- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Gardeners learn quickly that a fascinating world performs freely at their feet — a miniature world of dewdrops clinging to flower petals; ornate, one-of-a-kind snowflakes building into drifts; or the pollen-coated legs of honeybees foraging among the flowers.

What can make these images even more appealing is using a macro lens on a camera to document and share them.

“Macro photography is the visual portal to a world most people walk by without a glance,” says Alan Detrick in his book “Macro Photography for Gardeners and Nature Lovers.” “Plants, animals and parts of plants and animals never before imagined enter the camera’s viewfinder” - and all in the backyard, or perhaps a neighborhood park.

Most point-and-shoot cameras have the macro mode built in.

“That allows you to focus on a subject as close as one-half to 1 inch in front of the camera lens,” says Ian Adams, who wrote “The Art of Garden Photography.”

“I strongly recommend a macro lens for plant portraiture.”

That generally means stepping up to a digital single-lens reflex camera, which is designed for interchangeable lenses, including the general-purpose macro series.

“Get the longest [macro lens] you can afford, because they generally give you better results,” Mr. Adams says.

The shorter lenses are a good choice if you’re looking for a pollinator’s-eye view of particular blooms or want to belly up to some low-lying alpine plants. However, they require working at close range - often too close when trying to incorporate skittish insects or birds among the flowers.

“If you’re photographing a timber rattler and don’t want to get bitten, it’s good to be three or four feet away,” Mr. Adams says. “If you’re photographing butterflies, which startle easily, it’s nice to be able to step back and still have that macro capability.”

A tripod probably is the most important accessory for garden photographers to carry, Mr. Adams says. “It stabilizes the camera for sharper pictures. It gives you more flexibility for slow shutter speeds and large f-stops for deeper depth of field. You can look more deeply at the composition itself. You can’t see it all that well while hand-holding.”

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