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Garden Nature Closeup Photography That You Can Do

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture

Are some unidentified pests eating up your garden? Would you like to merge your gardening skills with some closeup photography? Here are some basic photography tips that will not only help you identify what is eating your garden, but provide some additional visual enjoyment to your gardening.

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A recent study made the news about a species of dandelion pollen that has evolved some unusual spikes on its surface believed to aid its attachment to bees in order to give that plant species a reproductive advantage.

Honeybee on Dandelion YouTube Video

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Aside from the evolutionary science behind how at least one species of dandelion found a unique way to improve its reproductive fitness, what is equally interesting is the resolution achieved of an image of a single pollen at the micron level.

Scanning Electron Microscope Image of Dandelion Pollen

Spikey pollen sticks to bees

Comparing the hand-drawn images below from an old Botany text with that of the extremely high-resolution image of pollen from the study, you begin to feel a new respect with nature and all that it holds invisible to the unaided eye. Aside from the clarity of the image at the micron level, what is particularly interesting about pollen is that it comes in a wide range of morphology that appears other-worldly.

Hand Draw Botany Text Images of Differing Pollen Types

Pollen comes in all shapes and sizes

Your Garden’s Hidden World

Unfortunately, gaining an other-worldly view of nature at the micron level is not easily available to most because of the sheer cost of the equipment involved.

However, as it turns out, seeing the world of your garden differently at low magnification is very possible—and affordable—according to an instructional post in Entomology Today where research scientists share their tips on how to get started on macrophotography of insects and small creatures in the field.

Tips on Taking Low Magnification Photos in Your Garden

Here is a brief summary of some of the tricks experts use to obtain sharper, more detailed, and better-composed macrophotographs in the field:

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1. Get in Focus and Stay Still—Due to the closeness of the image, the slightest movement can make the difference between a remarkable image and a not-so-remarkable blur. The experts advise that when using a macro-lens on your camera, use a portable stool to help you hold the camera steady. And, while your autofocus feature on your camera may work well, a finer image can be obtained if you lock the focus and then slightly adjust yourself by moving forward and back to achieve the final focus point you want.

2. Explore Hidden Camera Features—Get your camera manual out and look for features like “focus peaking” and “magnified viewing.” Those extra features you normally do not use could prove to help you get the exact focus you want for your image.

3. Avoid Focus Hunting in Low Light—We’ve all experienced those missed Kodak moments where it feels like our camera just can’t make up its mind and fails to find its focus in a timely manner. One solution is to attach a penlight to the lens barrel with tape and direct the light beam “…at the space you expect your subjects to occupy. This “focus light” will allow your camera (and you) to see your subject and acquire focus more quickly.”

4. Check Your Background and Foreground—A smooth and defocused background that allows your subject to dominate the image, needs to be devoid of any light-colored, light-reflecting branches or leaves in the background and the foreground. To avoid this, simply shift your position or move the offending matter out of the way during your shot.

5. Avoid Bright Sun—Many insects have highly reflective elytra (protective wing-cases), wings, and forelegs that can cause unsightly highlights in bright light conditions that can ruin your image. You can avoid this problem by creating a shade with your body between the sun and subject; use an umbrella for shade; or, use photographically conducive natural lighting conditions found on bright but cloudy days, or during the early morning and the late afternoon.

6. Consider Lens Extension Tubes—Extension tubes that fit between the camera and the lens are a less-expensive option over specialty macro lenses. While they do result in a slightly decreased area of sharp focus, they can still produce remarkable images. The authors point out that it is best to avoid attaching and removing an extension tube in the field because it opens up the possibility of getting dirt and other debris inside your camera that will require professional cleaning.

7. Try Magnifying Filters—Another option is to try using a magnifying “filter” supplied by Raynox. According to the authors, a Raynox magnifying filter will fractionally reduce the quality of your image. However, in practical terms, there will not be a meaningful difference in the sharpness or resolution of your image.

For more information about macrophotography in the field, click on the linked reference below for a second installment by the authors that focuses on cameras, lenses, and flash options suitable for macrophotography.

If you have some tips on macrophotography that works for you, please share your knowledge in the comments section below.

Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Today, with a background in farming and an avid home gardener, Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on the connection between plant biology and gardening for healthy living. For continual updates about plants and health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Images courtesy of Pixabay and University of Missouri Columbia Mizzou News


MU researchers discover wildflower’s spiny pollen adapts to help plants reproduce” University of Missouri Columbia, May 19, 2020.

Sexual and natural selection on pollen morphology in Taraxacum” by Austin Lynn, Emelyn Piotter, Ellie Harrison and Candace Galen, 12 February 2020, American Journal of Botany.
DOI: 10.1002/ajb2.1428

Photographing Insects in the Field: Basic Tips for Success” by Lou Staunton and Jeremy Squire; Entomology Today, April 2020.

"Photographing Insects in the Field: Know Your Equipment" by Lou Staunton and Jeremy Squire; Entomology Today, April 2020.