Shifting Light and Form

I‘ve had several inquiries about how I go about photographing macro flora images to achieve the look that I want, so I thought I would share a few techniques here. This particular set of images are all from one type of flower in my garden that is currently going to seed and I am not sure what it is, actually.

I’ve mentioned before how I find the shifting forms of seed heads so visually interesting, but also I am interested the whole idea of transitioning and transformation in nature.

When are we not in transition?

The seed head series that I’ve been working on generally have light backgrounds and subtle lighting on the subject. How this is done is quite simple. All of these particular flora images are taken outside but I am using indirect back-lighting and shade to bring out a little bit of mystery. I also am using the smallest depth of field I can and keep the lens in the manual adjust mode for control over where I want to focus.

The subject is usually photographed in indirect light. So if I need shade I will create it by blocking the sun with my body, however I am always looking for a lighter background than my subject so I frame the (shaded) subject in front of a background area that is brighter, such as sunlit grass or rocks, or whatever is nearby. I experiment with various strengths of light and shade as I’m working to find the look I want.

In the images you see here the light backgrounds are actually the sunlit rocks from around my flowerbed. If I was using lit grass as my background, the colour behind the seed head would be a green or yellow, and the colour of the subject might shift also. I love the blues that come out in the greyish seed heads when they are shaded in this way and have a more neutral background colour.

I also find it fascinating how the forms sometimes come out looking like insects, or other creatures. Well to my eye, anyway…

I often shoot early in the morning or late evening for warm and interesting light, but one of the things I like about applying these techniques is that even in the harshest noontime light you can still find a way to make a little magic.

To see the rest of the series, click here: In Transition: Seed Head Series

All images © Karen McRae, 2012

77 thoughts on “Shifting Light and Form

  1. Transition is a great way to describe it, with the light and colour balancing. Do you find you take many shots to get the focus just where you want it? It is something I struggle with, wind and breezes in the open air cause such trouble for my little point and shoot. Although it does have a macro setting which I try to use whenever possible.


    1. Jim, I take A LOT of photographs! Partly because with macro it is tricky to anticipate how it might look in the end. and you are right the slightest breeze can change the focus.
      The focus is potentially so minute, and I love form so I’m always hoping to get something interesting from different angles. But then editing can get a bit unwieldy…
      Are all your images point and shoot?! Some of them are fantastic.

      1. Thanks for the praise, yes, it’s all with a fujifilm F47fd. I had an old film camera when I started, and did my own developing in B&W, but when I moved, had no space etc. I got a digital, for walking and hiking where weight is important it works. I think having a good eye for what you want is important. My photography teacher told us, in the beginning, take lots of pictures, learn from the good and the bad, then start tobe more selective as you take the picture. I still take lots of pictures but digital makes it less expensive, and I try to get a good shot by knowing what I want in advance.

        I like the shades you get in your shots and the abstraction by layering the focus of what it is you are looking at. It fascinates me to see the pictures people take, to get an insight into their vision.


      1. Karen, as I read that I realised, we have walked similar lines again, with our blues! I hadn’t spotted it, but there we are!

  2. Really like the simplicity of the subject, the tones and colour which in my opinion makes this image really stand out and ‘pop’. My favourite is the first image – there’s something about it being defocused/blurred that catches my eye.

  3. It’s not only to your eyes that they look as insects 🙂 Very interesting series and thank you for sharing your techniques!

  4. Those blue shades are gorgeous. I love the forms too. I see a ballgown. Blue velvet with black detailing. The overskirt is layered blue organza in petal shapes and varying shades. I’ll get around to drawing it later this afternoon. Beautiful.

  5. Thank you for your insight into the techniques you employ with shots of this nature. I cannot hope to replicate what you achieve but I have great admiration for your work. It gives me considerable pleasure.

  6. Beautiful, beautiful blue! But I am running away to meet my mother and my stepfather for a few days and have only seen the beautiful pictures. Back in a few days … 🙂

  7. Those are lovely, Karen. Do you ever have that feeling when you change up depth of field and contrast a lot that you are seeing something that was completely invisible before? I sometimes think of it as photographing the soul of the organism.

  8. There is a quiet subtlety to these images that make them so intriguing to the eye.Your work flow sounds so interesting. I have never really photographed still life images but your article has given me some starting points.

  9. wow – am loving this series – amazing that these are all shot outdoors – it’s like a magical door to a different world.

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