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Backyard photography adventures: capturing flowers, close-ups and more

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The lazy days of summer are here. Time to head out and enjoy the great outdoors! But you don’t have to travel far to find fascinating nature and wildlife–just go out in your backyard and look around. There is so much inspiration for photographers–butterflies floating in on the wind, hummingbirds enjoying a quick snack at the bird feeder. It doesn’t matter where you live or how much space you have, backyard photography will help you look at your world with new eyes.

Light right

Using light to your advantage is what separates good photos from great ones. Remember, you’re not really capturing the subject with a camera; you’re capturing the light that reflects off the subject. Even the most incredible subject in the world will still produce a poor photo if the light isn’t complementary.

The best times to take pictures are usually early morning and early evening; the worst time is generally midday, when the light is the most harsh. The quality of natural light is especially magical an hour after daybreak and an hour before sunset, but lower light levels will probably require the use of a tripod.

The natural world up close

Close-up photography reveals details that the naked eye can’t see–perfect for shooting flowers, bugs, butterflies and other backyard dwellers. Close-ups isolate the subject, removing or neutralizing any surrounding clutter. And since many digital cameras are able to get as close as an inch to a subject, they are perfectly suited for the job.

You’ll notice that very few close-up photos are completely sharp from foreground to background. In other words, the depth of field (or the sharp, in-focus zone in an image) tends to be shallow. And when the camera is really close, the depth of field can be very slight, which makes focusing on a subject very challenging.

With shallow depth of field, it’s important to position your camera parallel to whatever you’re photographing. If you’re shooting a butterfly on a flower, line up your camera with the body of the butterfly or only part of it will be in focus. If you can’t get the entire subject in focus, then figure out what part of it you want to center on and make sure it’s parallel to the back of your camera.

Quick Tip! You can also increase depth of field by increasing the illumination. Many point-and-shoot cameras don’t have much in the way of manual adjustments so you can’t fiddle around too much with the aperture, shutter, or other light controls. But you can always use the flash–it makes the camera’s aperture smaller, which lets less light into the camera and gives you a better depth of field to work with. The flash will also help to stop movement, making this a good technique for “capturing” critters and other animate subjects.

A bloomin’ idea

Flowers are subjects that you’ll almost always want to capture close-up. Great flower photographs rely heavily on color, light, texture, and composition, which makes snapping them a great exercise for improving your skills and getting back to the basics of photography.

One way to create an interesting composition is by stooping down to a vantage point beneath the flower. Try to juxtapose the color of the flower with the sky or the grass behind it. It requires a little bit of effort, and you may get some grass in your hair, but the results will be worth it.

The more new things you try, the better you’ll get. Before long you’ll begin to intuitively know how to find the perfect angle and just the right lighting.

Quick Tip! When photographing flowers up close, try using the shallow depth of field to your advantage. If you’re photographing a bunch of flowers, only focus on a couple of them, letting the rest fade into the background. The sharpness of the focused flowers against the soft, blurry background provides a great combination of textures. Using a zoom lens will also intensify and heighten this effect.

Getting abstract

Flowers aren’t the only objects that benefit from unique photographic techniques. Your backyard is full of things worthy of abstract art. You just need to look at the common items in your yard in a different way.

Abstract photography isn’t about capturing photos of a recognizable subject. It’s about capturing color and pattern and creating an intense visual experience for the viewer. Begin with subjects that lend themselves to abstraction–leaves, reflections, etc. Seek out patterns in tree branches and leaves. Look for interesting textures. Objects you’ve never considered photographing will suddenly seem like prime subjects.

Remember, you’re creating, not duplicating. So you can always go back to your photograph and make it even more unusual with photo editing software. Increasing the contrast, using filters, and experimenting with color are just a few of the ways that you can add a surreal quality to your pictures.

Art Show

There are so many creative ways to use your backyard photos. Group two or three images together and frame them as a series. Or save your favorites in a beautiful photo journal–not only is it a great way to collect your best shots, but you can use it for practical purposes too, like recording plantings so you don’t forget what will bloom where. It’s like a diary of your garden’s life. Before you know it, you’ll have several seasons to look back on!

 

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