Opening Your Eyes to Tiny Landscapes

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I took this shot in the Mombacho Cloud Forest near Granada in Nicaragua. I used a macro lens to get in close to this beautiful little landscape – getting as close as I could to fill the frame with the rich greens and golden light. My subject – the tiny plant nestled in the cradle of a mossy branch – said more to me about the reality of this rich forest than any wide angle scene I captured that day. Every surface is covered with growing things. It is a cool respite from the heat of the city below the mountain… and the light – filtering through the canopy – is likely something out of a fairy tale. I’ve been on Mombacho a few times now… and I haven’t yet seen the crater through the heavy clouds… but details like these are everywhere. I could spend countless hours among these trees, seeking out tiny landscapes.

When I pull out my macro lens, my view of the world shifts. My steps slow, my visual field narrows, and I notice so much more than I usually do. I look past “the big picture” – without effort – so that I can look at the world in a completely different way. I suspect that some of you know exactly what I’m talking about. You’ve been there.

Here are a few tips for working with tiny landscapes though a macro lens:

1. Slow down. Don’t plan on hiking 10 miles. You don’t have to go far to find incredible tiny landscapes. They’re literally everywhere! You just have to notice them.

2. Consider the angle. Once you’ve found an interesting subject, look at it from every angle. Stand up – sit down – walk around it… look through your lens and try a variety of compositions. Don’t just shoot it the way you saw it first. Explore your tiny landscape until you find the best way to showcase it.

3. Make the most of the light. An awesome subject might not look so great if the light isn’t particularly appealing. Bring along a diffuser and a reflector if you have one. You’ll find that softening harsh light helps bring out textures and details. And bouncing light onto your subject with a diffuser might help bring out details in dark shadows that would otherwise get lost. Light can be a real distractions – or it can be an incredible asset. You can manipulate the light in a small area in a way you can’t when shooting wide. So make the most of that benefit of shooting details!

4. Think about focus and depth of field. The closer you get to your subject, the narrower your depth of field will be. So, it can be really difficult to get your entire subject in sharp focus… even if it’s really tiny. In fact, the smaller your subject, the closer you’ll want to get to it – and the closer you get, the narrower your aperture will have to be to get everything in focus with a single shot. My 180mm macro lens lets my open my aperture to f2.8… which I love… but the reality is, that when I get in really close, I often shoot at f16 (I took this shot at f10). I often find myself really pushing the focusing limits of my lens… wanting to get in closer and closer to my subject – until my lens is no longer capable of focusing at all. I back off until my lens will work for me – and no more. 😉 The key to getting the shot just right is in choosing your point of focus. In this shot, the rim of the leaf is the most important element in the frame, so it should be the sharpest thing in the photo. My focus must be spot on, or the shot just doesn’t work.

5. The background is just as important as the subject.  Pay attention to every detail of your shot. Look for distracting elements that might pull your viewers eye away from the subject. Think about how much detail you want in the background. I often take a series of shots of a single macro subject – trying different aperture settings until I get just the right amount of detail in the background. Not too much, and not too little. Of course, that’s up to the artist to decide!

And now – I’m off to photograph the tiniest leaves on my maple tree. They are just beginning to change color as autumn steps in. I can’t wait to pick up my macro lens and shift my perspective.

About Author Varina Patel

There is nothing more remarkable to me than the power of nature. It is both cataclysmic and subtle. Slow and continuous erosion by water and wind can create landscapes every bit as astonishing as those shaped by catastrophic events – and minuscule details can be as breathtaking as grand vistas that stretch from one horizon to the other. Nature is incredibly diverse. Burning desert sands and mossy riverbanks… Brilliant sunbeams and fading alpenglow… Silent snowfall and raging summer storms… Each offers a unique opportunity. I am irresistibly drawn to the challenge of finding my next photograph, and mastering the skills required to capture it effectively.