Spring is a wonderful time to practice nature photography. Everything is starting to bloom, which brings out the birds and insects (especially bees and butterflies), and there’s a huge range of colour to capture.
Flowers, plants and grass are at their brightest in the first few weeks of spring, so don’t wait to photograph them. Use the following checklist to make sure you get the best possible shot:
Choose the focal point
Whether it’s an object or a subject, you need to decide what the main feature should be. With flowers you could choose the petal, stem, leaves or bud to highlight, like in the photo below. With insects it could be their wings, antennae or eyes. Or it might as simple as highlighting a single blade of grass within a field.
You also need to consider what is the best orientation to shoot in. Horizontal orientation enhances length whereas a vertical view emphasises height.
Choose your lens
Macro and telephoto lenses are the two most commonly used lens types for nature photography because their optics are made to enlarge very small details. Macro lenses are best for when you are very close to a small subject and want to zoom in even more. Telephoto lenses are for zooming in to a subject that is very far away and making it seem extremely close to the lens.
However if you don’t have these types of lenses, a normal or standard lens (zoom or prime) is the next best thing. Extension tubes can also be added to some lenses to allow for a longer focal length. Extension tubes are empty attachments without any optics that create more distance between the lens and the camera sensor. The focal length a lens is zoomed in or out to, will have an effect on the depth of field, which is very important in nature photography.
Choose the depth of field
After deciding on the focal point, look beyond it. Are there distractions in the background behind it? If so, a very shallow depth of field may be necessary, to redirect the eye of anyone looking at the image towards the subject rather than the background. Most nature shots have a shallow depth of field rather than a wider one, but it’s a matter of how shallow it should be. If your depth of field is so shallow that it isn’t even wide enough to have all of the subject in focus then it will need to be altered.
Select your aperture carefully to ensure the background is blurred but the subject is not. Settings from as wide as f/1.2 to f/5.6 are commonly used when shooting nature. Keep the plane of the camera on the same plane as the focal point for the best results. That means if the subject is down low, get down on the same level to photograph it rather than shooting from a different angle.
Choose your AF point
Once you’ve chosen the focal point and decided whether the depth of field around it should be sharp or blurred, you need to put your camera on manual, AV or TV mode and select a single AF point from one of the many that the camera’s auto focus uses. These AF points can be seen as a series of rectangles through the viewfinder.
By selecting a single AF point in the area of the frame where the subject appears, the focus won’t be thrown off by movement within other areas of the frame. You’ll be able to capture the focal point clearly and precisely.
If you want complete accuracy, switch to manual focus (MF mode) Once you do this, the AF points won’t flash in your viewfinder when you press the shutter button. Instead you’ll need to twist the focus ring around the lens to sharpen the image.
Tools for macro photography
Some nature photographers also like to use a tripod and a remote shutter release or mirror lock up in order to keep focus as sharp as possible. There are even clamps available to hold flowers steady in case there is a light breeze.
To give flowers and plants a fresh look, squirt them with some drops of water from a spray bottle. If you add some honey to the water, you might even attract some bees.