Photographing Nature Up-Close Using Your Digital SLR - dummies

Photographing Nature Up-Close Using Your Digital SLR

By Doug Sahlin

Whether you want images of gorgeous flowers, interesting insects, or natural microcosms, your digital SLR can help you capture nature up close and personal. Whether you’re walking in a city park or hiking in the wild, you never know what you’ll find when you start looking at the details around you — an artistic pile of leaves on a boardwalk, perhaps:


Setting your digital SLR for close up nature shots

Shooting in Aperture Priority mode and using a large aperture (a small f/stop number) gives you the shallow depth of field you want for close-ups of a flower or other inanimate object.

If you’re focusing on a moving insect, using Shutter Priority mode enables you to choose a shutter speed fast enough to freeze the motion of the insect’s wings. Shooting with a fast shutter speed — 1/250 second or faster — is handy for moving critters because when you zoom in tight with a fairly long focal length, the slightest movement of the camera or subject is magnified, which means you get an image that isn’t tack sharp.

With a single auto-focus point, you can lock focus on any part of the image to draw attention to a flower petal or an insect on the flower, although you may want Continuous Auto-Focus mode if you’re tracking an insect.

If you’re photographing something like a spider on a web that’s blowing in the wind, choose Continuous Auto-Focus mode so that the camera updates focus as the web moves to and fro.

A low ISO setting — 100, 200, or as low as you can go and maintain the proper shutter speed — gives you a crisp image that has little or no digital noise.

A focal length of 100mm lets you zoom in on your subject. Many lenses come equipped with a Macro mode, which lets you get really close to your subject and still keep it in focus. If you don’t have a macro lens, consider purchasing one if you enjoy close-up photography.

If you try to photograph an insect by using a focal length of less than 100mm, you have to get very close to the bug in question, which may cause it to fly away. You may also be putting yourself in harm’s way if you’re photographing a potentially dangerous insect, such as a bee:


If your camera or lens has image stabilization, enable the feature. When you capture close-ups of any object, the slightest bit of operator movement can result in an image that doesn’t look sharp. Don’t use image stabilization if you mount your camera on a tripod.

Taking close up pictures of nature

As with most photography, you get your best images if you photograph in good light — in this case, that means early morning or late afternoon. Cloudy overcast conditions offer soft, diffused light, which is great for nature close-ups as well.

Composition rules remain in effect: Photograph a light-colored flower against a dark background and vice versa. If you’re shooting a green insect on a green leaf, you won’t get a dynamic photo. Choose an interesting background and wait for your chosen insect to make an appearance.

You can press the shutter halfway to focus, then move around to get the best perspective. Be sure to leave a bit of breathing space around a flower or an insect — you can crop out extra space during the editing process.

Using a flash adds a kiss of light to the image. This extra light warms the image and adds light to the shadows.