Nature Photography Close-Up Encounters: The Art of Selective Focus

Learn to exploit macro photography's razor-thin depth of field

by Kerry Drager

Poppies Macro Nature Photo
Poppies Macro Nature Photo
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved

Strategies for Shooting Macro Nature Photography

COMPOSING YOUR SCENE: First, pick your "star" flower, plant, or other nature subject. Once you have identified the main attraction of your nature scene, move in very tight on your subject and carefully design your picture.

Along the way, remember this macro rule of thumb: A little adjustment of your camera can make a big difference in your photograph. Move a little close to your nature subject, or a little further away, for a BIG change in the final photograph.

By the way, you can learn more about composing nature photographs in any of the excellent online photography classes in the Nature Photography category of courses at BetterPhoto.com.

Points of Light
Points of Light
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved
PICKING THE F/STOP: To maximize the blur effect and turn backgrounds into soft blends of color, try your lens's largest aperture (smallest f/stop number). It never hurts to compare photos after the fact. When I'm doing nature photography, I like to shoot several versions of the same scene, each with a different f/stop and a different "look."

FOCUSING POINT: When shooting close-ups wide open, choosing the best point of focus is crucial. After all, only a tiny part of your main subject will turn out sharp. As a result, I prefer manual focusing over auto-focusing when shooting close-ups, and if I'm handholding my camera, I often find it easier to move the camera back and forth instead of rotating the lens-focusing ring.


Nature Photography at its Close-Up Best
Nature Photography at its Close-Up Best
© Kerry Drager
All Rights Reserved
BY THE WAY: In each photo shown here, I isolated a main focal point of a single subject. For "Poppies Macro," I actually shot "through" some nearby flowers, so the out-of-focus splash of color in front would help frame the poppy in back. The foreground poppies were so close, in fact, that they almost touched the front of my lens.


Lastly... Selective Focus Works with ANY Nature Photography

Selective-focus techniques, by the way, work on close-ups of any flowers, as well as other delicate plants and even insects.

Go out and have fun making examples of artistic nature photography. I can't wait to see your results!

Remember, you can learn more about nature photography in any of the online classes and I especially invite you to take my Macro Nature Photography Class: Creative Close-Ups, right here at BetterPhoto.com. You can take this highly interactive class from anywhere in the world. You get lessons and assignments that you apply to subject in your local area and then upload the results for personal critique from yours truly - your personal mentor. I look forward to having you as a student in my class!



About Author / Instructor / Photographer, Kerry Drager
Photography Instructor: Kerry Drager
The content manager and course advisor for BetterPhoto.com, Kerry Drager is also the co-author of two books: The BetterPhoto Guide to Creative Digital Photography (2011) and The BetterPhoto Guide to Photographing Light (2012). In addition, he teaches photography online at BetterPhoto's digital photography school.

Be sure to check out Kerry's Pro BetterPholio website - www.kerrydrager.com.

Also, he is the author of Scenic Photography 101, the photographer of the photo-essay books The Golden Dream: California from Gold Rush to Statehood and California Desert , a contributor to the books BetterPhoto Basics and Daybreak 2000, and a co-photographer of Portrait of California. In addition, Kerry was profiled in the April 1994 issue of Outdoor Photographer magazine and in Vik Orenstein's 2010 book The Photographer's Market Guide to Building Your Photography Business, and his website was showcased in the January 2003 issue of Shutterbug magazine. Plus, his work has appeared in magazines, Hallmark cards and Sierra Club calendars, and in advertising campaigns for American Express and Sinar Bron Imaging.

Also see his Visual Creativity photography blog, and follow Kerry on Facebook.

Kerry lives with his wife, Mary, on California's Central Coast, with their three Newfoundland dogs, four cats, and a mixed terrier.