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Minute details in nature are captivating. Rock textures, flowers, lichen, seashells, fungi, and leaf patterns make incredible pictures that reveal a world seldom noticed by people. In addition, when lighting or weather conditions make good landscape work difficult or impossible, it’s usually quite feasible to move in close with a telephoto or macro lens and capture wonderful photos.

Macro work has one major problem—as you move in very close to small subjects to fill the frame, depth of field is reduced. Since the beauty and intrigue of macro work is all about the detail, it’s important to use small lens apertures like f/22 and f/32. The reduction in light necessitates a longer shutter speed, and that, in turn, means that a tripod is essential. Doing macro photography without a tripod is an exercise in frustration. You will never be able to take top-notch pictures. This is especially true when the subject has a lot of depth.

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Soft Light
In my opinion, small subjects look best in soft light. Harsh shadows and bright highlights interfere with their subtle colors, shapes and contours. For example, the dwarf lake iris I photographed in Michigan, (#1) was taken under an overcast sky. This is the best-case scenario for close-up work. You can see the kind of sky I was working under (#2) for this rock design. Although I exaggerated the colors in Photoshop, the diffused lighting enabled me to show the natural artistry in the minerals of this cliff face. At the same location, I took another picture (#3) in which I eliminated the sky and filled the frame with color and form.

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All Photos © 2009, Jim Zuckerman, All Rights Reserved

If the sun peaks out from behind the clouds, sometimes I will use my body to make a shadow on the small area I’m photographing. This keeps the light evenly diffused. I did that with the tiny alpine wildflowers (#4). The sun was too high in the sky for successful landscape photography of the Alps, so I focused on macro subjects that were small enough to shield from the sun. When I photographed Texas bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush near Austin one year, I used an umbrella to soften the light on the composition (#5). A shooting companion held it for me because my shadow wasn’t large enough to provide shade for the entire composition.

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Watch The Wind
Wind is the enemy of macro photographers because even the slightest breeze will be responsible for a blurred image due to the long exposures necessary for this kind of work. Subjects that won’t be affected by the wind are easy to shoot, like the cracked mud in Death Valley (#6), and seashells that I arranged on a beach in Florida (#7).

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