Shooting Small Flowers with a Macro Lens
Example "Tufted White Prairie Aster - Symphyotrichum ericoides"
What I want out of
the image in order of importance to me ( which may well be something other
that what you would desire ) and some
- A semi-documentary approach.
- An image where all parts of the flower of interest at that point in time are
sharp; this often means some parts are out of focus ( leaves, if present,
especially lower leaves are often out of focus ).
- Most often the flowers are wild flowers.
- Quite often a single flower is smaller that
the photo sensor height. In my case, using an Olympus E-620 this is
13mm ( about ½ inch ). The lens I use is the Olympus
35mm 1:1 Macro. Minimum focus distance ( from sensor ) is .146 meters (
about 5 3/8” ).
- Getting close to the correct colour is nice. My camera has problem rendering the
proper colour with some purples/blue; I rarely correct this.
- Getting a visually appealing image is nice but I’m not very good at this.
- Getting the proper name of the flower ( if wild ) is nice and I’m improving.
- My use of flash is hit and miss but most often I don’t use flash.
- I most often shoot mid-day which can mean bright harsh light.
- I am not terribly concerned that the background be out of focus.
- I do go through the lens alignment process and an alignment was necessary.
- I don’t clean my lens enough.
- I am generally satisfied with enough of my shots to keep me happy.
- My tripod is a Manfrotto XPROB, which I find too heavy, together with a
Manfrotto 410 ( 3 way adjustable head ). This does work well.
Some things I don’t
- Focus stacking.
- Pixel level adjustments.
- Pick the wild flowers ( even if invasive weeds ).
- Touch the wild flowers directly – some sensitive flowers in some situations will
- Pull other wild plants to “improve” the picture except some very common grasses
and even then will usually just bend them temporarily out of the way – if
I can’t get the image I would like I just don’t.
- Put a background behind the flower; I am considering doing this in some cases.
- Step into a flower bed without a direct invitation ( or my own bed ) and even
then with due care and attention to each plant.
- Knee pads to avoid painful surprises. - J
Yes you need to wear them for them to be of any use.
- Extra battery. One is all too often not enough.
- 99 cent tape measure.
- Extra card. Two 8GB CF cards which I switch when one is full; the camera also has
an XD slot in which I have a 2GB card as an emergency (slower) backup.
- Kata 3N1-20 ( midsize ) sling bag. Don’t always carry this bag and supplies
listed here if a very short nearby outing. Water, food ( do carry home any
empty bags/wrappers/containers ) if planning a trip to the mountain. Emergency
supplies like windup flashlight, matches in waterproof container, fire
starting material, emergency lightweight small space blanket(2), extra lightweight
jacket, whistle, magnetic compass, all-in-one tool like a Swiss Army knife.
Lens cleaning kit. Insect repellent. Sunscreen spf 30 minimum. I rarely
carry an extra lens. Clear plastic bag to change lens in field. I don’t
have a backup camera.
- Clothes appropriate to location (e.g. hiking shoes in the Rockies)
and possible weather.
- GPS with tracking enabled to log every 15 seconds and extra batteries. A) to
get back if lost, and B) to find a particular plant at later date. Often
not used when shooting in a familiar area.
- Thinking of adding a wind break/background for flowers.
Why the E-620 with
the 35mm lens.
- Very full function.
- Gives reasonable SLR entry level quality.
The shooting process.
- Find a flower that I wish to shoot. This most often means in a public natural
environment park of which my city has many. I have sometimes gone with a
naturalist on an arranged visit to private land. A couple of times a year
I will drive to Rocky
Mountain parks about
1 ½ to 2 ½ hours away.
- Plan and do avoid trampling other plants to get at a plant of interest.
- Examine the flower from several angles.
- Setup tripod placing legs with care to avoid damaging other plants. Most often
this means finding grass or rock on which to place the legs. If this
cannot be achieved, I will often try P mode flash from a little further
away or skip the shot.
- This also involves finding places to set you feet and others body parts with the
- Most often I use one of the legs of the tripod as a the camera support.
- Make sure the angle and distance are appropriate. Readjust as necessary.
- The horizontal angle, with respect to the ground, is chosen based on my
visual perception of a “good” shot. That being 0 degrees is eye on to the
plant and 90 degrees shooting straight down at the plant.
- The distance is primarily chosen to ensure the relevant parts of the plant
will be in reasonably good focus; this is, a proper depth of field. Using
a ruler for a few times is helpful. Depth of field facts for the
Diffraction limited aperture is vaguely F/7.
I tend to shot most shots at F/8.0. Bigger flowers may
be shot at F/5.6. I will sometimes shoot at F/9 to F/11 for increased depth of
field; to my eye the level of degradation due to diffraction is relatively
- at the minimum focus distance of .146 m ( about 5.4” –
the front of the lens is less than 2” from the subject ) the depth of field is
about 3.2 mm (about 1/8” )
- at .244 m ( about 9.5” ) the dof is about 1cm ( ~3/8” )
- at .337m ( about 13.3” ) the dof is about 2cm ( ~3/4” );
- at .469m ( about
18.5” ) the dof is about 4cm ( ~1 5/8” ).
- Visually set centre spot focus on a point approximately ½ way through the depth of
field. Example, you are shooting a flower head on and the bottom of the
flower is a distance of .239 m from your sensor and the top the closest
petal is .249 m for a depth of field of 1 cm. You would then set spot
focus at a point on the flower about .244 m away; for auto focus you must
use spot focus or focus is a pure luck. If you do this for awhile by
careful measurement, then later on approximating the required distance
from the tripod leg to the flower will become second nature.
- The camera should be at base ISO ( ISO 200 for the E-620 ).
- Noise reduction is disabled.
- Default sharpness set to minimal ( -2 on the E-620 ).
- Yes, I should verify all my settings. I tend to do this once at the start of a
trip and then only when the images don’t appear to be as I expected ( at review
step below ). My camera is left in RAW only output.
- The camera should be in mode A ( aperture ).
- Estimate and set exposure compensation. Because I tend to have a single central
bright object I find ETTR rather irrelevant ( that is, I don’t generally
care about shadow noise. Yes it does matter sometimes and yes sometimes I
will “Expose To The Right”.).
- Half press the shutter release to focus (this assumes phase detection focus or
at least fast focus – I generally do not use live view (contrast
detection)). A wind relevant note. Most flowers even in “calm” conditions
will sway in the wind. The "when you half press" becomes as important as the spot on which you focus.
If you cannot focus you must attempt a wind abatement process ( tent, move
body in way of wind, use a small dead grass stem(s) to limit flower
movement, etc ). In cases with just a bit too much wind no matter what my
next choice is 1) move further back (large crop will be required), move
the mode S and set speed to 1/500th second or faster.
- Press shutter release the rest of the way when the flower is at least relatively
in the right position and the sway is minimal – patience is required.
- Review histogram and image. Repeat last
three steps above until happy with the result.
- Start again at step 1 with same plant at a different angle or find a new plant
or go home ( tired and happy of course ).
- At home transfer images to your computer and process in your favourite
package. I use the delivered Olympus Viewer 2.
- Recharge all batteries as necessary ( visibly discharged ).
- Process images judged to be of reasonable quality.
- Crop as appropriate both artistically ( remove unwanted elements ) and for
final output ratios (example 4by5 to print 8” by 10”). This may involve a
- Adjust exposure as necessary. If using ETTR this is often a negative number.
- Adjust colour if feeling feisty ( Kelvin setting for some blue/purple flowers ).
A light touch of the “Emerald Green” colour filter on some occasions to
adjust the leaves.
- I sometimes adjust the tone curve to lighten some too dark components (
lower dark contrast ).
- Sharpen via USM ( unsharp mask). 300/1.8/0 works in Viewer 2 for a full size image
with default sharpness set to -2. Quarter (area) size about 250/1.6/0.
Smaller ( more cropped ) as low as 100/.6/0. Note – this is for a final
size of about 1008 * 756 pixels suitable for web or for a 4” by 6” print.
If printing at 8” by 10” a better starting point is probably 150/.8/0;
this is also appropriate starting point if viewing a full size image
onscreen at 100%.
- Resize per application. Most often, for me, to 1008 by 756( 1/16 size ) suitable
to post on the web. If printing this will vary or not happen at all.
- Save as jpeg high quality.
- Post, print, email, etc