7 Simple Subjects to Practise Macro Photography on Your Doorstep
Every season provides its own unique and exciting opportunities for close-up photography. In close-up, the natural world takes on a completely different form: photographers can reveal or highlight exquisite beauty, detail, texture, form, and colour.
By filling the frame, you can abstract subjects, disguise scale, and remove context. All of this is possible with limited time and effort. Some of the best close-up subjects can be found on your very own doorstep, for example your back garden, local woodland or park.
Autumn is renowned for being a bountiful season. As the hours of daylight shorten and the air begins to chill, opportunities for close-up photographers are plentiful. In need of further inspiration? Read on!
1. Spiders and webs
Who can resist photographing a dewy spider web? The atmosphere is cooler and moister during autumn, so it is not uncommon to wake up to heavy dew. Foliage, as well as any insects still on the wing at this time of the year, will be smothered with tiny beads of water that glisten like jewels in early morning light.
Dew will also reveal the whereabouts of countless spider webs. Webs are beautifully constructed and form intricate, photogenic patterns. To capture the entirety of the web sharply, select a parallel angle to place as much of the subject as possible within the plane of focus.
You should also select a relatively small aperture, such as f/11, but try to exclude any distracting vegetation or mess from the background. To achieve more arty, abstract results, place your camera at an angle to the web and select a larger aperture, in the region of f/2.8 or f/4, to highlight just a few droplets or a single strand.
Use a tripod, but be careful not to knock the web (or any vegetation supporting it) when setting up. While webs alone create great shots, don’t overlook their creators. Autumn is a great time of year to photograph spiders. Garden, orb weaver, and wasp spiders are particularly photogenic.
2. Wasps and windfall fruit
If you have fruit growing in your garden, or have access to a nearby garden or park that does, then September and October are harvest time. Insects will make a beeline to windfall fruit that is slowly decomposing on the ground. The high sugar content and ready access that fallen apples, pears, and plums provide is a siren call to wasps, flies, and many butterflies.
Natural fruit, like blackberries, will also attract insects. With insects regularly returning to the same place again and again to feed, you can wait close by with your close-focusing lens. Insects will often feed and remain inactive for quite sustained periods, making it easier to take photos.
This is a particularly good opportunity to photograph wasps. They are generally less aggressive come autumn, and more tolerant to you getting close with a camera. Colourful fruit provides a striking backdrop to insects nibbling away. Look for wasps emerging from holes in apples, or feeding together in groups.
Due to the high level of magnification needed to shoot such small subjects, select a smaller aperture, in the region of f/11, to generate a larger depth of field. Be prepared to take a large series of shots to achieve the result you want. Use a camera mounted LED light or a ring-flash to provide extra illumination and speed.
3. Autumn leaves
Autumn is renowned for its rich colours. The leaf canopy is now ablaze with fiery colours, as the green pigment (chlorophyll) within leaves breaks down to reveal a photogenic palette of reds, oranges, and yellows.
The best of the autumnal colour tends to appear in late October and early November, but this naturally depends on where you live. Colourful leaves look stunning in frame-filling close-up. Consider making a trip to a local arboretum, home to vast collections of trees, including acers and other species that are at their very best during autumn.
Back-lighting often suits foliage best, highlighting shape, colour, and intricate veins. Avoid blowy days if you intend to photograph leaves on trees, as any movement will make it tricky to frame and focus. You will have far more control if you simply collect a handful of fallen leaves to take home and photograph. You can then arrange them carefully and creatively.
If you have an old lightbox, use it to back-light your arrangement. Alternatively, you could tape larger, individual leaves to a window to achieve a back-lit effect. Maple leaves are arguably the most shapely, colourful, and photogenic.
These are arguably the most obvious and popular close-up subjects during the months of autumn. If you don’t currently have time to read our comprehensive How To Photograph Fungi guide, simply remember to regularly visit ancient deciduous woodland during autumn, and search fallen branches, decaying tree stumps, and amongst leaf litter for subjects.
Fungi are weird and wonderful, and can vary massively in shape, size, and design. Look for subjects in immaculate condition, and avoid mushrooms damaged by weather or nibbled by bugs and slugs. Study your subject from all conceivable angles before deciding where to set up your tripod.
Low angles often work well, looking up at subjects to highlight the beauty of gills. Avoid messy, distracting backgrounds, and use a reflector or small LED to enhance the light: most subjects grow in dark, damp places, so natural light can be poor. You will need to get down and dirty to get the best shots, so wear waterproof clothing, or use a groundsheet to keep kit and clothes clean and dry.
There may now be fewer insects around in comparison to during spring and summer, but you certainly won’t struggle for subjects. This is particularly the case in early autumn, before the first frosts.
Visit ponds to discover late flying dragonflies, such as common darters and southern hawkers. Meanwhile, nectar-rich gardens will attract a host of butterflies, bees, and hoverflies. Shield bugs, dock bugs, and many other little critters can be found basking on vegetation on warm days.
Approach subjects slowly and smoothly. Insects will often react to sudden or jerky movements, and fly or scurry away. Use a macro lens or close-focusing attachment to achieve frame-filling shots. For more information on close-up kit, read our Introduction to Macro Photography: Equipment.
Longer focal lengths, for example a macro lens upwards of 100mm (such as the Nikon 105mm f/2.8), will provide a larger camera-to-subject working distance, and help you minimise risk of disturbance. Low, eye-to-eye viewpoints often produce the most natural and intimate looking perspectives.
When shooting handheld, consider increasing ISO sensitivity to generate a shutter speed fast enough to eliminate both subject and camera movement.
So, this might not be a subject limited only to the months of autumn. But, if you find some discarded feathers on your travels, or sadly discover a dead bird, killed by traffic or from flying into a window, don’t overlook the opportunity to capture their colour, detail, and texture.
Feathers provide great close-up opportunities. Study a bird’s plumage, or an individual feather, to enjoy its colour, texture, and repetition. A wetland reserve is a good place to look for feathers shed by ducks and geese by the water’s edge.
Collect clean, pristine feathers, take them home, and photograph them in the comfort of your own home or garden. Larger feathers are easier to shoot, as you don’t need such a high level of magnification to fill the frame.
Placing the rachis of the feather so it cuts diagonally across the frame will often create a more dynamic, stimulating composition. If you want to record feathers sharply throughout, place your camera parallel in order to maximise the available depth of field.
7. Autumn fruits
Autumn is nature’s harvest time and, right now, you will find no shortage of berries, nuts, and seeds to photograph. Conkers, acorns, fir cones, and photogenic seed heads provide great close-up subjects, with lots of fine detail, colour, and interest to highlight.
It is likely that you will need to arrange and create your composition, although sometimes things fall so naturally into place that you won’t need to tamper with what you find. When required, collect subjects and assemble them to create a pleasing composition or pattern, and then fill the frame to maximise the impact of your subject’s colour or shape.
Soft, even sunlight is typically best for this type of close-up, On sunny days, shoot within the shade of a tree, or use a diffuser.
While spring and summer might traditionally be the busiest times for close-up enthusiasts, autumn continues to provide many varied and interesting subjects. Don’t let your macro lens gather dust this autumn, great close-up opportunities continue to abound!