  2. Tuck in your elbows.
  3. Stabilize your body.
  4. If you want, invest in a tripod.
  5. Use a wider lens.

And admire those crystal clear images!

Do you have any other tips for taking sharper images? Please share them in the comments below.

sharp images wilson's plover

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A Guide to Using Natural Light for Macro Photography

Working with natural light can seem daunting. Yet as a macro photographer, I love natural light. I’ve spent years studying it, playing with it, observing it, and watching it fall.

I use it in all of my photographs. In fact, the last time I picked up a flash was over five years ago.

natural light macro rose abstract

But how do you take advantage of natural light? Are there some simple principles that can be learned and quickly applied, so that you can take stunning macro photographs in no time?

Actually, yes!

In this short tutorial, you’ll learn all about natural light for macro photography. I’ll explain the types of natural light that I like, the types that I avoid, and how you can best use natural light in your own photographs.

When you’re finished reading, you’ll have the know how to use natural light like a pro!

natural light macro birch leaf in clover

Five Types of Natural Light in Macro Photography

There are five types of natural light that all macro photographers should know:

  • Sunny light
  • Cloudy light
  • Evening frontlight
  • Evening backlight
  • And evening shade

Let’s discuss each in turn.

natural light macro poppy

Sunny Light

By sunny light, I am referring to the light that you find at noon on a clear day.

It’s very bright, very strong, and really contrasty. So, let me just get this out of the way and state it simply.

Do NOT use sunny light for macro photography!

natural light macro clematis

I couldn’t bring myself to take a photograph in direct sunlight. I just dislike it too much! So I photographed this clematis in the evening.

I know that it’s very tempting. After all, bright sunlight is very powerful, and everyone loves to get out on sunny days.

The problem, however, is that direct sunlight is extremely tough for cameras to deal with, resulting in blown out (that is, totally white) highlights and underexposed (very dark) lowlights. It also creates shadows that are unpleasant to look at.

Now, there are some genres of photography that make use of a sunny type of light. Street photography, for instance, relies heavily on the gritty, contrast-heavy look that sunny light provides.

natural light macro aster

Macro photography, however, requires softer light such as the next type of light.

Cloudy Light

Cloudy light is pretty self-explanatory. This is the kind of light when there are clouds, at any time of the day.

natural light macro fall leaves

What does this mean for your photography?

Clouds diffuse the light, causing it to become pleasant and soft. This is an ideal type of light for bringing out colors in your subject. I work a lot with flowers, and I go crazy over cloudy light.

There’s nothing better than a nice cloudy day for flower photography.

natural light macro tulip

I photographed this flower under cloudy skies.

Therefore, if you enjoy doing flower-focused macro photography, cloudy light is for you. Shooting in cloudy light will ensure evenly illuminated subjects, lovely colors, and really pleasing images.

Yet sometimes you might want to create images which are slightly less soft. You might want to work with more striking light, which brings us to . . .

Evening Frontlight

Evening frontlight is found during the golden hours of photography. The golden hours are the first two hours after sunrise, and the final two hours before sunset.

During this time, the sun casts a beautiful golden glow over the world. If you venture outside, and you make sure that the sun is behind you (point your shadow at your subjects), you’ll find that you’re looking at a beautiful landscape.

natural light macro red flower

Is this type of light good for macro photography?

In a word, yes. Such natural light tends to look lovely and soft when rendered by a camera.

I must admit, however, that I am not the biggest fan of evening frontlight. I find that it’s a bit too bright. I also prefer more dramatic lighting. Which brings me to my favorite type of light.

Evening Backlight

Evening backlight is extremely similar to evening frontlight. Except, rather than having the sun behind you, you have it directly in front of you.

I love evening backlight for macro photography. I’m drawn to its dramatic presence and warmth. I suggest that you try it, yourself.

natural light macro aster backlight

I photographed this aster in evening backlight.

To use evening backlight, you simply point your camera into the light. I recommend placing the subject between yourself and the setting sun so that the sun is obscured by the subject. Or put the actual sun slightly outside the image, so that it can be felt rather than seen.

Of course, these images aren’t for everyone. But I personally find them to be stunning!

natural light macro backlight

Yet if you’re looking for something a little less punchy, I do have one final recommendation.

Evening Shade

Evening shade is pretty self-explanatory, as well. Your subject is shaded by some object (a tree, a building, the photographer) in the evening.

What makes evening shade natural light so special? I like the evening shade for one specific reason.

If you can shade your subject while using an unshaded background, your images will really pop. The background will be rendered as liquid gold, while your subject is lit fairly evenly.

natural light macro daisy abstract

I photographed this daisy in some evening shade. The background was lit by the setting sun.

Don’t believe me? Try it!


Natural light may seem difficult to work with, but I hope that after reading these tips, you are feeling far more confident in your abilities.

natural light macro dahlia

Simply remember to avoid sunny light, and you’re halfway there. Use cloudy light if you want soft, evenly illuminated subjects and beautiful colors. Use evening light if you want a bit more drama.

Which type of natural light do you prefer? Share your opinions and images in the comments below.

natural light macro leaves

The post A Guide to Using Natural Light for Macro Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School.

5 Ways to Make Extraordinary Photographs of Ordinary Subjects

How to Take Extraordinary Photographs of Ordinary Subjects - leaf in the snow

How do you take extraordinary photographs of ordinary subjects? Many photographers think that this is impossible. They think that the best photography requires far-flung locations or sweeping landscapes. Yet creating beautiful photographs of everyday things is not only possible, it’s easy!

In this tutorial, you will find five ways to make incredible photographs of ordinary subjects.

5 Ways to Make Extraordinary Photographs of Ordinary Subjects - close up of a white flower

1. Change your angle

I’ll start with a simple but very useful trick, that is changing your camera angle. Many photographers often shoot from a standing position, and this can be a useful starting point.

Yet when faced with an ordinary subject, it’s important to change things up. Otherwise, you’ll get a boring image that anybody could have taken.

red leaves - 5 Ways to Make Extraordinary Photographs of Ordinary Subjects

I stood underneath the leaves to get this image.

Instead, you should be more creative. Try crouching down low, so that you’re shooting up at your subject. This will create a sense of drama and your subject will loom in the frame.

I often lie on the ground, especially when shooting wildlife. Getting down on this level, even with the most ordinary of subjects, will give your images a sense of intimacy and draw the viewer right in.

Another option is to shoot from up high. You can hold the camera above your head, and use the LCD to compose your photograph. Or you can find some way of elevating yourself by using a chair, a balcony, or some stairs.

succulent plant - 5 Ways to Make Extraordinary Photographs of Ordinary Subjects

Regardless of which method you use, by changing your angle, you’ll find that you can make even the most ordinary of subjects come to life.

2. Photograph in dramatic light

A second way to take extraordinary photographs is to use dramatic lighting. Dramatic lighting can significantly add to the feeling and mood of your images. Therefore, by using dramatic lighting, you can create powerful images of ordinary subjects.

How do you create dramatic lighting?

One of my favorite types of dramatic lighting is with direct backlight. By this, I am referring to situations where the sun is low in the sky and directly behind your subject.

tree bark backlit - 5 Ways to Make Extraordinary Photographs of Ordinary Subjects

The sun was setting just beside the tree in the background.

Make sure that the sun itself is not in the image. You can either hide the sun behind the subject or photograph so the sun is just out of the frame.

Direct backlighting can single-handedly save a lackluster image. It will make viewers stop in their tracks. They’ll be pulled in by the high contrast and the drama.

Try it. I guarantee that you’ll see huge improvements in your photographs.

3. Find abstract compositions

A third way of taking extraordinary photographs of ordinary subjects is to look carefully for abstract compositions.

Abstract compositions are ones that don’t view the subject merely as the subject. A good abstract image emphasizes lines, shapes, and colors over any identifiable real-world elements.

dandelion - 5 Ways to Make Extraordinary Photographs of Ordinary Subjects

Often, good abstract photographs can be made by zooming in close (perhaps with a macro lens). But you can take beautiful abstract photographs with any lens.


The trick is to forget about the subject as you would normally think about it. Say you’re taking a picture of a rose. You must stop thinking about the rose as a flower. Start thinking about the rose in terms of its delicate lines, its solid color, and its curves.

rose abstract - 5 Ways to Make Extraordinary Photographs of Ordinary Subjects

Compose with these components in mind.

Even if your subject is completely ordinary, being able to find abstract compositions will do wonders for your photographs of the most mundane subjects.

4. Use creative photographic techniques

By “creative photographic techniques,” I’m referring to tricks that professional photographers employ.

These tricks will add a special touch to any photograph. By using these tricks, your everyday images will come to life.

snow and ice - 5 Ways to Make Extraordinary Photographs of Ordinary Subjects

I’ll share two with you today.

The first technique is called “freelensing.” It involves detaching the lens from your camera and holding it manually in front of the camera body.

By tilting the lens in different directions, you can change the area of the image that is in focus, resulting in some very creative effects.

I use this technique quite often when photographing nature.

red leaf on a tree - 5 Ways to Make Extraordinary Photographs of Ordinary Subjects

I used freelensing to capture this photograph of autumn leaves.

The second technique is called “intentional camera movement.” You simply set your shutter speed for a significant length of time (anywhere between 1/50th of a second and 2 seconds is a good place to start).

Then, once you’ve pressed the shutter button, you intentionally move the camera during the exposure. You might try panning from left to right. Or you can bring the camera downward. Really, you can use any kind of motion, the possibilities are endless!

This intentional camera movement technique will undoubtedly result in some stunning abstract images. So go ahead and experiment!

camera movement - 5 Ways to Make Extraordinary Photographs of Ordinary Subjects

5. Add a touch of editing

Some photographers often skip post-processing, thinking it unnecessary. But while you don’t have to edit your images, even subtle editing can be used to accentuate certain aspects of a photograph. Editing can make a photograph moody, colorful, or dramatic.

In short, a touch of editing can make your ordinary photographs extraordinary.

One of my favorite tricks for editing a photograph of an ordinary subject is simple. Convert it to black and white.

cute dog - 5 Ways to Make Extraordinary Photographs of Ordinary Subjects

I liked the color version of this pet photograph, but I loved the drama of the black and white.

That’s it. If you have Lightroom, go ahead and use one of their free presets.

What’s so special about black and white?

Black and white emphasizes the contrasting elements of a scene while stripping away all color. This makes your images far more artistic and dramatic.

By lightly editing your photographs, you can make them pop off the screen. You can make them come to life. You’ll create images that you’ll be proud of, even years later.

palm leaf backlighting - 5 Ways to Make Extraordinary Photographs of Ordinary Subjects

In Conclusion

By changing your angle, photographing in dramatic light, finding abstract compositions, using creative techniques, and by lightly editing your photographs, you’ll be able to take stunning images of even the most ordinary of subjects.

abstract of a leaf - 5 Ways to Make Extraordinary Photographs of Ordinary Subjects

So get out there and start shooting!

Have another tip for taking great photographs of ordinary subjects? Share it in the comments!

purple flower - 5 Ways to Make Extraordinary Photographs of Ordinary Subjects

The post 5 Ways to Make Extraordinary Photographs of Ordinary Subjects appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Use Backlight to Create Incredible Images

How to Use Backlight to Create Incredible Images - dandelion bright

With hundreds of thousands of photographers out shooting, how do you distinguish yourself from the pack? How do you repeatedly come home with images that make audiences everywhere gasp? One way is to use a more unique, dramatic style – backlight.

But how do you do this? In fact, it’s rather simple.

In this tutorial, you’ll find a sequence of steps for working with backlight. When you’re finished reading, you’ll have the know-how necessary to take incredible backlit photographs that everyone will love.

backlit flower - How to Use Backlight to Create Incredible Images

Step 1: Shoot early or late in the day

Backlight refers to a lighting situation when the light comes from directly behind the subject.

How to Use Backlight to Create Incredible Images - yellow flower and bokeh

A backlit Black-Eyed Susan.

Because backlit photography requires such a specific lighting angle, it can only be done when the sun is low in the sky. This means photographing early or late in the day.

Too early in the afternoon and the sun won’t offer much directional light. For dramatic backlighting, the sun needs to point across (and into the eyes of the photographer). But during midday, the sun points down.

Also, the golden quality of the light during morning and evening makes for a much more pleasing backlit images.

snow close up - How to Use Backlight to Create Incredible Images

I photographed this backlit snow late in the evening.

Step 2: Find a distinct subject

The subject is the focal point of your image. It is what you want to stand out, what you want to emphasize in your photograph.

interesting flower shape - How to Use Backlight to Create Incredible Images

The best subjects have distinct outlines. That is, they don’t overlap with other elements in the photograph.

A mishmash of trees? Not the greatest subject for a backlight photograph. The trees will all blend together, creating a load of messy shadows.

A single tree against the sky? Now you’re off to a great start.

Step 3: Get low

Once you’ve found your subject, it’s time to begin actually composing your image.

As mentioned above, the best backlight compositions have a distinct subject. But even if you have a relatively distinct subject, it’s important to work to further isolate your subject so that you get the strongest backlit photograph possible.

One way to isolate your subject is by getting down low.

dandelion seedhead - How to Use Backlight to Create Incredible Images

I took this photograph of a dandelion seedhead while lying on the ground. Getting down so low allowed me to isolate the individual seeds.

When you crouch, kneel or even lie on the ground, you change your perspective. Your subject seems to rise into the sky, framed against the bright sky.

This is exactly what you want. A darker subject against a brighter sky is a perfect start to a stunning backlight photograph that you can be proud of.

Step 4: Choose where to put the sun

I have a straightforward recommendation when it comes to backlit photography. That is not to include the sun in the frame.

If you do include the sun, nine times out of ten you’ll find yourself with a bright white blob in your image. That is not very photogenic at all.

Instead, try to place the sun just outside the frame. This way, you’ll still have a brilliant brightness in the sky—which I love to have in my backlight photography—without it being overpowering.

close up of tree bark - How to Use Backlight to Create Incredible Images

The sun is just outside the frame of this tree photograph.

You can also place the sun behind your main subject. This is another effective technique for hiding the sun while getting the full force of a brilliant sky.

Step 5: Expose with the main subject in mind

Exposure refers to the level of brightness in the image. In backlight photography, I recommend exposing the image in one of two ways.

First, you can create a silhouette.

flower silhouette - How to Use Backlight to Create Incredible Images

I captured this near silhouette in the late evening.

In order to do this, start by exposing for the bright sky. That is, dial back the brightness of the image so that the sky itself has some nice detail in it. If there are clouds in the sky, you should be able to see them in your image.

silhouette and bokeh of a flower - How to Use Backlight to Create Incredible Images

Because the sky is naturally so bright, dialing back the exposure will make your main subject dark, which is exactly what you want. After this, it’s a matter of tweaking the exposure to get the exact effect you’re looking for.

Second, you can expose for the main subject.

Personally, I prefer this form of backlight photography. I like to keep some detail in the main subject, while also getting that beautiful backlit glow.

white flower - How to Use Backlight to Create Incredible Images

Here, I was careful to make sure this flower photograph was light enough.

For this type of photography, I start by making sure the exposure is light enough that I can see the main subject. I don’t let it get too bright, because then the sky becomes overpowering.

Of course, feel free to take a few images and experiment with the exposure. Slightly different levels of brightness will give your photographs subtly different moods, so make sure to shoot the scene in several different ways!

In Conclusion

Creating unique images can be difficult. But by using backlight in your photographs, you’ll be able to take incredible images that will impress even the best photographers. Just be sure to shoot when the sun is low in the sky. Make sure you find a distinct subject. Place the sun out of the frame. Finally, be sure to carefully choose the brightness of your image.

Have any other tips for shooting in backlight? Let me know in the comments below.

purple flower close up - How to Use Backlight to Create Incredible Images

The post How to Use Backlight to Create Incredible Images appeared first on Digital Photography School.

5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Starting Nature Photography

5 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Starting Nature Photography - rose macro

How do you, as a beginning nature photographer, go about improving? How do you ensure that you gain useful skills as rapidly as possible so that you can start shooting professional quality nature photography?

5 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Starting Nature Photography - flower macro pink

In reality, it’s often difficult for the beginner to recognize how they should learn nature photography.

But I myself am a nature photographer, and looking back the answers to these questions are clear. So I thought I’d make a tutorial that discusses several things I wish I had known at the beginning of my nature photography journey.

Read on. The sooner you know these things, the sooner you’ll begin to take consistently stunning images.

1. Photograph every day

The first thing I wish I had known when starting nature photography is extremely simple,

Photograph every day!

I cannot emphasize this enough.

5 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Starting Nature Photography - flower close up

If you’re truly serious about improving as a nature photographer, you should try to take at least one photograph of nature, every single day. It doesn’t matter if you take it with your DSLR or your iPhone. Just get out and shoot.

You’ve likely heard that practice makes perfect, and this is part of that. But there’s more to it. By photographing every day, you’ll ensure that your artistic eye remains strong.

5 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Starting Nature Photography - yellow flower poppy

What do I mean by that? If you photograph every day, thinking about light, color, and composition will become second nature. You’ll start to see photographic opportunities everywhere.

This is exactly where you want to be as a nature photographer.

2. View the type of photography you want to create


This is a huge one, as well. If you want to create great nature photography, you have to view great nature photography.

When you view amazing photography, you develop an eye for light, color, and composition without even realizing it.

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This is an essential skill for a budding nature photographer. Plus, there’s an added bonus – it’s really fun!

Start by looking up the type of photographs that you’d like to create. You can use a well-organized site like 500PX. Or you can just use Google. The important thing is that you find photography to look at for inspiration.

For instance, if you’re an up-and-coming macro photographer, try viewing the portfolios of photographers such as Mike Moats and Kristel Schneider.

If you’re a beginning landscape photographer, look at the work of Ian Plant and Thomas Heaton.

If you’re a budding wildlife photographer, look to photographers such as Marsel Van Oosten and Matthew Studebaker.

5 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Starting Nature Photography - flower extreme close up

Then expand from there.

The purpose isn’t to memorize their images so that you can copy them in the field. Rather, the goal is to appreciate great imagery, while recognizing (if only subconsciously) what makes it great.

The goal is also to get inspired.

3. Light matters more than you think

I’ve emphasized the need to practice photography every day, and that truly is essential. However, when practicing, there’s something extremely important you need to consider. That is the light.

I’ll state it plainly. Photograph the two hours after sunrise, the two hours before sunset, and during midday only if it’s cloudy.

Otherwise, stay indoors.

extraordinary-photographs-ordinary-subjects nature-photography-flower-macro

This generally takes some retraining of the brain. It’s easy to think to yourself, “It’s such a nice sunny afternoon; I should get out and photograph!”

But you need to resist this thought. Because photographing during a sunny afternoon will result in harsh, contrasty images that are almost never desirable in nature photography.

Start spending time observing the quality of the light. Notice how nicely illuminated your subject is when the sun is low in the sky. Notice how lovely and soft the light is on a cloudy afternoon. Notice how harsh the light is under the midday sun.

nature-photography-flower-macro extraordinary-photographs-ordinary-subjects

As a beginning photographer, I often forgot about this rule. So my photographs paid the price. I have thousands upon thousands of photographs that are simply unusable because of the harsh sunlight.

Memorize the rule. You may not be able to see such a difference in your images at present. But in a few years, you’ll thank me!

4. Gear matters less than you think

While light is more important than you think, gear is also less important than you may imagine.

You might think that gear is essential. You may ask me, “Jaymes, if my gear really isn’t important, then why do you spend so much time reading gear reviews and upgrading your equipment?”

But my response is this: gear does matter. High-quality lenses will allow you to capture the detail on a singing bird or the movement of sparring polar bears.

5 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Starting Nature Photography - flower extreme close up - daisy

High-quality cameras will allow you to photograph a wolf under the cover of twilight or a hawk flying directly above.

Yet gear is nothing without the photographers that wield it. A good photographer can get stunning images with any equipment. Whereas a bad photographer cannot create stunning images, regardless of their gear.

extraordinary-photographs-ordinary-subjects nature-photography-flower-macro

So focus less on making sure you have the right equipment. Instead, practice using the equipment you do have. Try to eke out as much as you can from it.

Eventually, if you work hard enough, you will get beautiful images, high-quality gear or not.

5. Most of the images you take will be terrible

Beginning nature photographers often have a dangerous misconception about nature photography. That is that the best photographers rarely take bad images.

This belief can lead to discouragement on the part of the budding photographer.

5 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Starting Nature Photography - flower extreme close up abstract

This type of abstract photograph comes amid a huge number of deleted images.

After looking through your memory card, to find that only you’ve managed to nail a single image (out of a hundred!), you may want to give up.



Because most of the early images you take will be terrible, and that’s okay. This is true for nature photographers of all levels. Of course, at the higher levels, the nature photographer’s standards are higher, but the tip still applies.

5 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Starting Nature Photography - flower extreme close up

This is true for me, as well.

I go on dozens of photo shoots each month and take around 600 images per shoot. Yet I’m happy if I get a single image with which I’m really pleased.

Because uncertainty, guesswork, and reaction are part of the game. This is the nature of nature photography.

So let me reiterate. Don’t get discouraged. Most of your shots will be terrible, but it’s the good ones that count.

5 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Starting Nature Photography - flower extreme close up tulip

In Conclusion

Starting nature photography can be daunting for a lot of people. It can be difficult to know how to improve. You want to take stunning images as soon as possible, but you just can’t figure out how.

5 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Starting Nature Photography - flower extreme close up

By understanding the lessons above, you’ll be well on your way to creating beautiful nature images.

Just remember:

  • Shoot every day.
  • View the type of photography you want to create.
  • Light matters more.
  • Gear matters less.
  • Finally, don’t be discouraged if most of your images are terrible.


Someday soon, you’ll be a great nature photographer.

What are some things you wish you had known when first starting out as a nature photographer? Let me know in the comments area below.


The post 5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Starting Nature Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Five Tips for Creative Pet Photography

pet photography creative black dog profile

Creative Pet Photography

How do you capture beautiful and unique photographs of your pets? While social media is littered with average snapshots of dogs and cats, it is possible to take your pet photography to the next level. In fact, it’s very simple.

In this tutorial, you’ll learn five ways to create incredible, unique photographs of your pets. These tips will allow you to capture unforgettable images of your beloved cat or dog, while at the same time preserving priceless memories.

husky dog - Creative Pet Photography

Tip #1: Get down to your pet’s level

When doing pet photography, it’s important that your camera is eye-level with your pet.

All too often, pet photographers shoot from an upright position, looking down. While this can sometimes work (we’ll discuss one example in Tip #3 below), it generally results in an unflattering pet portrait. This is because the ground makes for an unpleasant background.

Instead, crouch, kneel or lie down in front of your pet.

dog - Creative Pet Photography

I got down on my knees to photograph this dog (named Cookie Monster).

Notice the way the background changes from hard ground to a softer bokeh. You might even get a beautiful image of your pet’s head lying in the grass.

This is exactly what you want. It will make people stop and look twice. It will make your pet pop off the page.

So, when photographing your pet, get down low.

husky dog Creative Pet Photography

I photographed this husky mix, Penny, from a low angle.

Tip #2: Use a wide-angle lens

You can capture beautiful images of your pet no matter your equipment. However, it’s pretty standard to use a portrait lens, somewhere in the 50-85mm range, to photograph pets.

If you want a unique image, switch it up and pull out your wide-angle lens.

wide-angle Creative Pet Photography

With such a lens, the opportunities are endless. You can take an environmental portrait, one that shows off your pet in a stunning environment.

Or you can show your pet from a more intimate perspective by getting in close.

Regardless, you won’t go wrong using a wide-angle lens. You’ll capture beautiful pet portraits that will make your friends jealous.

Tip #3: Use the cute pose

The cute pose is my name for the pose that dogs often show. You know the one: in a sitting position, big eyes, looking up. The sort of pose that makes your heart melt.

cute pose - Creative Pet Photography

Lincoln exhibiting the cute pose.

How do you actually capture the cute pose?

I like to hold a treat just above my camera and tell my dog to sit. That way, he strikes the pose without any other prompting. His head points up to follow the treat. His eyes plead.

If you want a special image of your pet, the cute pose is an excellent way to go.

cute dog Creative Pet Photography

Tip #4: Get close

Do you want intimate pet portraits? I know I do.

One of my favorite ways to do this is to get close.

dog eye - Creative Pet Photography

I focused on the eye of this beautiful dog.

Many pet photographers often aim to capture the whole of their pet. But for a different image, try zooming in, getting close. Focus on a small part of your pet: their head, eyes, nose, or teeth.

The resulting image will be both intimate and unique. You’ll capture the details of your beautiful pet. And you’ll make more artistic, aesthetically pleasing images.

dog nose - Creative Pet Photography

I wanted to focus on the colorful fur of this dog, Hamilton.

To create intimacy in your pet photography, get close.

Tip #5: Capture the tongue

My final tip for unique pet photography is one of my favorites: capture your pet’s tongue in action.

People often strive to create static, formal images of their pets. These are nice, but sometimes you want to loosen up a little. You want to portray not just the physical features of your pet, but their personality.

That’s where the tongue comes in.

dog tongue - Creative Pet Photography

This involves a lot of waiting and watching. Some pets do more with their tongue than others. I like to wait for my dog to yawn. When his mouth is open, tongue lolling out, that’s when I press the shutter.

If you can capture your dog or cat with their tongue out, I guarantee you’ll love the resulting image. First of all, you’ll feel a connection to your pet, one that a formal portrait doesn’t really provide.

Second, viewers will feel a connection to your pet. They’ll start to understand his or her quirks better. They’ll start to appreciate your pet the way that you do.

licking tongue - Creative Pet Photography

To sum up: To capture unique images of your pets, make sure you photograph their tongue.


With so many photographs of pets in the world, it may seem impossible to distinguish yourself from the pack. It may feel like you’re getting the same photographs over and over again. Like you’re capturing photographs that aren’t intimate, photographs that don’t really give a window into the life of your pet.

However, if you follow the five tips above, your images will look beautiful, and they’ll also be more unique.

dog panting Creative Pet Photography

Capturing these unique pet portraits is simple.

  1. Start by getting low.
  2. Then whip out that wide-angle lens.
  3. Next, experiment with the cute pose.
  4. Fourth, get close. Really, really close.
  5. Finally, capture your pet’s personality by showing their tongue.

Once you get more experienced, you can mix and match different tips. You might photograph your dog in the cute pose with her tongue out. You might get low while using a wide-angle lens.

The possibilities for unique and stunning pet portraits are endless. So just get out there with your best friend, and start shooting. Do you have any other tips for unique pet portraits? Please share them in the comments below.

dog with blue collar - Creative Pet Photography

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4 Less Popular Types of Lighting Every Photographer Should Know

How can you, as a photographer, best use lighting to your advantage? Working with different kinds of light can be a challenge for even the most seasoned photographers. This often leads to a common suggestion: “Point your shadow at the subject.” Yet certain underutilized less popular types of lighting can actually enhance your photographs.

macro photography bokeh flower dahlia - Types of Lighting

In this article, you’ll get tips for working with four different types of natural lighting, including shade, overcast light, and strong backlighting. Hopefully, you’ll come away with the know-how and inspiration to start using more creative lighting in your own photographs.

macro photography bokeh flower tulip - Types of Lighting

1. Shade plus front light

By “shade plus front light” I’m referring to the lighting situation when the sun is behind you (and coming over your shoulder), but the subject is shaded. That is, the sun would normally front light the subject, but it is blocked by an object.

macro photography bokeh flower trout lily - Types of Lighting

I shaded this trout lily with my body, resulting in a shaded subject and a well-lit background.

Many photographers like to ignore shaded subjects. However, I love this lighting situation for a few reasons.

The first is that it is easier to expose for a shaded subject. You don’t have to deal with intense highlights and shadows. Instead, you can rest easy knowing that the range of lights and darks in your image will be rendered properly by your camera’s sensor.

purple flower - Types of Lighting

Another shaded but front lit situation. Notice the brighter background here.

The second is that this lighting scenario offers up wonderful backgrounds. This is an especially powerful technique when shooting during the “golden hours”, the time just after sunrise and just before sunset.

If you can position the subject so that the sun falls behind it, you can take images with rich, warm background colors. The key is to expose for the main subject (i.e., meter off it), and let the background remain bright. Use a wide aperture to ensure that the background is thrown out of focus.

macro photography bokeh flower cosmos - Types of Lighting

Shading this cosmos flower allowed me to produce a more subtle looking subject with a beautiful background.

Shaded subjects can make for great photographs if you know how to use them!

2. Shade plus backlight

To continue with the “shade” theme, let’s discuss another underutilized type of light: shade and backlight.

By this, I am referring to a situation with a shaded subject where the sun is positioned behind that subject so that you are pointed toward the sun. In this situation, you cannot do the shading yourself. Instead, you have to rely on environmental features to block the light.

macro photography bokeh flower - Types of Lighting

This flower was shaded by some nearby grasses. I was able to get these background highlights by including the edge of the sun in the frame.

What does this type of lighting offer you? Similar to a shaded and front lit subject, a shaded but backlit subject is easier to expose.

If you’re struggling to photograph a brightly colored flower, for instance, it might be beneficial to find a similar specimen in a shaded area. This will help prevent you from blowing out the highlights on the flower’s petals.

macro photography bokeh flower aster - Types of Lighting

Another compelling reason to use this particular type of lighting is that it can create beautiful bokeh. I’m not really talking about bokeh in the sense of that smooth, creamy look that we photographers love (for that, go back to shade plus front light).

Rather, I’m referring to those beautiful geometric shapes that occasionally appear in the background of photographs.

macro photography bokeh flower tulip - Types of Lighting

Notice the slight highlights in the background, created by the shade-sun combination.

How do you do this?

In a backlit environment, the light is often filtered through the surrounding greenery. These are often leaves, but also grasses, shrubs, branches, tree trunks, etc. The rays of the sun are broken up into small points of light, which are then rendered in that geometric fashion when incorporated into your images.

This is a beautiful effect that can add an extra punch to your photographs.

3. Overcast lighting

This type of lighting is more commonly used than the two mentioned above, but overcast light (i.e., light on cloudy days) deserves a mention.

macro photography bokeh flower aster - Types of Lighting

I photographed these flowers on a cloudy afternoon.

You might think that the camera should stay inside on overcast days. After all, the subjects aren’t very well lit, and everything seems a bit gloomy and bland.

Actually, overcast days are fantastic for photography. Especially if you go out toward the middle of the day when the sun is high in the sky (and blocked by clouds), you’ll find wonderfully diffused lighting.

The clouds act as a giant softbox, subtly lighting the entire landscape. This results in colors that are deeply saturated. Macro photographers such as myself love overcast lighting because our flower photographs become much more colorful.

macro photography bokeh flower tulip - Types of Lighting

Another advantage to shooting on overcast days is similar to that of shaded lighting in that the subjects are easier to expose well. There is no bright sunlight to create harsh shadows and unpleasant highlights.

Therefore, overcast days can be a great choice for photographing brightly colored subjects.

4. Direct backlighting

Direct backlighting refers to situations where the sun is directly behind the subject (and therefore directly in front of the photographer).

macro photography bokeh flower tulip - Types of Lighting

The sun is just out of the frame here, above the tulip.

This type of lighting is difficult to work with. Photographers often come away with unwanted flare and a drastically underexposed subject. However, using backlighting is simpler than you might think. Just remember a few key guidelines.

The first thing to note is that I don’t like to use direct backlighting unless the sun is low in the sky. Otherwise, instead of achieving a charming, warm look, you’ll find yourself with a harsh, contrasty image. Sunrise and sunset are your windows, so you’ll need to work quickly and efficiently.

Second, don’t put the sun in the image itself. This will result in a nearly impossible lighting situation. Instead, block the sun with your subject. Move around a bit. Get down low. If you do decide to include the sun in the image, put it at the very edge of the frame (as I did in one of the photos above).

macro photography bokeh flower bleeding heart - Types of Lighting

Backlighting (the sun was in the background on the right-hand side) produced some really interesting bokeh in this bleeding heart photograph.

Third, make sure that your subject stands out against the background. I often try to compose with the subject against the sky.

Fourth, expose for your main subject. Don’t worry about the bright background. Then, once you’ve settled on an accurate exposure for the subject itself, feel free to raise or lower the exposure. Lower it for a slightly darker, more dramatic look (and if you lower it a significant amount, you’ll end up shooting a silhouette). Raise it for a slightly brighter, in-your-face type image.

While there are certainly variations in backlighting conditions, these four guidelines will get you well on your way to shooting some creative backlit images.


While it can be difficult to think outside the box and take risks when it comes to lighting, the rewards can be great.

Try using some of the lighting scenarios discussed above: shade and front light or backlight, overcast light, or even direct backlighting.

Your images will become far more diverse and a lot more impressive!

macro photography bokeh flower aster - Types of Lighting

The post 4 Less Popular Types of Lighting Every Photographer Should Know appeared first on Digital Photography School.

5 Rules in Macro Photography and When to Break Them

In any genre of photography, you’re going to be faced with so-called rules, guidelines, or commandments. Macro photography is no exception.

Consider advice such as, “shoot with a narrow aperture,” or “use a uniform background.” You’ve probably heard those time and time again. In fact, I’ve taught most of them, myself!

flower abstract macro photography tulip

While these rules are often useful to beginners, as you become a more advanced photographer, you’ll find times when you need to break all photographic rules. But how do you know when to follow rules, and when to break them?

In this article, I discuss five rules in macro photography, and when they can be discarded. I use examples from my own work so that you are able to see what both following and breaking the rule looks like.

Ultimately, you’ll learn how to break rules in your own macro photography, which will allow you to really take your work to the next level.

flower macro photography gerbera abstract

Rule 1: Use the Rule of Thirds

This is probably the number one most talked about rule in photography, including macro photography. After all, it has the word “rule” in its name!

The rule of thirds is simple: Divide your viewfinder, screen, or LCD into both vertical and horizontal thirds. This creates a grid. The main elements of your composition—horizon lines, leading lines, faces, eyes—should lie somewhere along these lines.

It’s even better if they fall on one of the “power points” of the grid, the place where the lines intersect.

flower macro photography tulip

The place where the stem meets the petals of this tulip lies on a power point.

How does this apply to macro photography?

Often, you’ll be advised to place flower stems along the Rule of Thirds grid. You’ll be told to place flower centers along the power points of the image. The same goes for insects and leaves.

The points of focus should fall on the power points of the composition, you’ll be told.

flower macro photography dahlia close up

The center of this dahlia is positioned at one of the power points on the Rule of Thirds grid.

This is often great advice. The Rule of Thirds has been used for centuries and generally results in very pleasing compositions. But sometimes it’s best to break out of this mold and get something a bit edgier, a bit more unique.

When should you break the rule?

Let me tell you about two scenarios when I like to break the Rule of Thirds.

The first instance you should break the rule is when you have a symmetrical subject. Symmetry can be very powerful, and it’s usually best emphasized by putting the point of symmetry (the place around which the image is symmetrical) in the dead center of the image.

flower macro photography dahlia symmetry

The second time you might choose to break the Rule of Thirds is when you want to have a more spacious, off-balance image.

I like to place my main subject at the very top or bottom of the image and leave tons of negative space in the center and at the top. This can produce a minimalist feeling, one that I really love.

flower macro photography grape hyacinth - negative space

Rule 2: Keep it Simple

Another common macro photography rule is to keep your compositions simple.

You should have one point of focus, no distracting elements, a clean and straightforward image. Indeed, this is often wise. Random chaos takes away from the main subject and causes the viewer to become confused.

flower macro photography tulip simple one subject

However, more controlled chaos might be just the thing you need to create a unique image.

I like to use controlled chaos when I’m faced with a complex scene. Many overlapping flowers, for instance, are great subjects for a more chaotic image.

The key is to make sure that there is a main subject that stands out and remains as a point of focus. At the same time, it’s okay to let the background or foreground get a bit messy, as long as it complements the main subject.

flower macro photography chaos in composition

The flower on the left creates order in an otherwise messy composition.

For instance, you might have a background with colors that match the main subject. Alternatively, your background might include some flashy lights or brightly colored bokeh.

Just make sure that you keep the eye focused. It’s a fine line between having a complex but controlled image and making a big mess.

Rule 3: Have a Single Point of Focus

Macro photographers are often told to compose with a single point of focus in mind. That means something that the eye can focus on. This rule is especially relevant because I suggested that you use it in the tip above!

flower macro photography peony single subject

Notice how the eye is drawn straight to the center of this peony.

However, while there is a time and a place for this rule, there are also times when it should be broken.

For instance, when faced with a noticeable pattern among leaves or flowers or ferns, it is sometimes better to think less in terms of a point of focus, and more in terms of the image as a whole. Try to emphasize the pattern, and let the eye follow it through the image.

flower macro photography focus

There may not be one point of focus, but the image will remain pleasing.

Rule 4: Have a Uniform Background

Uniform backgrounds are especially emphasized in macro photography. Macro photographers will often shoot on a completely black or pure white background for this very reason.

The rule makes sense – the more uniform the background, the less distracting it is. I use it often myself.

flower macro photography tulip pink and green

However, this is a rule that I also often break. Why?

To be frank, uniform backgrounds can be boring. More colorful uniform backgrounds are better. I find a uniform gold or orange to be the most pleasing, but sometimes even that isn’t enough.

flower macro photography grape hyacinth background colors

To take your macro photography to the next level, try looking for complementary backgrounds. In other words, backgrounds that offer a bit of substance while enhancing the main subject.

One trick is to place a second subject just behind the first. Choose an aperture that keeps the second subject slightly out of focus, but yet still recognizable.

flower macro photography tulip light and airy image

Another trick is to shoot towards the sun, so that you get creative flare effects and beautiful highlights.

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But be careful: you don’t want to go from uniform to messy. The key word is “complementary.”

Rule 5: Make Sure the Whole Subject is Sharp

I’ve saved the most interesting rule for last. It’s a fairly simple one. Just make sure that your subject is completely sharp.

If you’re shooting a butterfly, make sure that it is sharp from edge to edge. When you’re shooting a flower, make sure that it’s sharp from the tip of the front petal to the edge of the back petal.

If you can’t get the entire subject sharp, the rule advises that you should get as much in focus as possible. This is done by narrowing the aperture. It’s common for macro photographers to shoot in the f/8 and beyond range.

Me? I rarely venture past f/7.1. In this sense, I’m a bit of a rebel.

Of course, I recognize that there is a time and a place for images that are sharp throughout the frame. But that is one particular aesthetic, and there are other looks that you can achieve by widening the aperture and shooting in the f/2.8 to f/7.1 range.

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This is how macro photographers produce that “dreamy” feeling in their images.

Use a wide aperture. You work at higher magnifications and manually focus on a recognizable part of your subject; a leaf or the edge of a petal.

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Then you shoot and come away with an image that is barely sharp, but for some people is very pleasing.


Macro photography rules (or photographic rules in general) can be very useful, especially for beginners. However, as the saying goes, rules are made to be broken.

By breaking the rules discussed above—that is, by breaking the Rule of Thirds, by creating more complex, chaotic compositions, and by focusing only on a small part of the subject—you’ll come away with more unique images.

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Know any other macro photography rules that you like to break? Please share them in the comment area below.

The post 5 Rules in Macro Photography and When to Break Them appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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