Close-up photography made simple with Esther Beaton

I asked Esther to tell us about this particular image and what technique she applied to take it. Who would have thought it could be so easy to take such a stunning image? Esther tells us how…

Sometimes the beauty of flowers is captured by photographing a “big picture” view – like a wide photo of a field of flowers. Sometimes it is best achieved by focusing in on a single blossom. But there is a special technique I love to use and which never fails to bring out the magic and beauty of almost any flower. And that is to get really close. When you point your camera into the very heart of a blossom, it’s as if you are penetrating the heart of the cosmos.

Using this perspective has so many benefits: it brings graphic purity and simplicity to your shot. It isolates the most important or significant feature. It allows pure and harmonious colour compositions. And above all, it transfixes the viewer with the mystery of something they rarely see with the naked eye: the interior heart of a flower.

You can accomplish this technique quite easily with a standard camera and lens – if you know what you are doing. Here’s my technique on how to do it.

1. Start with a camera that has a good viewfinder. A DSLR allows you to be really precise with your framing and focusing.

2. Use a lens that has macro-focusing. Almost all standard zoom lenses have this feature built in these days.

3. If you don’t have a lens with macro-focusing, buy a magnifying lens that you can screw on to the front of your standard lens. These are called by various names: close up filters, close up lenses or macro filters. This is a simple lens that looks almost exactly like the everyday magnifying lens lying around your house – but missing the handle. They range in price from about $10 to about $250. But I recommend buying a cheap one to start.

They also come in different magnifications like 1x, 2x, 3x. I recommend one that gives you about 2 times magnification to start. if the filter doesn’t exactly fit on your lens, you may also have to buy an adapter ring for a few dollars.

4. Next is to take your camera off Auto-focus and set it to Manual focus. Then, wind the lens out all the way until it will go no further. (Winding “in” sets it at infinity, winding “out” sets it at the closest focusing point.)

5. Now find your flower. Start with a big one as it is easier all the way around: you won’t have to get so physically close, you won’t have to use a tripod and all sorts of other factors.

6. Without touching the lens AT ALL, move yourself and your camera closer and closer to the heart of a flower until suddenly something pops into focus. It will be such a surprise!

7. Move the camera around until you have a nice composition in the frame. You may have to tweak the lens the teensiest bit. At this proximity to the subject, the tiniest movement on the lens barrel with result in a big shift of focus so avoid doing this if possible.

8. You often don’t have to worry about lighting at this distance because the heart of a flower is usually protected from direct sunlight by the petals. If sun is a problem, find another blossom in shade.

I bet you never would have thought of getting such a dramatic result from such a simple technique. A shot like this is good enough to frame up for your wall. That will make the subject look even bigger and even increases the aura of mystery and beauty.

Esther will be with The Aperture Club at the Australian Garden Show Sydney (4-7 Sep) to tutor a series of inspired photography workshops. The first of two will focus on Fine Art Photography and the second, Macro Photography. The Fine Art Photography workshop has exclusive pre-show ‘all areas’ access to the Garden Show in Centennial Park, so a very unique experience awaits.

Esther Beaton is an award-winning professional photographer, the author of The Nature Photography Cookbook and co-author of Life in the Tall Eucalypt Forests. Her travel and science features are published regularly in international magazines. Esther is a long standing photographer with Australian Geographic and a winner of their Award for Excellence,

See more and book one of Esther’s Australian Garden Show photography workshops here.