Practice, Practice, Practice To Make Better Photographs

Author: Vern West

It rained last night here in the White Mountains so when we arose this morning there were several new mushrooms that had sprouted overnight. I decided to try some macro or close ups of a new fungi. Macro really means 1:1 image so if the subject is larger than your sensor, as this mushroom was, what you are doing is making a close up photograph.

The sky was sunny with a frequent clouds so the light was constantly changing from soft light when a cloud was in front of the sun or rather harsh directional light when the sun was out. I have a small set of diffuser/reflectors that I take when traveling so I knew I would need them.

The mushroom that I was photographing is only three inches tall so I also knew that I would have to be lying on the ground to photograph it. I have bad knees and tender elbows so I got out several foam pads to lie on. I started off putting my camera on a beanbag figuring that would be high enough but it gave me too much detail in the back ground. I needed to have my camera a couple of inches higher. I then went to plan B and got out my tripod and adjusted it to put my camera in the vertical format about 4-5 inches off the ground. Below is what my setup looked like.


Now that I had the composition that I wanted I used Live View to focus. I use back button focus so my lens is always in manual focus. You may have to switch the lens to manual focus to be able to use live view and have the focus remain as you set it. You don’t want the camera to readjust the focus when you depress the shutter button. If you are unsure about how to focus using live view I’ll explain it in a future  blog post. When the sun was out I used a loupe to help focus. This process can be rather slow and is best accomplished with a little “trial and error” to achieve the best focus.

I set my camera to Aperture Priority because of the light changing so frequently. This assured that the F/16 I set would remain under the varying light conditions thus giving maximum depth of field. I would probably use manual exposure under more constant light. I then set the timer to two seconds so that my touching the camera would not affect the sharpness of the image plus 2 seconds would give me time to use the reflector and diffuser myself. I could have used a remote shutter release to aid in sharpness but that would have required someone else to hold the reflector and diffuser.

So here are three images that reflect several lighting conditions.

  • The first is when a cloud moved in front of the sun. You can see that the light is pretty uniform.
  • The second is with the sun out but a diffuser over the mushroom to soften the light. Notice the stalk is shadowed.
  • On the third image I used not only a diffuser to soften the light but I also used a silver reflector to add some light to the stalk of the mushroom.




Now as to which version is best? Art and beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say “your mileage may vary”. I rather prefer the soft uniform light but in other cases a I have used reflectors and diffusers to achieve what my vision said was right.  So  try some practice, practice, practice and make your vision translate into better photographs.

Vern West is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.