One of the first challenges when shooting macro and close-ups in nature is finding access to your subjects. I am fortunate because my wife and mother are both avid gardeners and I have become much more of one over the last few years. So why not make your yard into a garden and thus into a macro playground?
My mom has an acre of gardens and I have ¾ of an acre myself, providing me with many subjects to photograph. Over the next month I will be converting about 100 square feet of our yard to attract a specific insect I love to photograph, the hummingbird moth. What do you love to shoot? Is it a specific flower or insect? Why not have those plants and attract those insects to your yard?
Two of the plants I have found really attract insects are the Butterfly Bush and Sedum. I have both planted in several places in my yard and my Mom does as well. They will both get larger year to year therefore you can split them and replant adding to the numbers you have. They also both bloom over a long period of time, which provides you many days of photography. Lets take a closer look at what these plants have to offer.
Sedum is a plant that grows about 2 feet tall. Many of the photos I take of insects while on this plant are from a sitting or kneeling position. You want to get down on the same level as your subject. By doing so you will get a different perspective. Most people are used to looking down at these creatures. I like to include the head and the eyes of the insect I shoot. This style of composition helps to create a sense of connection between the viewer and the subject in the image.
Sedum has a long growing season and gives you many days of blooming and thus insects feeding upon it. While in bloom sections of the plant will come in during different times helping to extend the working life it will give you. It grows in clusters giving you a large surface to use as a stage for your subject and other clusters can provide a nice background. Insects do not sink into the plant but rather remain on top of the very small flowers giving you a lot of the insect’s anatomy to photograph.
Two of the insects I see the most on Sedum are bees and butterflies. They both visit frequently. Because of the large number of small flowers it is a regular occurrence to see dozens of insects on them at the same time. Having so many subjects in the same place at the same time expands the number of possible compositions you can work with.
We are all pressed for time. Even those of us who are pros do not spend as much time as we would like with the camera. We still have to run the business part of the business. By developing my yard into an area for work I am able to get more of that time behind the camera. I do not have to make a trip anywhere and use up time traveling. If I have 30 minutes to spend outside taking photos I can grab my camera and go.
The butterfly bush attracts many different insects. It grows like mad and if you cut it back at the end of every season it will come back bigger and fuller than ever the next year. Also, like Sedum, the flowers are small keeping the subject up and easier to photograph. The branches grow out and act like stages for your subjects catching a lot of golden hour light early and late in the day.
I see bees, butterflies, moths and one of my favorites, the Hummingbird Moth, there throughout the day. The bush will quickly become larger than you. Its size produces many clusters of flowers for insect to feed on. You can walk around the bush and find more subjects to photograph every time. Don’t be afraid to wait there for half an hour to see what comes to feed.
Butterflies and moths have larval forms. Find out what their larval forms are and what they like to eat. For Monarch Butterflies their larvae will only eat Milkweed. The adult form also likes Milkweed. Plant Milkweed and you will start to attract Monarchs to your yard. Do your homework to understand the habits of the insects you like to shoot.
Two of the flowers I like to photograph are the Coneflower from the beginning of this article and the mini Dalia pictured above. They both are circular with full dome-like tops. I like to be able to look for different perspectives around the edges. With the cone shape you can also work with different ideas for the depth of field in your image.
We come back to the question from earlier; what is it you like to photograph? How can you make it possible to get out and shoot these things more often? Transform your yard to meet this purpose. Go out and photograph them in your own garden.