Handheld Macro Photography Field Techniques by Robert O’Toole
Published: July 17 2012
Summer is here and this is a great time to get out in the field for some close-up photography. There are so many plant and small animals around during this time that you have a very good chance of find a few interesting subjects so take some time to slow down and have a good look in a natural area. Try a local park or botanical garden, these can be great places to find quality subjects and are usually close by and easy to reach for most people. When I shoot close-ups I like to leave my tripod at home, I prefer the freedom and speed that handholding gives me. Also I prefer to use flash for my close-up photography for the most detail and sharpness possible, even in poor weather or windy conditions. These are some recent close-up images along with technical information, tips and techniques to help you get the best results with your macro photography.
Rose close up, southern California. Nikon D800E, Sigma 180mm f/3.5 EX APO Macro HSM lens, single Nikon SB-R200 flash @ 1:8 power with diffuser, handheld, manual mode, 1/250th sec, f9. ISO 200.
Summertime means long hours of warm sun but this heat and humidity can create strong breezes and thunderstorms in the middle of the day. The easiest solution is to use flash, I use a single unit mounted on the end of my macro lens. The closer the flash is to the subject the less power is needed and the larger and softer the light source will appear. Flash will fill in shadows, help stop subject and camera movement and give you the sharpest results possible, even when handholding.
Wildflower, southern Hungary. Nikon D800E, Sigma 180mm f/3.5 EX APO Macro HSM lens, single Nikon SB-R200 flash @ 1:8 power with diffuser, handheld, manual mode, 1/60th sec, f8. ISO 200.
When photographing wildflowers a long lens and medium aperture can let you isolate a single plant. Aperture choice can balance depth of field and at the same time keep the background soft. Getting down to photograph at flower level will give you a nice soft background and make the image pop. The longer focal length lenses make attaining a clean background easier thanks to the smaller angle of view. I prefer to handhold the camera but I will use a monopod when I need extra support for high magnification work.
European green lizard on lichen covered branch, southern Hungary, Nikon D800E, Sigma 180mm f/3.5 EX APO Macro HSM lens, single Nikon SB-R200 flash @ 1:8 power with diffuser, handheld, manual mode, 1/200th sec, f8. ISO 200.
Lizards and other reptiles can usually be found sun bathing on rocks and open places on cool mornings. If you can find them when the temperature is still low enough they will stay still long enough to be photographed. Using a longer macro lens such as a 150mm or 180mm will give you more working distance and less chance of flushing sensitive subjects like this. The 150mm and 180mm macro lenses work very well with 1.4x and 2X teleconverter for even more room. All Internal focus lenses will shrink focal length as you focus closer so it is best to remember this fact and start out with as long of a lens as you can.
Red Poppy and beetle, southern Hungary, Nikon D800E, Sigma 180mm f/3.5 EX APO Macro HSM lens, single Nikon SB-R200 flash @ 1:4 power with diffuser, handheld, manual mode, 1/120th sec, f16. ISO 200.
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