Guide to Choosing Subjects and Compositions for Flower Photography

How does the budding flower photographer go about selecting subjects and choosing compositions? In this article, I will give a detailed answer to this question. First, I will discuss the different types of flower photography subjects. Then I will give guidelines for creating stunning compositions.

All throughout this article, I will emphasize producing clean, dynamic images.

flower photography macro tulip


Choosing a subject in flower photography may seem easy – flower photographers shoot flowers, right?

While this is true, it’s important to consider several factors about any particular flower. Among these is the color of the flower, the condition of the flower (is it dying and/or dirty?), and the shape of the flower.

flower photography macro yellow orange abstract


Considering color is simple. The more colorful the flower, the more interesting the image is going to be (generally speaking, of course). I like to use bright colors, placed before a brightly colored background.

flower photography macro tulip abstract

It can also be useful to think in terms of complementary colors. These are the red/green, blue/orange, and yellow/purple combinations. When they are placed together in the same frame, the results can be powerful.


Another important consideration is the condition of the flower. Before taking your photograph, you should inspect your potential subject carefully.

flower photography macro backlit

Ideal flowers are at peak bloom: petals spread wide, edges crisp and unblemished. I try to avoid photographing flowers that are on their way out because more often than not I’m disappointed with the resulting images.

The best flowers are also free of dirt. I often wipe dirt off carefully with my finger. If there are insects, I gently blow them away from the flower center. Another tactic is to obscure the blemishes or dirt by shooting soft-focus images or silhouettes.

flower photography macro silhouette

This flower wasn’t in peak condition, so I chose to shoot a silhouette, emphasizing the shape over the condition.


This final aspect of flower photography is more difficult to explain, but it is important, so I’m going to give it a shot. Certain flower shapes are better than others for flower photography.

More specifically, the flowers that will get you the most pleasing images are often those with clear patterns and bold, dynamic shapes.

Consider the rose. It is one of my favorite flowers to photograph. Why? The petals are dynamic, flowing and changing. They also have a clear pattern, and therefore imbue your images with a sense of organization.

flower photography macro rose

Another flower that I love to photograph is the tulip. Its structure is simple but bold, and it has large petals that curve slightly. It isn’t chaotic or messy. The viewer’s eye can easily trace its shape without getting lost.

flower photography macro tulip

The rose and tulip sit in contrast to flowers such as zinnias, which are rather chaotic and therefore difficult to pin down in an image. Which is not to say that a good zinnia image is impossible; it’s just a lot more difficult.


When composing flower photographs, it is a good idea to keep a checklist in the back of your mind. In every flower photography image, try to incorporate at least a few of the guidelines provided below.


My first tip is the most important – simplify!

Figure out what it is about the flower that you like, and focus on that, removing any extraneous elements, be they extra flowers, stems, petals, etc. Make sure that any distracting elements are not present.

flower photography macro pattern abstract

Use Symmetry

While you shouldn’t always strive to use symmetry in your flower images, it can be a good starting point. Flower centers are often symmetrical or nearly symmetrical. This is something that you can use, composing with the flower smack-dab in the center of your image, anchored by its center point.

flower photography macro symmetry

I used this flower’s symmetrical center to create a bold composition.

Have a Clear Point of Focus

Without a clear point of focus in your images, the viewer will be lost. Their eyes will wander from place to place without really being drawn into the image.

How do you create a point of focus? You ensure that at least one part of your image is sharper than the rest. You also compose with this point of focus in mind, making sure that the rest of your image merely complements this point of focus (rather than dominating it or detracting from it).

flower photography macro abstract

Here, the eye is drawn straight to the in-focus petals of this flower.

Use a Clean, Pleasing Background

Above, I discussed the importance of colorful subjects. But the subject isn’t the only thing that should be colorful. It’s also important to have a colorful background, or at least a pleasing one.

This can be a bit of a balancing act because you don’t want the background to overpower the subject. White and black backgrounds can work well, as can backgrounds that are a colorful but uniform wash.

macro photography flower trout lily

I aimed for a uniform, calming background when taking this trout lily photograph.

Tilt the Camera

One last tip for creating dynamic compositions is to try tilting the camera.

Rather than having the flower sitting statically within the frame, by tilting the camera, you communicate a sense of movement. The flower seems to be emerging from the frame in a very pleasing way.

flower photography macro black-eyed susan

Notice how tilting the camera to shoot this Black-Eyed Susan resulted in a more energetic image.


When doing flower photography, it is important to carefully consider both the subject and your composition. By keeping your subjects colorful and clean, and by aiming for simple, clean compositions, your flower photography will instantly improve.

The post Guide to Choosing Subjects and Compositions for Flower Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Five Common Macro Photography Mistakes and How to Fix Them

 macro leaf autumn - Common Macro Photography Mistakes

Macro photography requires a unique set of skills, but along with these skills comes a new set of mistakes to overcome. Fortunately, many of these macro photography mistakes are easily fixed.

In this article, I discuss five common mistakes made in macro photography. Then I give you the tools to correct them in the field, which will result in instantly better macro images.

1. Shooting in direct midday sunlight

The first mistake often made in macro photography is heading out when the sun is high in the sky (midday). While the light during this time is bright, it’s also very harsh and contrasty. Images taken at this time are difficult to expose well, and colors are far less saturated.

The angle of the sun causes additional problems. It beats directly down on your subject, causing the underside to become shadowy.

flower tulip - Common Macro Photography Mistakes

I try to avoid going out to shoot on sunny afternoons. This tulip image was taken on a cloudy spring day.

How can this problem be fixed?

You have a few options. First, try waiting until the evening, when the light is warm and soft. This will reduce contrast and light your subject more evenly. You could also cast a shadow on the subject yourself, or find a subject in the shade. This will reduce the extent to which your subject encounters the harsh and contrasty light.

flower tulip - Common Macro Photography Mistakes

These tulips were photographed in the evening, when the light was far less harsh.

Cloudy days are the third option. Then, the sky acts like a huge softbox, and the light is diffused across the subject.

flower abstract - Common Macro Photography Mistakes

Another photograph on a cloudy day: notice the soft, delicate feeling and more saturated colors.

If you do decide to go out in midday, you might consider bringing a flash or a reflector to add some punch to your images and reduce midday shadows. While this won’t negate the problems described above, it will reduce them.

2. Shooting dying or dirty subjects

A second common mistake made in macro photography is shooting subjects that are either dying or dirty.

This isn’t really a problem with insect photography, but when photographing flowers, the condition of your subject is something to watch out for. If the edges of a flower are turning brown, I generally wouldn’t photograph it. Same thing if the center has some fraying stamens.

flower dahlia abstract - Common Macro Photography Mistakes

I searched through a number of dahlias until I found one in peak condition.

Flowers can also become dirty, especially if they are low to the ground. A few small pieces of dirt isn’t much to be worried aboutit’s nothing that cloning can’t take care ofbut too much dirt, and it becomes difficult to get a strong image.

How can this problem be fixed?

The first method just involves inspecting your subject carefully before shooting. If the flower is dying or dirty, find a different flower. You might also consider wiping away small pieces of dirt with your finger or shirtsleeve.

flower rose - Common Macro Photography Mistakes

Checking the center of flowers is important; it’s easy to miss anthers that are on their way out. Fortunately, this rose allowed for a few images.

The second method is more difficult and involves hiding the dying parts of the flower through creative compositions. For instance, you can ensure that the wrinkled parts of petals are out of focus, or obscured by another part of the flower.

flower red abstract - Common Macro Photography Mistakes

The outside of this flower was a bit worn, so I chose to emphasize the stamens instead.

3. Centering the subject

This is a common mistake in all types of photography – placing your subject in the dead center of the frame.

While this might make sense from a visual perspective, it generally results in an uncomfortable, less-than-desirable image. The composition feels imbalanced or boring.

How can this problem be fixed?

flower photography macro aster - Common Macro Photography Mistakes

Placing this flower off center allowed for a slightly stronger composition.

Instead of placing the subject in the center of the image, place it off to one side. Try using the rule of thirds. Additionally, you might add some dynamism to the composition by tilting your camera and placing the flower along a diagonal line. This will ensure a much more dynamic image that holds the viewer’s eye.

4. Using busy backgrounds and foregrounds

A fourth macro photography mistake often made is using foregrounds and (especially) backgrounds that are messy.

For example, messy backgrounds might have splotches of colors, might be crammed with slightly out-of-focus elements, or have sudden transitions from light to dark or dark to light. Messy foregrounds, on the other hand, consist of branches, twigs, or other flowers that distract the viewer and get in the way of the main subject.

flower bleeding heart - Common Macro Photography Mistakes

While this bleeding heart photograph may seem chaotic, it’s not particularly messythere is a clear point of focus (the flower) that is not dominated by the background.

How can this problem be fixed?

I write about this a lot, but that’s because it’s such a common (and easily rectified) problem. It involves a bit of measured consideration before shooting. Simply make sure there are no distracting foreground or background elements. As discussed above, these include branches, twigs, or sticks. It also might simply be contrasting colors or dark spots.

flower aster silhouette - Common Macro Photography Mistakes

Notice the smooth, uniform background in this flower image.

5. Capturing a subject as the subject

This final macro photography mistake is a bit less straightforward: capturing a subject as that subject.

What do I mean by this? In truth, it’s not all that complicated. Basically, macro photographers often see an interesting subject and attempt to photograph that subject efficiently. The problem is that the subject then lacks interest. It feels like it’s part of a snapshot when you want it to feel like a deliberate photograph.

abstract dew drop - Common Macro Photography Mistakes

How can this problem be fixed?

If you photograph a flower, don’t try to just capture it as a flower. Look for interesting aspects of the subject. What is it that made you want to photograph it in the first place?

Try to go beyond that basic “it’s a flower” essence, and communicate something about the flower. Does it have a photogenic center? Colorful petals? A beautiful shape? Emphasize this through your photography.

flower photography macro dahlia - Common Macro Photography Mistakes

I chose to get extremely close to this dahlia in order to emphasize the pattern of its petals.


I have discussed five common macro photography mistakes, as well as a number of simple ways to fix them. By following these guidelines, you should be able to enhance your macro photography and ensure consistently better images.

Know any mistakes that I missed? Let me know in the comments!

flower photography macro dandelion - Common Macro Photography Mistakes

The post Five Common Macro Photography Mistakes and How to Fix Them appeared first on Digital Photography School.

A Beginner’s Guide to Photographing Flowers

Photographing flowers is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding types of photography around. Yet it can be surprisingly difficult, even for more seasoned photographers. Getting strong flower images often requires new settings, new lighting, and new gear, not to mention a new approach to your subjects.

flower photography macro abstract - A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Flowers

In this article, you will learn the ins-and-outs of flower photography. Starting off with a discussion of flower photography gear and camera settings. Then moving into flower photography lighting, focusing primarily on the best types of natural light. Finally, you’ll get few guidelines for strong flower photography compositions.


There are a few types of flower photography gear to think about: cameras, lenses, and accessories (such as flashes and tripods).

flower macro photography abstract red tulip - A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Flowers

1 – Cameras

My camera recommendation is straightforward: the best cameras for photographing flowers are DSLRs. They offer great flexibility in terms of settings and have a huge array of excellent lenses available.

Which DSLR camera should you use? Especially if you are a beginner, it matters little. Most DSLRs allow for outstanding quality images, whether marketed for professionals or consumers.

Mirrorless cameras are another option. However, the macro lens line-up is still fairly limited. So at least for the time being, I’d go with a DSLR.

clematis flower - A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Flowers

I took this clematis photograph using a DSLR and a dedicated macro lens.

2 – Lenses

First, take note: It is possible to get good images of flowers using any lens, macro or non-macro, wide-angle or telephoto. I have taken some of my best flower images using a Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens.

flower photography macro abstract poppy - A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Flowers

I took this poppy image with my Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens.

On the other hand, the higher your lens’s magnification capabilities, the more opportunities you’ll have. You can make intimate and detailed images of flowers. You can also experiment with more abstract photography techniques.

This is why I generally recommend a dedicated macro lens for flower photography. Such a lens usually offers life-size magnification, pin-sharp images, and excellent bokeh. Some of these are available for a decent price, and I have written previously about choosing the perfect macro lens.

flower photography macro yellow - A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Flowers

This image was taken using a dedicated macro lens.

Another option is to use a regular lens (often a telephoto lens) plus extension tubes. Extension tubes are a cheap way of reducing your lens’s minimum focusing distance, therefore allowing for you to shoot at higher magnifications. The primary downside to extension tubes is flexibility.

When mounted between your camera and lens, extension tubes greatly decrease your maximum focusing distance, preventing you from quickly changing your point of focus. That is, with extension tubes mounted, you cannot take images of distant objects; you are restricted to only subjects within a few feet.

A third way of doing inexpensive flower photography is to freelens. By detaching the lens and placing it in front of the camera body, you can increase magnification (while also generating some interesting effects). I often do this with my Canon 50mm lens and backup body, because there is a risk of getting dust in the sensor.

pink coneflower - A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Flowers

I used freelensing to photograph this coneflower.

3 – Artificial Lighting

Flower photographers often like to use artificial lighting (e.g., flashes or ringlights). These can be both bulky and costly. I prefer natural lighting, but a flash can be especially useful in situations when the natural light isn’t ideal; for instance, bright, midday sun.

4 – Tripods

Flower photographers rarely leave home without a tripod. This is where I’m going to break with the prevailing opinion and say – you don’t need a tripod.

Let me qualify that statement. You don’t necessarily need a tripod for photographing flowers. You can shoot all kinds of pleasing flower images while handholding your camera. But there are certain techniques that do require a tripod. I will discuss those below.

white flowers - A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Flowers

I photographed these aster flowers without a tripod.

Camera Settings

Flower photographers generally aim for one of two looks: sharp throughout the frame or shallow focus.

Sharp throughout the frame requires a very narrow aperture, especially at higher magnifications, often at f/16 or beyond. This is where a tripod is necessary, as this is difficult to do without one. It may also require special techniques (i.e., focus stacking) in order to prevent the diffraction that comes from higher apertures.

flower photography macro dahlia - A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Flowers

An example of a “sharp throughout the frame” look.

However, my personal preference is shallow-focus macro photography. This requires no extra equipment, no flashes, and no tripod. Instead, you use a wide aperture (in the f/2.8-f/7.1 range) to render a small portion of the flower in focus.

The rest of the image is blown out of focus which can produce unique and stunning effects.

flower photography macro daisy abstract shallow focus - A Beginner's Guide to Photographing Flowers

This daisy photograph is an example of my preferred type of flower photography with only a small part of the subject in focus.

In both cases, it is the aperture that is important. The shutter speed and ISO should be adjusted in response to the aperture (though I wouldn’t recommend dropping your shutter speed below 1/160th or so unless you have very steady hands or some form of image stabilization).


I am going to primarily discuss natural light for photographing flowers. This is not because artificial light in flower photography is useless, but because I think it’s much more enjoyable to experiment with the light that’s available.

My first piece of lighting advice is to shoot on overcast days. When the sky is cloudy, the light becomes diffused. The flower will be evenly lit, and the soft light makes colorful petals pop.

tulip flower photography abstract macro - A Beginner’s Guide to Photographing Flowers

This tulip abstract was taken on an overcast day, which produced deeply saturated colors.

My second piece of lighting advice is to shoot in the morning or evening when the sunlight is golden. This prevents strong sunlight from falling on the flower and can generate some outstanding images.

flower photography macro evening light - A Beginner’s Guide to Photographing Flowers

This image was taken in the evening when the light was soft and golden.

I also like to shoot in the shade with the sun behind me, so that the bright sunlight is falling behind the flower (but not on it directly). One way to ensure this lighting is to find a flower that is in the shadow of a tree. Another is to cast the shadow yourself, by using your head, arm, or even your camera bag.

flower photography macro hyacinth - A Beginner’s Guide to Photographing Flowers

I cast a shadow over this grape hyacinth, in order to avoid the direct light of the sun.


A final aspect of flower photography to consider is the composition. This may seem daunting for the beginner, but there are a few simple compositional guidelines that will help you take better flower photographs instantly.

flower photography macro abstract - A Beginner’s Guide to Photographing Flowers

Fill the frame with your subject

In flower photography, you rarely want to have a lot of empty space in your frame. More empty space means more opportunities for distraction, for confusion, and for loss of impact. So instead of leaving space around the flower, move in closer to fill the frame as much as you can.

flower photography macro tulip - A Beginner’s Guide to Photographing Flowers

The more colorful, the better

When photographing flowers, you often have a whole palette of colors right in front of you. Use it to your advantage!

Put color in the background by placing another flower behind your main subject. Add color to the foreground by shooting through several other flowers.

macro photography flower colorful abstract - A Beginner’s Guide to Photographing Flowers

Keep things clean

In flower photography (or any type of photography, really), it’s important to have a point of emphasis (or a focal point). This can be the edge of a petal, the flower itself, the flower plus its environment, but regardless, you must ensure that the viewer’s eye is drawn to this spot.

One of the easiest ways to guarantee a strong point of focus is simply to have little else but that point of focus. I hope this sounds simple because it is. Hence, before taking a photograph, rid your potential composition of all distracting elements. This includes out-of-focus stems, as well as bright colors or dark spots in the background that don’t fit the image as a whole.

Think simplify.

macro photography flower abstract rose - A Beginner’s Guide to Photographing Flowers

The eye immediately focuses on this rose stamen.


By following this guide, you should be on your way to becoming an excellent flower photographer. While there are a number of elements to considergear, settings, lighting, and compositionI feel confident that you’ll be taking strong flower photographs in no time.

Any questions about photographing flowers? Let’s discuss them in the comments!

macro photography flower colorful abstract - A Beginner’s Guide to Photographing Flowers

The post A Beginner’s Guide to Photographing Flowers appeared first on Digital Photography School.

5 Camera Settings That All Macro Photographers Should Know

This article will detail five camera settings that are essential and which all macro photographers should know. It was inspired by Will Nichols’ excellent tips Five Camera Settings Every New Photographer Needs to Know. You will notice two main themes in this article – ensuring a perfect point of focus and ensuring maximum sharpness. Both of which are critical in macro photography.

Included in the list of settings are Manual Focus, Manual Mode, Live View, the self-timer, and burst mode. By familiarizing yourself with these settings, your macro photography will grow by leaps and bounds.

dahlia macro photography flower - 5 Camera Settings That All Macro Photographers Should Know

1. Manual Focus

Manual focus is one of the most important tools in a macro photographer’s toolkit. When working at high magnifications, you cannot rely on a lens’s autofocus capabilities for a couple of reasons.

First, Manual Focus is necessary for creative macro photography. In macro photography, particularly in more abstract macro photography, you have to make your point of focus count. Only by using Manual Focus, can you do so with the required pinpoint accuracy.

Secondly, macro lenses tend to have relatively bad autofocus capabilities, especially at high magnifications. It becomes frustrating to sit and wait while the lens pans back and forth (this is an even bigger problem in low light).

Macro photography grape hyacinth abstract - 5 Camera Settings That All Macro Photographers Should Know

By using Manual Focus, I was able to render the tip of the flower sharp.

The solution? Learn to use Manual Focus. With a bit of practice, you’ll find that you can focus quickly and efficiently, and your keeper rate will immediately increase.

Flower Abstract Macro Photography pink flower - 5 Camera Settings That All Macro Photographers Should Know

2. Aperture Priority or Manual Mode

There’s no way around this. A macro photographer must have maximum control over their depth of field.

At the high magnifications that are characteristic of macro photography, depth of field is often mere millimeters. And, as touched on above, it is essential that you use that in-focus area to your advantage.

One way to do this is by carefully selecting your depth of field. This may involve using a shallow depth of field for a more abstract look, or a large depth of field so as to ensure a completely sharp subject. Regardless, being able to modify your depth of field from subject to subject, from image to image, is crucial.

Tulip abstract macro photography - 5 Camera Settings That All Macro Photographers Should Know

I knew that I needed a very shallow depth of field if I wanted to pull off this tulip photograph. I used Manual Mode to select an aperture of f/4.2.

There are two settings that offer this level of control: Aperture Priority and Manual Mode. Aperture Priority Mode (labeled A or Av on your camera mode dial) allows you to set the aperture (and hence adjust the depth of field). Then the camera sets the shutter speed based on its internal light meter. Manual Mode (labeled M on your camera mode dial) allows you to control the aperture but also gives you control over the shutter speed.

I generally use Manual Mode, because I like to make split-second decisions regarding the shutter speed. But there are good reasons to use aperture priority mode as well. Whichever mode you choose, make sure that you are consciously adjusting the depth of field to fit your creative vision.

macro photography abstract trout lily - 5 Camera Settings That All Macro Photographers Should Know

3. Live View

Live View is useful in macro photography for a few reasons.

First, Live View allows for you to check your point of focus. As mentioned above, nailing your desired point of focus is essential in macro photography. With Live View, you can zoom in on the LCD screen to ensure that you are not front-focusing or back-focusing.

macro photography abstract flower - 5 Camera Settings That All Macro Photographers Should Know

Live View allows for you to make an image such as this where you can carefully focus on the base of the flower.

Furthermore, on some camera bodies, Live View enables you to reduce camera shake and keep your images sharp.

How? For the relevant camera bodies (I recommend that you check to see if this is true for your camera because it is an excellent trick), when Live View is activated, the mirror in your camera immediately flips up. Normally, this mirror flip occurs when you press the shutter release, causing camera vibration, and thus reducing sharpness.

But with Live View, this pre-flip means that, when you ultimately press the shutter release, no extra vibration occurs.

Macro photography black eyed susan abstract - 5 Camera Settings That All Macro Photographers Should Know

I took this handheld image at dusk, and just barely managed a sharp image.

4. Burst Mode

If you always use a tripod when shooting macro, feel free to ignore this tip. But for those who don’t like the weight or reduced flexibility that a tripod brings, Burst Mode can be a great tool.

What is Burst Mode? This is the camera setting that allows rapid-fire photography when you hold down the shutter release button. It ranges from a few frames per second to upwards of 10 (depending on your camera model).

While primarily used by wildlife, sports, and bird photographers in order to capture split-second action in the field, Burst Mode can also be used by macro photographers in order to ensure maximum focusing accuracy.

macro photography seedhead abstract - 5 Camera Settings That All Macro Photographers Should Know

I took this photograph while hand-holding at an extreme magnification. Without burst mode, I probably would have failed to get a usable image.

Macro photographers are often working at such high magnifications that it’s difficult to ensure perfect focusing even when using the above settings. This is where Burst Mode comes in. By taking a series of images, any slight camera motion is controlled. Even if a few photographs are out of focus, you are likely to be satisfied with some of the others.

5. Two-Second Self-Timer

A final setting that is useful for macro photographers is the two-second self-timer. When shooting (with or without a tripod) in low light with a large depth of field, you might struggle to get sharp images. Part of the problem may be camera shake, caused when you press the shutter release button. Your finger pushes the button but also rocks the camera at the same time.

The solution is to use the two-second self-timer. This is a setting offered by most DSLRs which allows you to obtain maximum sharpness and may be the difference between a usable image and a blurry one.

macro photography abstract lights - 5 Camera Settings That All Macro Photographers Should Know

When shooting in the evening, the two-second timer can be extremely useful.


By familiarizing yourself with these five settings; Manual Focus, Manual Mode, Live View, Burst Mode and the two-second self timer – you will have the technical grounding that all macro photographers need.

Can you think of any others settings that all macro photographers should know? Please share them in the comments below.

macro photography abstract - 5 Camera Settings That All Macro Photographers Should Know

The post 5 Camera Settings That All Macro Photographers Should Know appeared first on Digital Photography School.

6 Essential Steps in any Post-Processing Workflow

We live in a digital age, a time when a post-processing workflow is an increasingly essential aspect of our photography. Cameras produce images with the expectation that they will be altered later, will be corrected, sharpened, tinted, etc.

What this means is that post-processing isn’t something that can be easily bypassed, especially if you shoot in RAW, which I recommend.

That isn’t to say that every photographer today has to love post-processing. Some photographers, I consider myself to be among them, greatly prefer working in the field to working on the computer. But while it’s possible to shorten one’s post-processing workflow, a minimum amount of editing is necessary to keep up with today’s artistic and technological standards.

macro photography abstract winter ice - Post-Processing Workflow

In this article, I will discuss that minimum and explain the six essential steps in any post-processing workflow. My examples are done in Lightroom, but this applies to all photographers, no matter what software you use.

Once you’ve gone through these steps, you may declare your images complete, and that’s okay. Or you may choose to work on them further, which is okay, too. The point here is only to suggest the six core elements that all post-processing workflows should includeafter that, the choice is yours.

1. Crop (and straighten)

The first thing that I do as soon as I have opened my images in Lightroom is to crop and straighten them.

While it’s best to compose properly in camera, sometimes you see a slightly better composition when your image comes up on the screen. However, it isn’t good to rely on this too heavily. Cropping heavily reduces image resolution while also magnifying image imperfections.

Furthermore, when hand-holding your camera, it’s easy to take a slightly crooked image. This isn’t a problem, as long as you remember to straighten it out later.

daisy abstract macro photography flower - Post-Processing Workflow

Notice the slight change from original (right) to cropped and straightened (left) – look at the stem.

daisy abstract macro photography flower - Post-Processing Workflow

This image required a slight amount of cropping and straightening in order to balance out the frame. This is especially important when images have clear lines, as this one does (i.e., the daisy stem).

A word of warning: especially if you are a wildlife or bird photographer, you will be tempted to use cropping to compensate for a distant subject. Resist this temptation and focus on your stalking skills instead. If you find yourself consistently cropping a significant amount, recognize that you should probably make some changes while you’re in the field (get closer or use a longer lens).

2. Check the White Balance

I shoot in RAW. Thus, when I’m in the field, I leave my camera’s White Balance on Auto. Because the RAW file format allows for you to change the image temperature without any image degradation, this is perfectly acceptable (though it does mean slightly more time behind the computer).

snowy intimate landscape photography - Post-Processing Workflow

The left (final) image is after some adjustment; the right is adjusted in the other (warmer) direction.

snowy intimate landscape photography - Post-Processing Workflow

A cooler (bluer) color temperature was necessary to recreate a snowy, cold feeling for this image.

Use the Temp and Tint sliders to adjust the White Balance.

Sometimes the goal is to reproduce the color temperature that you saw in the field. Other times, you might be trying to achieve an artistic look. Higher temperatures (high degrees K) make for a warmer image and counteract colder light, whereas lower temperatures (low K) make for a cooler image and balance out a warmer color cast.

macro photography flower abstract sunset - Post-Processing Workflow

The left image is what I ultimately decided on; the one on right is an exaggeratedly cool version of the same image.

macro photography flower abstract sunset - Post-Processing Workflow

Taken at sunset, this image required a higher color temperature to match what I saw at the moment of capture.

3. Check the exposure

After adjusting the White Balance, I generally turn to the exposure. This is an aspect of a post-processing workflow that is often forgotten. Yet you should scrutinize your image carefully before moving on. Is it too bright? Too dark? Just right?

This is where the histogram is your friend. It’s to your benefit to learn to read it. Look for blown out highlights or crushed blacks as peaks pressing up against either end of the graph, as well as gaps that indicate a lack of darker or lighter tones in your image.

The histogram can tell you a lot about your image. This one says the image it represents is slightly overexposed. There are no blacks (it’s not touching the left-side of the graph). An Exposure adjustment and the Black slider will solve this issue.

macro photography flower abstract - Post-Processing Workflow

This situation was unique: While the right image isn’t underexposed, I was interested in a slightly brighter one with more contrast. So I altered the exposure in Lightroom and ultimately chose the left image.

macro photography flower abstract - Post-Processing Workflow

A darker image can be corrected in post-processing (this is easier to do with RAW files).

While it is ideal to expose perfectly while in the field, post-processing allows for a bit of leeway here. For instance, you can use the general Exposure slider in Lightroom to correct small exposure mistakes. And if you want to take this further, you can also work with the more narrowly focused Highlights, Shadows, Whites and Blacks sliders.

4. Check the Vibrance and Saturation

Saturation allows you to increase the intensity of all colors in the image, and Vibrance allows you to increase the intensity of the less saturated colors only. In most photo-editing programs, these are easy to change.

macro photography flower yellow abstract - Post-Processing Workflow

Notice the slightly more intense yellows in the left (more saturated) image.

macro photography flower yellow abstract - Post-Processing Workflow

A bit of saturation gave this image more punch.

Saturation and Vibrance can provide a slight punch to your images when done subtly. These are also quite easy to overdo, so be careful. You don’t want to slam the viewer with so much saturation that they are forced to look away!

5. Check for noise

Next, be sure to check the noise levels in your image. This is especially important if you’re working with a long exposure or an image that was shot at a high ISO. Increasing the exposure in post-processing may also introduce unintended noise.

macro photography abstract yellow - Post-Processing Workflow

This image required a slight amount of noise reduction.

macro photography abstract yellow - Post-Processing Workflow

While the difference is subtle, a crop of the final image (with noise reduction applied in Lightroom) is on the left.

If you find unpleasant levels of noise, you can generally use noise reduction software to remove it. Removing noise does decrease the overall image sharpness (if removing luminance noise) and saturation (if removing color noise). So, once again, this is a correction that should be used minimally.

6. Check the sharpness

Finally, I like to end my basic post-processing workflow by considering the complement of noise – sharpness. If working with a program such as Lightroom, this often needs little adjustment. With a good lens and good camera technique, your images will be rendered sharp simply by the photo-conversion presets.

For example, I rarely alter Lightroom’s Amount: 25 Sharpening preset. If your image is slightly soft, you may want to work with overall sharpness. You might also consider a second round of carefully applied sharpening in order to enhance specific features like the faces of birds, the center of flowers, etc.

autumn intimate landscape photography - Post-Processing Workflow

It is imperative that an image like this have a pin sharp subject.

autumn intimate landscape photography - Post-Processing Workflow

A crop of the final image (left) with sharpening applied in Lightroom.

However, even once you’ve sharpened for your original image, the sharpening work isn’t over. Before you export for printing or web viewing, you will likely need to sharpen again. Otherwise, you’ll find that your new image is slightly soft.

Lightroom has a neat little way of completing this post-processing step. Upon exporting files, you have the option to choose a level of sharpening. I generally choose Low or Standard.

macro photography abstract flower yellow - Post-Processing Workflow


These tips should give you an idea of what a very minimalist post-processing workflow looks like. If you follow this guide closelyeven if you do nothing else to your imagesyou’ll find that your images reach a higher standard.

What is your post-processing workflow like? Please feel free to share in the comments area below.

dahlia macro photography flower

Flower Abstract Macro Photography

The post 6 Essential Steps in any Post-Processing Workflow appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Choose the Perfect Macro Lens

A common question among those starting out in macro photography is, “What lens should I choose?” Given the number of options, this is difficult to answer and depends on a number of factors (physical requirements, budget, subject, style, etc.). There is no one ideal macro lens. However, this article will provide a guide to choosing the ideal macro lens for your needs, focusing on three main considerations: focal length, image quality, and price.

macro photography abstract hibiscus - How to Choose the Perfect Macro Lens

A Note About Image Quality

When it comes to choosing lenses, photographers often focus on image quality, especially sharpness.

I am happy to tell you that, for macro photography, this is generally less of an issue. Why? Macro lenses are incredibly sharp. Even lenses on the lower end of the price spectrum offer professional-level sharpness, especially when stopped down slightly. I have used a half-dozen macro lenses over the course of my photography career, and I have never been dissatisfied with the level of sharpness.

However, this does not mean that low-end macro lenses are indistinguishable from the pricier options. Expensive macro lenses do often provide better sharpness and bokeh.

macro photography flower abstract - How to Choose the Perfect Macro Lens

Furthermore, cheaper macro lenses do sometimes have problems with chromatic aberration (generally purple and yellow fringing that occurs in the high contrast parts of images). This can be corrected with post-processing, but I prefer to avoid chromatic aberration whenever I can. When I discuss different lenses below, I note any chromatic aberration problems that I’ve experienced.

Focal Length

I will center this discussion around focal length; this is an easy way of narrowing down potential macro lenses because focal length often determines and limits your macro photography options.

Macro lenses can be classified into three focal-length categories: short (35-60mm), mid-range (90-105mm), and long (150-200mm).

The Short Macro Lens

  • Pros: Lightweight and inexpensive.
  • Cons: Less impressive bokeh, short working distance (bad for insects).
dahlia abstract macro photography flower - How to Choose the Perfect Macro Lens

I took this dahlia image using a short macro lens, the Nikon 60mm f/2.8D.

Short macro lenses tend to be used for more casual macro outings, or as “all-purpose lenses” that you switch to macro when needed. They’re easy to store, easy to carry, and pretty inexpensive. They’re also easier to hand-hold because of their small size.

However, a big drawback with short macro lenses is the short working distance. Working distance refers to the distance from the end of the lens to the subject. In order to do high magnification photography with, say, a 60mm macro lens, the subject has to be extremely close to the lens. This can cause problems. First of all, insects generally require a bit of distance when photographed, so getting close often isn’t an option.

macro photography tulip abstract flower - How to Choose the Perfect Macro Lens

This tulip photograph was taken with a Nikon 60mm f/2.8D.

Additionally, your head (or your camera) might cast an unwanted shadow onto the subject, depending on the lighting conditions. Shorter lenses also tend to have less pleasing bokeh.

However, if you are looking to do casual macro photography with more portable equipment and strong image quality, then a shorter macro lens might be just the thing for you.

If you’re a Canon shooter on a budget, you should look at the Canon 60mm f/2.8 (at $399)or the Canon 35mm f/2.8 IS (at $349). The latter offers image stabilization, which can often be quite useful for handheld macro photography. For Nikon photographers, look at the Nikon 40mm f/2.8G (only $225).

How to Choose the Perfect Macro Lens - tulip macro photo

Another tulip photograph that was taken with the Nikon 60mm f/2.8D.

If you’re a photographer with a bit more to spend, you should consider the Nikon 60mm f/2.8G (at $596) or the Tamron 60mm f/2.0 for Nikon ($524) and for Canon ($524).

Finally, you might consider the Nikon 60mm f/2.8D (at $517). This lens is near and dear to my heart because it was the first macro lens I ever purchased. I was always quite impressed by its sharpness. It is worth noting that the autofocus is quite slow, but I always use manual focus when shooting macro (and you probably should, too!), so this was not a problem.

60mm nikon macro photography tulip flower - How to Choose the Perfect Macro Lens

A final photograph with the Nikon 60mm f/2.8D.

Mid-Range Macro Lenses

  • Pros: Larger working distance, somewhat inexpensive, very good bokeh, lightweight.
  • Cons: Working distance still fairly short.
macro photography abstract purple flower - How to Choose the Perfect Macro Lens

A flower image that was taken at 105mm.

Mid-range macro lenses are my personal favorite among the macro options. They are a great option for flower photography, especially more abstract level flower photography like I tend to do. Why?

First of all, these lenses are relatively lightweight, which means that I can hand-hold them without much trouble at all, even in low light. This allows for much greater flexibility.

Second, a mid-range macro lens offers a perfect working distance for flower photography. I like to get very close to the flowers that I am photographing. Not so close that I am nearly touching the flower, but not so far that other flowers, leaves, and branches get in the way.

macro photography Canon 100mm f/2.8L rose abstract - How to Choose the Perfect Macro Lens

A rose image which was taken with the Canon 100mm f/2.8L.

Third, these lenses offer high-quality optics for what is often a very low price. For example, the Tamron 90mm f/2.8, (which is generally the least expensive of these mid-range macro lenses at $649), affords images with outstanding sharpness and bokeh.

If you desire to do insect photography, or if you often photograph with a tripod and want the increased image quality of a 150-200mm, I would recommend looking at a longer macro lens. However, if you are interested in doing handheld flower photography or if you’re on a budget but want a more dedicated macro lens, I recommend one of those mid-range lenses mentioned above.

First among the less expensive options is the aforementioned Tamron 90mm f/2.8 for Nikon and for Canon. At one point in time, this was my workhorse lens. While I had occasional issues with chromatic aberration, the sharpness, bokeh quality, and price more than made up for it. Another option around this price-point is the Tokina 100mm f/2.8 for Nikon and for Canon.

daisy abstract macro photography bokeh - How to Choose the Perfect Macro Lens

This daisy image was taken with the Tamron 90mm f/2.8 (non-VC) lens. I love the bokeh this lens produces.

Looking toward medium-level prices: the Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM gets great reviews, as does the upgrade of the previously mentioned Tamron 90mm f/2.8, which has been modified to offer vibration compensation technology. Sigma also offers the 105mm f/2.8 macro with optical stabilization.

Finally, on the pricier side, we have the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G VR ($896) and the Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS ($749), both of which offer vibration reduction/image stabilization.

I must say, if I had to pick one lens to use foreverout of all the lenses that I’ve owned or even held in my handsit would be the Canon 100mm f/2.8L. It’s pin sharp, the image stabilization allows for shooting handheld in low light, and the bokeh is a dream come true.

Long macro lenses

  • Pros: Best working distance, generally excellent bokeh and image quality.
  • Cons: Heavy, often very expensive.
macro photography abstract dandelion Sigma 150mm - How to Choose the Perfect Macro Lens

I took this high magnification image with the Sigma 150mm f/2.8 (non-OS).

Longer macro lenses tend to have astonishingly good image qualityfor a (generally hefty) price. The bokeh and sharpness on the Sigma 150mm f/2.8 (for $1099), for instance, is excellent.

macro photography aster abstract bokeh Sigma 150mm macro - macro lens

I’m very impressed with the bokeh offered by the Sigma 150mm f/2.8 macro lens.

These lenses also offer the best working distance of the bunch, which is often essential for insect photography.

Another advantage of the longer working distance is the ability to use a creative macro technique: shooting through out of focus flowers.

sunflower abstract macro photography Sigma 150mm macro lens

A third image was taken with the Sigma 150mm macro. I shot through several other flowers to give this image a colorful wash.

Yet these lenses are quite heavy, which makes hand-holding for long periods difficult, and doing so in low light nearly impossible. You’ll want to consider these lenses if you wish to do high-level insect photography, or if you desire top-notch image quality and don’t mind the weight or price.

The long macro lenses include the less expensive Sigma 150mm (non-OS), which is a bit harder to find, but offers excellent image quality and is built like a tank. It’s my backup macro lens (after the Canon 100mm f/2.8L), and I turn to it when I want a bit more working distance.

Next, we have the Tamron 180mm f/3.5 and the Sigma 150mm f/2.8 OS.

And then, offering stunning image quality with a high price tag, are the Nikon 200mm f/4 ($1792), and the Canon 180mm f/3.5L ($1399). While I have not used either of these lenses, I have read rave reviews of their optics, especially the Canon 180mm f/3.5L.

macro photography abstract coneflower Sigma 150mm macro lens

This is another image taken with the Sigma 150mm macro. I shot through another coneflower to give this image a purple wash.


While most macro lenses allow for high-quality images, different ones will meet certain needs better than others.

To summarize:

  • If you are looking for a more general purpose lens for casual macro shooting, choose one of the short-range lenses.
  • But if you are looking for a more serious macro photography lens and prefer to shoot handheld with greater flexibility, go with one of the mid-range lenses.
  • Finally, if you want to shoot insects or want perfect image quality, choose a long macro lens.

Still uncertain about which lens to purchase? Ask your questions in the comments section below, and I will do my best to help!

macro photography abstract flower - macro lens

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Creative Macro Photography – A Guide to Freelensing

Freelensing is one of the strongest and most underutilized tricks in the macro photographer’s toolkit. It can add diversity to a portfolio, and—when used carefully—generates some truly stunning effects. In this article, I will cover the basics of freelensing, and discuss how it can be used to enhance your macro photographs.

freelensing macro photography bokeh

What is freelensing?

Freelensing is a technique that can be used with any camera that accepts interchangeable lenses. You detach the lens from the camera and focus by tilting the lens in different directions, as well as by moving the lens closer and farther away from the camera body.

How does this change the resultant image? The plane that is in focus is no longer parallel to the sensor. The overall effect is to get both near and far objects selectively in focus, as shown in the photographs below.

freelensing macro bokeh autumn leaves

By tilting my 50mm lens, I was able to selectively focus on these colorful leaves.

How to do freelensing?

First, equipment: I’ve found that macro freelensing works best with lenses in the 50mm range. Lenses much longer than that are going to be hard to focus accurately with, and lenses that are much shorter give a field of view and depth of field that is a bit too broad for macro purposes.

Note: because freelensing involves holding the lens detached from the camera, there is always the risk that you might drop something. Therefore, I like to use lenses that are on the cheaper side; the Canon 50mm f/1.8 is my go-to lens in these situations.

The camera model isn’t important, but I tend to use my backup body, as detaching the lens from the camera does increase the risk of dust and other debris getting inside and onto the sensor.

freelensing flowers macro photography

The freelensing process

Begin by putting the lens on the camera as you normally would. Turn on the camera and set it to Manual Mode. Choose whatever aperture you like; when the lens is taken off the camera, the aperture setting will be rendered irrelevant (it will be wide opened). Focus the lens on a distant object.

NOTE: With some camera makes and models, if you hold down the Depth of Field preview button while removing the lens it will lock the aperture closed to your desired setting. Test and see if your camera has this ability.

Make sure that your camera is not using Live View (as this would increase the exposure of the sensor to the outside world). Then, turn off the camera. Detach the lens, and carefully hold it in front of the camera body, just in front of the sensor. Turn the camera back on.

camera freelensing detach lens

Example freelensing technique with a 50mm lens. The lens is pulled (slightly) away from the camera body.

At this point, the fun begins! There are a few things to consider:

First, the farther you move the lens away from your camera, the greater the magnification.

Second, tilting the lens left, right, up, and down alters the parts of the scene that are in and out of focus. It takes a bit of experimentation to get the hang of this, so don’t be afraid to take many images while honing your freelensing skills.

freelensing nature macro photography

Third, any gaps between the lens and the camera allow for light leaks. This can result in very interesting effects (but be careful not to overdo it!). To minimize light leaks, cup your hand around the lens so as to block out the light.

A note on exposure

When it comes to freelensing, your camera’s metering system is going to be nearly useless. The proper exposure depends on the size of the gap between the camera and the lens, so you will always need to drastically underexpose if you use your camera’s meter. I often take a few experimental shots, incrementally increasing the shutter speed (and checking the image on the LCD), until I reach an exposure that I like.

Freelensing for macro photographers

I’ve given a basic overview of the freelensing process above. But how can freelensing be used by macro photographers?

1. Use freelensing to create spectacular backgrounds

One of my favorite things about freelensing is that it can generate stunning backgrounds. The shifted plane of focus causes greater subject/background separation, so the bokeh can be truly impressive.

Try shooting into the light (with the subject backlit).

freelensing macro photography bokeh backlit

The setting sun (just to the right of the flower) offered some great opportunities for freelensing.

You can also work with a shaded subject and a background lit by direct sunlight.

freelensing poppy flower macro photography

The poppy was shaded, but the background was lit by the setting sun.

2. Find a point of focus

Freelensing can be an exhilarating experience, as subjects that you’ve shot a hundred times will seem brand new. However, it’s important not to get too caught up in the uniqueness of freelensing, and focus on how the effect can be best used to create strong images.

To this end, find a focal point. This might be a flower, an insect, or some leaves. Use this point of focus to anchor your shot. Ensure that you’re tilting the lens so as to render that point of focus sharp, and the rest of the scene out of focus.

freelensing daisy macro photography

3. Use freelensing to isolate a subject from clutter

Adding onto tip number two, one of the advantages of freelensing is that you can order an apparently cluttered scene with a tilt of the lens. Look for the sort of image that would have previously felt too chaotic, then tilt the lens so that only a small part is rendered in focus.

autumn leaves freelensed macro

4. Use light leaks for artistic effects

I mentioned light leaks above, and I want to emphasize their potential. When used right, light leaks can be beautiful.

I like to create small light leaks along the sides of the image by shooting backlit subjects, and by allowing a significant gap between the camera and the lens.

freelensing daisy macro photography

The effect here was created entirely through light leaks; by pulling the lens away from my camera, I was able to give this daisy image a more ethereal feeling.

5. Use freelensing for macro-level magnification

As mentioned, pulling the lens away from the camera increases your magnification. This can allow for detail-oriented macro shots without a macro lens. So experiment by increasing the distance between the camera and lens.

freelensing sunflower macro photography

In conclusion

Freelensing, while unconventional, can be an excellent addition to your toolkit. By detaching the lens from the camera body, you can create unique backgrounds and artistic light leaks while emphasizing the main subject.

With spring flowers just around the corner (hopefully!), now would be an excellent time to start practicing!

freelensing coneflower macro photography

The post Creative Macro Photography – A Guide to Freelensing appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

In this article, you will get five simple exercises to help you improve your photography.

How to grow as a photographer

Everyone, from beginners to professionals, seeks to improve their photography. Yet we often struggle to do just that, repeatedly asking the question, “How do I actively move my photography forward?

macro photography flower - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

Learning to take top-notch photographs isn’t like learning a musical instrument, where you can practice fingerings and scales while slowly gaining skills. When it comes to improving photography, the path often seems nebulous, difficult to grasp.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There are more focused ways of improving your photography. Below, I discuss five of these exercises, which, if done consistently, will help you improve your photography by leaps and bounds.

Exercise #1: Photograph every day for a month

The first exercise is simple; photograph every day. This may sound easy, but it often isn’t. With a job and family and life, it’s surprisingly difficult to get out and do photography.

But I’d like to emphasize this, if you’re serious about improving your photography, start here. Make sure that you use your camera each day, even if you only take one image. Carve out a particular time of the day that works. Or, if it’s easier for you, carry a camera around in your purse/backpack/briefcase, and bring it out during your lunch break.

macro photography flower abstract - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

I’ve found that there’s a sort of magic that comes from photographing—not just consistently—but daily. Your camera becomes a familiar tool in your hands. You start to see compositions everywhere. The photographic medium starts to make sense.

Trust me, if you do this your work will improve fast.

Exercise #2: Make 10 unique images of one subject

One of the main barriers to photographic improvement is not the technique so much as it is the ability to see.

A great photographer often views a subject and starts to visualize the many possibilities, quickly rejecting those which won’t work, and selecting that which does.

macro photography flower abstract aster - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

Hence, choose a subject and start by taking the obvious photographs.

Then, rather than moving on, force yourself to look for more. Get in close and take some more abstract or detail shots. Move back and look for more environmental images. Alter the background, the angle, and/or the lighting. If you normally use a tripod, try working handheld, or vice versa.

macro photography flower aster abstract - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

This exercise is meant to improve your ability to see. It is meant to take you out of your comfort zone so that you go beyond the obvious, and start looking deeper at your subject. Once that is ingrained, the photographic possibilities begin to open up, and your images will become unique and more satisfying.

macro photography flower abstract aster - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

Exercise #3: Share only one image per week

Let me explain this one. Part of improving one’s photography involves becoming a better self-critic. If you cannot recognize where you need to improve, then it’s very difficult to improve at all. But if you can pinpoint your strengths and your weaknesses, then you can improve upon the weaknesses—and harness your strengths.

To this end, I recommend joining a photo sharing site, one that is geared towards photography. Flickr, 500PX, and Tumblr would work well (or the dPS Facebook group). Then post one, and only one, image per week. Make sure that you’ve looked through your recent work, and that the image that you’re sharing is your best.

Before posting, think to yourself, “What is it that makes this a strong image? What would make it better? And what was it that made me reject the other images in favor of this one?” Take note of your responses, and remember them the next time you’re out in the field.

macro photography flower coneflower - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

So why can’t you just do this privately, rather than posting to a photo sharing site?

I find that there’s a bit of pressure that comes from posting your pictures publicly. This forces you to work slightly harder in identifying your best images. However, if you would strongly prefer not to post your images publicly, you could adjust the settings on your chosen sharing site so that only you can view the images—but imagine that you’re assembling them for a gallery showing.

Exercise #4: Critique at least 10 images per week

Similar to Exercise #3, but with a slightly different focus. Learning to critique your own work is great, but it’s also important to look at a broad array of photography with a critical eye. Hence, join a photo critique forum, and critique at least 10 images per week.

There are a number of forums out there that I recommend for nature photographers like myself: Naturescapes, Nature Photographers Network, and are all good ones. They should allow you to make a free account in order to comment on other images.

macro photography flower abstract pink - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

This will help you in a few ways. First, constantly looking at images will help you to internalize compositions and get a sense of what works and what doesn’t. It’s difficult to improve your own photography if you don’t have a sense of what good photography looks like.

Second, it may give you ideas for your own photography. By this, I don’t mean that you copy other people’s photographs directly. But you can take note of interesting techniques, camera settings, and compositions, and incorporate them into your own work.

Third, being forced to articulate, in writing, what you find pleasing about an image will go a long way toward being able to understand how to make your own images more pleasing.

Notice that I’m not telling you to post your images on the critique forum—but if you feel confident enough to do so, then that is an excellent way to improve as well.

Exercise #5: Work in another genre of photography

This exercise is for those who would self-identify as intermediate or advanced photographers. Early on in your photographic journey, I would recommend focusing on a single genre and improving within that genre.

street photography ann arbor nickels arcade - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

I took a break from macro photography to work on my street photography skills.

However, once you have a decent amount of experience, I find that it is really beneficial to get out of your comfort zone by working on another photographic genre (the more different, the better!). Stick with this genre for an entire month.

street photography ann arbor - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

This forces you to expand your photographic eye and think in new ways. It can often generate unique ideas that you can apply to your primary area of photography. And when the month is up and you switch back to your favored type of photography, you’ll likely find that you’ll be seeing the world in a whole new light.

ann arbor street photography - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

In conclusion…

If you’re seeking to improve your photography, follow the exercises discussed above.

If you photograph every day, focus on expanding your photographic eye, look at numerous images and learn to critique your own, and expand your photographic horizons—you will soon be on your way to a higher level of photography. I wish you the best of luck!

macro photography flower abstract tulip - Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography

Have any exercises that you’ve found useful for photographic improvement? Share them in the comments!

The post Five Simple Exercises to Improve your Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Five Ways to Take Your Macro Photography to the Next Level

Macro photography can be incredibly rewarding. However, it can also be frustrating if you find yourself shooting the same photographs over and over again, struggling to improve. You find yourself uninspired. Trust me, I’ve been there.

Clemantis macro photography

But there are a few simple tips that you can take to improve your macro photography, right now. The tips that follow will help you take your macro photography to the next level, and they won’t bog you down with technical details, either.

1. Move in close (and keep going closer)

You might be tempted to shoot subjects such as flowers the way that you would a headshot – putting space around the subject, so that flowers are fully recognizable as, well, flowers. However, I urge you not to take a step back, but rather to take a step closer. If you can, think not in terms of “flower” and “background,” but in terms of shapes and lines.

If you have a dedicated macro lens, use it. Experiment with high magnifications and see how that opens up whole new worlds for you to shoot. Look for abstract compositions that make use of shapes and color.  Fill the frame completely with your subject.

dahlia macro photography colorful

I used my macro lens to emphasize the lines and colors of this dahlia.

2. Consider the light

Lighting is incredibly important in macro photography. However, you can boil things down to a few simple rules of thumb:

  • Photograph in the morning.
  • Photograph in the evening.
  • Only photograph at any other time of day if it’s cloudy.

Photograph in the morning and evening

When I say “morning,” I’m talking about very early, during what photographers often call the “golden hours“. Essentially, these are the first two hours after sunrise.

The same goes for the evening. If it is sunny, I suggest you wait until two hours before sunset. One hour before is even better.

flower macro photography golden

I took this image in the evening, which ensured some great golden light.

These morning and evening hours are the times when soft, golden light falls on your subject. Not only does this result in a more evenly lit subject and an easier exposure, but the golden cast simply looks beautiful.

If conditions seem a bit too bright, you can also create really interesting images by using the shade. For instance, try working with a subject that is in the shade, while the background is lit by the (hopefully setting) sun.

flower macro sun shade - Five Ways to Take Your Macro Photography to the Next Level

I photographed this flower as the sun was setting, positioning myself so that the background was well lit, but the flower itself remained shaded.

Photograph in cloudy midday light

Midday sunlight tends to be incredibly harsh and results in photographs that are very washed out and contrasty.

Hence: if you’re shooting in the middle of the day, make sure that it’s cloudy. The clouds will serve to diffuse the light, allowing for wonderfully saturated colors.

coneflower macro color - Five Ways to Take Your Macro Photography to the Next Level

I photographed this coneflower on a cloudy day, ensuring that the colors were nicely saturated.

If you find yourself in a situation where you absolutely must take images and you cannot wait until conditions become better, then you can try to offset the harshness of the sun by shooting in the shade, using a reflector, or by using a flash.

daisy background night macro

The artificial lights plus this flower made for a fun photography session.

3. Consider the angle

One of the mistakes that I made most when I was first starting macro photography was not thinking about my angle to the subject. For instance, I would point my camera down at a 45-degree angle, so that I would capture subjects as if I were a few feet in front of me as I walked.

While intuitive, this approach often results in a less appealing image. It causes elements of the subject to become messy, to cross over one another. It also tends to distort the shape of the subject, so that the overall impact is lessened.

Instead, I recommend two main approaches:

First: place the subject at eye level. For instance, if you are photographing a tulip, crouch down so that the tulip is directly before you. If you are photographing an insect, you should be staring directly into its face.

macro flower pink - Five Ways to Take Your Macro Photography to the Next Level

By photographing this flower at eye level, I was able to create an even composition.

Second: place the subject directly below you. That is, you should be looking straight down so that the petals of an open flower are parallel to the camera sensor.

Hibiscus flower macro photography

By composing from directly above this hibiscus, I was able to emphasize its geometry.

Of course, these are just starting points. Pleasing images can be made from many angles, and a lot depends on the subject itself. But these are good places from which to begin.

4. Think about the subject quality

This tip is very simple – before taking an image, look your subject over. Is it at its peak? Or is it on its way out, wilting, or dying?

If the latter is the case, then try to search for a better-looking flower. Unfortunately, such elements can really detract from an otherwise excellent image.

Rose macro close up - Five Ways to Take Your Macro Photography to the Next Level

I found this rose in excellent condition.

Also, look for things like bugs, dirt, and torn petals. These are all indicators that you should search for a better subject.

Though it’s worth noting that sometimes wilting flowers can make for very interesting images. Just be sure that, if you are photographing a subject that’s on its way out, you compose with that in mind.

daisy macro - Five Ways to Take Your Macro Photography to the Next Level

I focused on this wilting daisy in order to create a more somber photograph.

5. Consider the background

One final tip for really enhancing your macro photographs is to think about the background before taking that shot. This is probably the most important of all these tips because careful attention to background can make for incredibly special images.

What should you consider?

First and foremost, look for backgrounds that are simple and uncluttered. A background that doesn’t distract is often enough to ensure a great image. However, it can also pay to be creative, by shifting your position so that colorful elements, such other flowers, or a sunset, sit behind the subject.

You might also use bright spots to your advantage, working so that they frame your subject.

flower macro cosmos - Five Ways to Take Your Macro Photography to the Next Level

The colorful flowers behind this subject made for an interesting background.

In Conclusion

By moving in close, considering the light, angle, subject quality, and the background, you can quickly improve your macro photography. Hopefully, you’ll have a lot of fun doing it as well.

If you have any other tips for people just starting with macro photography, please share them in the comments below.

peony macro flower - Five Ways to Take Your Macro Photography to the Next Level

The post Five Ways to Take Your Macro Photography to the Next Level appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Four Ways to Get Frame-Filling Shots in Bird Photography

When all goes well, bird photography can be absolutely exhilarating. Yet birds are small and skittish creatures. Hence, a common problem faced by bird photographers, beginners and experts alike, is simply getting close enough to capture an image.

Even with longer lenses, attempts to photograph a bird often result in tiny specks in the final image, not to mention a very frustrated photographer.

heron with fish portrait - Four Ways to Get Frame-Filling Shots in Bird Photography

However, never fear, there are several simple techniques that you can use in order to capture frame-filling images of birds. Using these approaches, you should be able to radically increase your success when it comes to bird photography. You don’t have to own a huge lens to do it, either!

Also, before I begin, I’d also like to emphasize that the welfare of the subject should be your top priority. These techniques can often get you close enough to birds in a non-threatening, non-invasive way. But if a bird begins to show signs of agitation, such as moving away rapidly, calling, spreading its wings, etc., then give up.

If you are set on capturing the image, try coming back on a different day, with a different technique, one that is less likely to disturb your subject.

Without further ado, here four ways to help you get frame-filling images of birds.

1. The slow, low approach

This technique is simple, and is often suprisingly effective. It goes like this – move slow, and stay low.

spoonbill bird photography - Four Ways to Get Frame-Filling Shots in Bird Photography

I got close to this Roseate Spoonbill by moving slowly through the waters of the Florida coast.

As I said earlier, birds are quite skittish. But if you move slowly enough, oftentimes a bird will eventually accept you as a non-threatening aspect of the environment, rather than as a dangerous intruder.

You spot your subject across the lagoon. You (slowly!) take a few steps forward. Then stop and wait. Take a few more steps. Once you’ve gotten significantly closer, I suggest that you get on your knees (or even your elbows), and shuffle forwards.

oystercatcher bird portrait - Four Ways to Get Frame-Filling Shots in Bird Photography

I crouched low and moved across the beach towards this Oystercatcher, who wasn’t bothered at all.

Every so often, check on the bird; you can do this with the naked eye, or through your camera viewfinder. If it begins to move away from you, then that is a sign that you should slow down.

Go really slow!

I also recommend taking a couple of pictures with your camera every few feet. This will allow the bird to become acclimatized the sound of the shutter clicking, and will prevent it from flying away when you begin to photograph in earnest. Once you’re close enough, start shooting.

Now, I said that you should go “slow,” and when I say “slow,” I mean slow. Oftentimes it takes 10, 20, maybe even 30 minutes to get close enough to get usable images. The key here is to be patient; if you can do that, the rewards will be worth it.

White Morph Reddish Egret bird photography

A slow approach allowed me to get close to this White Morph Reddish Egret as it waded in a lagoon.

2. Position yourself and then wait

This is a favorite of mine, partially because it’s so non-invasive, and partially because it’s so successful.

The key fact to remember here is that many birds follow a general pattern of movement. Shorebirds, for instance, will usually forage while moving in a single direction. If you watch them for long enough, you’ll notice that they’ve shifted a good ways down the beach.

So, from a distance, observe the movement of the bird. Think about where it will be in five or 10 minutes. Then, simply place yourself in a position to photograph the bird when it gets to that spot.

tricolored heron bird photography

I took note of this Tricolored Heron’s movements, and sat in the water until it waded past.

Often, if you stay still enough, the bird won’t mind your presence in the slightest, and you’ll find that it may even stray too close. I’ve had tiny shorebirds get within the minimum focusing distance on my camera, at which point it becomes an amazing experience of a whole new type.

black-bellied plover bird photography

This Black-bellied Plover ventured so close that I couldn’t fit its body in the frame.

3. Using a blind

As hunters will know, a blind is a shelter that you sit inside, and will shield you from the eyes of animals. But blinds aren’t only good for hunting; they can be great for photography as well.

This one may seem out of reach. You might think that you don’t have access to blinds, nor can you afford to have one of your own. However, this often isn’t true.

For one thing, local parks may have blinds that you can use for free, or that you can rent. For another, it is often extremely easy to make a blind, one that you can use in your own backyard.

All that it requires is an old tent of some sort, or even a strong box. Cut a hole in the box or the tent, put it in your backyard, and voila, you have a fully-functioning blind. Let the birds have a few hours to get used to the blind, and they soon won’t even notice it.

I like to use this alongside my backyard feeders in winter. I put out some perches, and I am pretty much guaranteed that several birds will fly by and pose.

northern cardinal portrait - Four Ways to Get Frame-Filling Shots in Bird Photography

I took this image of a Northern Cardinal from a tent-turned-blind in my backyard.

4. Using a car

Your car can work as portable blinds, of sorts – oftentimes, birds hardly notice when cars are going by. Hence, you can approach birds on roadsides very closely without them taking flight. Then you can wind down the window, and begin your photography.

This often works best if you are in the passenger seat of the car while somebody else drives. This allows you to focus on the photography, while they focus on the driving. However, if you’re alone and on a public road, I suggest that you pull off and stop in a safe position (near the bird, of course!), before bringing out your camera.

You can also use a car to approach closely, and once you have stopped, you can slowly open the door and approach from the safe side of the car.

heron portrait - Four Ways to Get Frame-Filling Shots in Bird Photography

5. Take an environmental portrait

Now you’ve gotten four techniques for ensuring that you can get close to birds. But sometimes, it’s best to put away that telephoto lens and take a step back. Do not try to fill the frame. Instead, compose with the environment in mind, aiming to capture not just the bird but the beauty of the surroundings.

This works especially well if the environment complements the bird and thus enhances the overall aesthetic. I like to search for this type of image in areas that are already photographically powerful, where the scenery can carry the image on its own, and the bird simply adds something extra.

Next time you get the opportunity, try it. You may even find that the resulting image is more pleasing than the one you would’ve captured with that long telephoto lens.

Swan Michigan misty lake - Four Ways to Get Frame-Filling Shots in Bird Photography

I used a 100mm lens to photograph these swans on a misty autumn morning.


If you are having trouble getting close enough to capture frame-filling portraits of birds, don’t worry. Using the techniques listed above – approaching slowly, lying in wait, using a blind, and using a car – you can capture excellent images, I guarantee it. So I urge you to get out and get photographing!

Little Blue Heron portrait - Four Ways to Get Frame-Filling Shots in Bird Photography

Have any tips of your own for getting close to birds? I’d love to hear them in the comments section below.

The post Four Ways to Get Frame-Filling Shots in Bird Photography by Jaymes Dempsey appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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