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.

How?

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

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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.

Don’t.

Why?

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.

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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.

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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.

Conclusion

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.

Conclusion

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.

flower macro photography red poppy

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.

flower macro photography bleeding heart

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.

flower macro photography aster

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

Conclusion

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.

flower macro abstract photography grape hyacinth

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.

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.

flower macro photography red poppy

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.

flower macro photography bleeding heart

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.

flower macro photography aster

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

Conclusion

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.

flower macro abstract photography grape hyacinth

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.

Four Ways to Generate Stunning Bokeh in Your Images

Bokeh refers to the blur in the background of an image, and for photographers, stunning bokeh is like gold. We want it, struggle for it, need it. Yet how do you generate stunning bokeh consistently?

Fortunately, there a few simple ways to create high-quality background bokeh.

macro flower bokeh photography tulip - Four Ways to Generate Stunning Bokeh in Your Images

In this article, you’ll find four ways that will enhance your ability to produce pleasing bokeh, and therefore increase your photographic versatility and skill.

I’ll first discuss techniques such as increasing the subject to background distance and shooting wide opened. Then I’ll explain bokeh-enhancing situations such as backlighting. You’ll finish with the knowledge to creatively generate stunning bokeh in your own images.

macro flower bokeh photography aster - Four Ways to Generate Stunning Bokeh in Your Images

What is pleasing bokeh?

A quick word on great bokeh: In general, bokeh simply refers to the background blur generated by a lens. However, there are two types of bokeh that I’m going to focus on here.

The first is what I will call geometric bokeh. Geometric bokeh is out of focus highlights that actually take on a geometric shape. This particular shape depends on the nature of the lens, but circles, hexagons, heptagons, and octagons are all fairly common.

When properly utilized, this type of bokeh can add an impressive edge to your images.

macro flower bokeh photography aster geometric bokeh

The lights in the background of this image produce geometric bokeh.

I will refer to the second type of bokeh as creamy bokeh. This is the smooth, out-of-focus look that photographers often strive to achieve.

macro flower creamy bokeh photography daisy

This daisy image has very creamy bokeh.

Both types of bokeh can be generated, but require slightly different methods. Let’s take a look at each.

1. Shoot wide opened

This is really the bread and butter of creating stunning bokeh. Regardless of whether you want geometric or creamy bokeh, shooting wide open (that is, with an aperture in the f/1.2-2.8 range) will greatly increase your chances of achieving it.

I will focus on creamy bokeh here.

macro flower creamy bokeh photography tulip

A wide aperture assisted me in producing a really creamy bokeh background.

If you stop down your lens so that the depth of field is far less shallow, you’ll find that you lose the possibility of nice, creamy backgrounds.

This is because a larger depth of field means that the background is rendered less blurry. To generate the creamiest bokeh, you want to blur the background as much as possible. It’s as simple as that.

To generate better creamy bokeh, widen your aperture to decrease the depth of field. Only then will you start to achieve that beautiful, creamy look and stunning bokeh.

2. Maintain a good subject to background distance

Another essential aspect of producing pleasing bokeh is keeping a good distance between the subject and background. As in the first tip, this applies to both creamy and geometric bokeh, but I’m going to focus on creamy bokeh here.

When I talk about the subject to background distance, I’m referring to the distance between the elements of the photograph that are in focus—your subject—and the elements of the photograph that are out of focus, i.e. your background.

macro flower bokeh photography - Four Ways to Generate Stunning Bokeh in Your Images

Why does having a good distance between the subject and background enhance the quality of creamy bokeh?

It has to do with the depth of field. A greater distance between the subject and background means that the depth of field (the area that is sharp within the image) ends far before the background. The background is then rendered in the form of a lovely blur, rather than as a more in-focus mess.

So in order to increase the creaminess of the bokeh, increase the distance between your subject and your background.

3. Find bright highlights behind the subject

I’ve talked a bit about generating creamy bokeh, now it’s time to turn briefly to geometric bokeh.

Impressive geometric bokeh is created by highlights. One way to get strong geometric bokeh is to look for bright lights in the background.

macro flower bright geometric bokeh photography

The water behind this flower was reflecting the setting sun.

You can achieve this in a few ways. For instance, you might look for objects that filter sunlight, such as leaves. They break up the rays of the sun and turns them into small pinpricks of light that then become impressive geometric bokeh.

You can also look for elements that reflect light. Water is a great option. Another is water droplets. Areas that are wet with morning dew can generate beautiful bokeh when placed behind the subject.

macro flower bokeh photography dandelion - Four Ways to Generate Stunning Bokeh in Your Images

Third, you might search for small light sources in the background. Car lights, street lamps, or christmas lights all work well, especially when shooting after sunset.

Fourth, if you really want to create bokeh but are struggling to find the proper conditions, you can create them yourself. Bring a string of fairy lights with you when you’re shooting, and place them behind the subject.

macro flower bokeh photography yellow

I used fairy lights to create the geometric bokeh in this image.

Geometric bokeh is not all that common in photographs, but can be fairly easily produced. Just follow the tips discussed above!

4. Put the subject in the shade, with a bright background

This method of generating stunning bokeh is unique, in that it can produce amazing creamy bokeh when used one way, and amazing geometric bokeh when reversed.

Both ways involve making sure that your subject is in the shade. Both methods also involve having a bright background. Ideally, you should be shooting in the early morning or late evening when the sun is low in the sky.

macro leaf autumn bokeh photography

Where the techniques diverge is in the placement of the sun.

If you shoot with strong frontlighting—that is, if the sun comes from behind you, over your shoulder—position your subject so that beautiful golden light spills onto the background behind your subject (while your subject remains shaded).

Then that golden light will often render the background similarly golden, and you’ll find that your bokeh becomes wonderful and creamy.

macro flower bokeh photography cosmos

If you shoot with strong backlighting—that is, if the sun comes from behind your subject—position the subject so that the sun must go through trees, leaves, branches, or grasses. As mentioned above, this creates bright highlights behind the subject.

These are then blown into beautiful geometric bokeh.

macro flower bokeh photography

Feel free to experiment. Try to vary the amount of shade on your subject, moving from complete shade to direct backlighting.

macro flower bokeh photography

This flower was more directly backlit.

Whether you choose to shoot with frontlighting or backlighting, by placing your subject in the shade and working during the “golden hours” of sunrise and sunset, you’ll generate beautiful bokeh.

Conclusion

While photographers often struggle to create beautiful bokeh, it doesn’t have to be hard. By shooting with a wide aperture, using a large subject to background distance, by positioning the subject so that bright highlights exist behind it, and by using special types of lighting, you can begin producing images with stunning bokeh.

macro flower bokeh photography hyacinth

Know other ways of generating great bokeh? Please share them and your bokeh images in the comment area below.

The post Four Ways to Generate Stunning Bokeh in Your Images appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Creative Macro Photography – Using Fairy Lights

Are you interested in doing some creative macro photography? Oftentimes, we macro photographers find ourselves photographing the same subjects over and over, searching for new compositions that seem like they’ll never appear.

fairy light creative macro photography flower

In this article, I’ll discuss a macro photography technique that will get you out of that creative rut: using fairy lights. I’ll explain where to purchase them, how to set them up, and how to use them. Ultimately, you’ll learn how to enhance your macro photography with a cheap accessory. You’ll even have lots of fun in the process!

What are fairy lights?

Fairy lights are tiny LED lights. They come in a number of different colors and can be picked up for cheap ($10 or thereabouts) on Amazon.com. I prefer to use warm white colored fairy lights, but feel free to experiment. Different colors will give your photographs different tones.

fairy light creative macro photography flower daisy

What makes fairy lights interesting?

There is one reason why I love fairy lights, and it is this:

Bokeh, bokeh, bokeh!

When placed properly in a photograph, fairy lights can create wonderful out of focus highlights that add a magical feel to your images.

fairy light creative macro photography flower

This can be used in any genre of photography. For instance, it is fairly popular in some portrait photography circles. But I most enjoy using fairy lights in creative macro photography, which is what I’ll be focusing on in this article.

How to use fairy lights?

Work in the twilight hour

Fairy lights are not very bright relative to ambient light. Therefore, it’s necessary to shoot late in the day.

fairy light creative macro photography flower daisy

I photographed this daisy a few minutes after sunset.

If your subject is shaded, or if the day is cloudy, you can start shooting a few minutes before the sun has gone down. As the level of ambient light decreases, the overall look offered by the fairy lights will change.

The fairy lights will become more noticeable, and will really pop off the background (which can be good or bad, depending on the look you desire).

fairy light creative macro photography flower bokeh

I generally shoot until I can no longer handhold my camera. This is usually in the area of 30 minutes after sunset. However, If you like to use a tripod, feel free to stay out later.

Shoot wide open and feel free to underexpose

What should you use for camera and lens settings?

The lens aperture is the easiest setting to choose, widen it as much as possible. Not only does this let in the most light (to compensate for the lack of ambient lighting), but it also blurs the fairy lights in a more pleasing way.

Therefore, when working with fairy lights, I generally stick to my lens’s widest aperture, usually f/2.8.

fairy light creative macro photography flower bokeh

This image was taken with a shallow aperture to ensure better bokeh. The large blobs (lower right) were created by putting some of the lights closer to the camera than the flower.

As for shutter speed, I meter off the main subject (for me, this is usually a flower), and then deliberately underexpose the image. Why? I like that blue twilight aesthetic and I want it to be clear that the image was taken after sundown. This also really causes the fairy lights to stand out.

Regarding lenses, I usually shoot with a macro lens. However, you might also work with another fast lens, such as a 50mm f/1.8. These have the added benefit of being smaller and are therefore easier to handhold.

fairy light macro photography flower bokeh

In macro photography, being able to focus manually is often essential. This is even truer when it comes to fairy light photography. When working in such dark conditions, your autofocus will hunt and hunt until the light is completely gone and you’re forced to pack up.

Instead, switch your lens to manual focus. You can also switch on Live View, which can be very helpful in such difficult conditions.

Place the fairy lights directly behind or in front of the subject

There are two general approaches that I recommend for fairy light photography.

#1 – Put the lights a few inches behind the subject

This distance can decrease if you’re working at high magnifications or a very wide aperture. But it should increase if you are farther from your subject or working with a narrow aperture. If I’m photographing flowers, I often just drape the lights over other flowers or branches behind the main subject.

fairy light creative macro photography flower bokeh aster

I positioned some fairy lights behind this flower by placing them in a nearby bush.

The key is to ensure that the lights themselves are out of focus. You don’t want viewers to look at your images and actually see the fairy lights as fairy lights. They should appear as beautiful background highlights. This means that you should work with a bit of distance between the subject and the fairy lights in the background.

Holding the lights in behind the daisy.

Final image.

#2 – Put the lights in front of the subject

The second approach is harder to pull off but is well worth the difficulty. This involves placing the fairy lights in front of the subject, close enough to the lens that they remain out of focus.

fairy light creative macro photography flower daisy

I held the fairy lights between the lens and the subject in order to ensure the fairy lights remained out of focus and generated strong bokeh for this image.

I generally hold the lights in front of the lens with my left hand while manual focusing the lens with the other. This ensures that the fairy lights remain nothing more than out of focus highlights.

fairy light creative macro photography flower bokeh

Final Techniques to Consider

Now you know the basics of fairy light macro photography. But how do you create compelling images?

creative macro photography fairy lights

I find that there’s a particularly useful guideline for fairy light photography which is to incorporate the fairy lights into the composition.

creative macro photography fairy lights flower daisy bokeh

That is, don’t just let the fairy lights spray randomly throughout the background. Yes, this will result in an interesting image, but it will probably seem chaotic as well. In any type of photography, you want every bit of your photograph to be deliberate. Fairy light macro photography is no exception.

Instead, compose so that the fairy lights complement the main subject. Place them so that they appear above the subject (in the background). Make them appear beside the subject. Put them so that they seem to ring the main subject.

creative macro photography fairy lights flower cosmos bokeh

I held the fairy lights in the bottom of the frame, so as not to obscure the flower.

If you are using the second technique that I mentioned above, in which you put the fairy lights in front of the lens, make sure that they don’t block out important parts of the subject.

You don’t want to obscure your main subject with lights. It needs to be recognizable in order to offer a point for the viewer to focus on.

creative macro photography fairy lights flower aster

Conclusion

Fairy lights can add creative flair to your macro photography. They can also help you get out of a creative rut.

If all goes well, you might find yourself inspired to experiment with different colored fairy lights, or even take them with you when engaging in other genres of photography like portrait or pet photography.

creative macro photography fairy lights flower bokeh

By following the guidelines set out above, you’ll be able to take some fantastic eye-catching images!

Got any creative macro photography techniques of your own? Please share them in the comments section below.

fairy light macro photography flower

fairy light macro photography flower abstract

fairy light macro photography flower daisy abstract

fairy light macro photography mushroom

fairy lights photography leaves autumn

The post Creative Macro Photography – Using Fairy Lights appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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

Subjects

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

Color

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.

Condition

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.

Shape

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.

Compositions

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.

Simplify

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.

Conclusion

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.

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