A Guide to Macro Photography - Part 2: Preparation

- deutsche Version -

Part 1: The Equipment

Part 2: The Preparation

Part 3: The camera settings

In addition to the suitable equipment (see part 1 of my macro photography guide), a successful macro photography tour needs preparation. In the 2nd part of my workshop series I want to explain how I prepare for a photographic field trip.

Macro Photography: Not for late risers (image in german, but you get the point...)

Macro Photography: Not for late risers (image in german, but you get the point...)

1. Set your Alarm:

The painful truth first: Macro images, like the ones I show in my portfolio, often require to wake up very early. That said, most of my images are made in the first light of the day so that I regularly find myself at 4 am in nature. But, the early rise has several advantages:

  • The cold: After reading part 1 of my macro photography guide, some readers might have wondered how to use a tripod, as recommended by me, and not chase away the motive. The answer is in the biology of the animals. Insects, spiders, amphibians and reptilians are poikilotherm, that is, their body temperature is determined by the environmental temperature. Thus, their motility is drastically diminished in the cold morning hours. You can easily approach a dragonfly in cold rigor up to few centimeters. One disadvantage of these practice is, that non-moving animals are much harder to spot than active ones. Our eyes are trained to see movements, thus, spotting quiescent animals needs some training. Further, many facets of animal behavior can't be photographed in the morning.
    Good news for late risers: The above mentioned benefits of early morning photography are also partially valid in the evening hours.
     
  • The light: The early morning hours are the time with the softest light. In the first part of my guide, I already described the benefits of soft light when I explained the use of a "diffusor". Soft light is the key to detail rich images and vibrant colors. The evening hours are a good time for beautiful light as well.
     
  • The wind: As already described in part one talking about "the plamp", calm air is one of the most important prerequisites for successful nature macro photography. The early morning hours are usually much more calm than the rest of the day.
     
  • Dewdrops:  Dewdrops can be a real eye-catcher in macro images, acting as tiny magnifying glasses. Dewdrops are usually found in the morning, caused by condensation due to the nightly temperature drop.
     
  • The experience: I can tell you, the loneliness, the quiet and the slow awakening of nature in the early morning hours totally make up for the early rise. Just give it a try.

Leptogaster cylindrica in early morning cold rigor and covered with dew drops. In the background you can see a dew covered spider web.

2. Check the weather forecast:

Before you set your alarm, I recommend to check the weather forecast in preparation for a macro tour. Following parameters are the most important:

  • Temperature: In my experience, morning temperatures < 15°C (=59° F) are necessary to reliably find insects in cold rigor. After warm summer nights, even at 4 am your motivs might already be active.
     
  • Wind: The most important factor for my planning is the wind, which is really annoying here at the coast side of Germany. If it is windy, you can't focus properly or even compose your image, since your motive will move too much. An acceptable wind speed is for me < 15 km/h (< 10 miles/h). Less than 10 km/h I consider as perfect, which is a rare event where I live. Of course, you should combine the information from the weather forecast with a look out of the window, since the micro climate can be much different.
     
  • Sun, Wind & Rain: Macro Photography in rainy weather is not fun, even with a weather sealed camera like my E-M5. Sunny or cloudy on the other hand is not that critical for me. A sunny morning enables more interesting lightning situations, while a cloudy morning gives you more time for photography, before the insects awake from their cold rigor.

Google Weather screenshots: This day would be a potential candidate for a macro tour.

3. Finding a suitable habitat:

One great thing about macro photography is that you basically can do it everywhere. Every small green spot is home to a variety of insects and spiders. For beginners, it doesn`t really matter if the motive is a common fly, a ladybug or a dragonfly. With growing experience however, you will want to find more specific motives. For example, for photography of dragonflies you will need to find a habitat near a freshwater source. For your initial search, you can use "google maps" to find water bodies, forests or meadows near your place. To really know a habitat and its photographic possibilities, you`ll need more time. If you know the habitat, e.g. which side of the pond is the sunny side in the morning or which plants grow when and where, your chances for photographic success are much higher, which brings me to the last point.

4. Knowing the biology of the animals:

The key to success is knowing the biology of the animal you want to find. For example, if I search for a specific dragonfly, I inform myself about the conditions a suitable habitat has to provide. For example, most species prefer stagnant water, but demoiselles (Calopterygidae) prefer streaming waters.
If you search for a specific butterfly, I recommend to learn the feeding plants of their larvae. The Orange Tip (Anthocharis cardamines), one of my favorite butterflies, prefers to ovoposite on cuckooflowers or garlic mustard. So, if you find an area with a lot of these plants, chances are good to spot this butterfly species.

Left: Orange Tip Butterfly on its feeding plant, the garlic mustard. Right: Banded Demoiselle, found in the reed of a small stream.

 

So, that is my routine for preparing a macro tour. The most important preparation, however, is learned the hard way, that is that batteries should be charged and that the camera is a better place for your memory card that the slot in your computer at home.

 

best regards,

Sören