Right In Your Own Backyard: Macro Discoveries Close To Home

Several years ago I decided to take on a challenge of focusing on macro photography right in my own backyard. No, I do not reside in the Sierra mountains or adjacent to a national wildlife refuge or conservation area. I live in a typical South Florida suburban subdivision surrounded by homes and asphalt. South Florida doesn’t even offer much in the way of seasons. Yet, I am amazed at how many unique images I have captured over the past several years.


When I observed this blossom one afternoon, it was the contrasting colors and textures that really caught my eye. Unfortunately, the mid-afternoon sunlight in South Florida created very harsh lighting. Rather than chance it and come back later, a 12” diffuser came to the rescue. The image was taken with a Nikon D300 and a 105mm macro lens set up on a Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 tripod and an Acratech ball head. Exposure was f/32 at 1/2 sec and ISO 200.

Early on as a photographer, I developed the attitude that I had to visit special places to produce special images. That said, during a typical one- or two-week vacation, what are the chances that I would experience the perfect light for the landscape image of a lifetime? Only by frequenting such locations many times would I find myself at the right place at the right time. This is the advantage I have in my backyard. I’m able to observe all the subtle changes over time. To key into these subtle changes I have developed a more critical eye and learned to slow down, stop, and to observe potential subjects from many different perspectives.

When I came across an elephant ear leaf on the ground the detail really caught my eye. Initially I made numerous images using top and side lighting, but I wasn’t satisfied with the results. I then placed the leaf on my old light box, which made the detail pop. The image was taken with the Nikon D300 and the 105mm lens set up on the Manfrotto tripod. Exposure was f/32 at 4 seconds and ISO 200.
All Photos © Jeff Howe

Virtually all of my macro photography is made using a tripod, which not only improves my photography when using small f/stops and long exposures, but intentionally slows me down. Before purchasing my carbon-fiber tripod and aluminum ball head, I always found an excuse to leave the older, heavier, and awkward tripod behind. In regard to the rest of my equipment, I keep it pretty simple. The majority of my macro photography is with a 105mm macro lens, and occasionally one of two zooms (18-200mm, 70-200mm). Since I am more attracted to the detail that macro has to offer, I often use a small f/stop in order to maximize the depth of field. I don’t worry about the potential for more diffraction at the higher f/stops, as I can always deal with that in post-processing.

I used off-camera flash to freeze the action of the assassin bug and it allowed me to use a small f/stop to maximize the depth of field to maintain detail in both the assassin bug and flower blossoms. In addition, the small f/stop rendered the distracting background a nice uniform black, which made the subject and colors pop. The image was taken with a Nikon F-300, 60mm macro lens, and two SB-24 flashes. Exposure was f/22 at 1/160 sec on Fujichrome Sensia 100 film.

I envisioned a partially silhouetted dandelion against sunset colors. Fortunately, I was able to get an image from a low angle and capture some of the colors in the horizon. It always pays to view your subject from many different angles and at different times of the day. The image was taken with the Nikon D300 and the 105mm set up on the Manfrotto tripod. Exposure was f/32 at 1/30 sec at ISO 200.

Any time we receive a flower arrangement, I can’t help but scan the flowers looking for any of nature’s imperfections. In this image I focused on a curled petal which I thought was unique. Certainly it was different than the ordinary chrysanthemum image that has been taken over and over. The soft lighting was created using a video/D-SLR LED light and a 12” diffuser. The image was taken with the Nikon D300 and the 105mm lens set up on the Manfrotto tripod. Exposure was f/40 at 1/4 sec and ISO 200.

When I first started taking pictures, I was completely immersed in getting the image. Now I want to create an image to evoke an emotion, inspiration, or a connection with the subject. With this goal in mind, elements such as light, texture, color, contrast, and pattern are my primary focus. The one element that I alter or use to my advantage in creating my images is light (ambient light, diffused ambient light, flash, backlighting, and “painting” with light). In addition, when I’m looking through the viewfinder I’m thinking simplicity. I attempt to keep it simple by tightening the composition and isolating the essentials. Basically, I try to think like a painter and reduce all distractions. I always frame the image in the camera as best I can and if necessary, crop later. My goal in framing and cropping is to produce the most powerful image possible. Consequently, most of my cropped images are not standard sizes. Too many extraneous items will only distract from my images and the emotion or mood that I am attempting to evoke.

I envisioned several detailed blossoms against a nice complimentary blurred background. Using a homemade clamp, I was able to position the blossoms with a set of trees approximately 60 to 80 feet behind, which rendered a very nice background. The image was taken with the Nikon D300 and the 105mm lens set up on the Manfrotto tripod. Exposure was f/9 at 1/100 sec at ISO 200.

During the holidays, I noticed that our poinsettia had dropped numerous leaves. As I began picking up the leaves I thought they might make an interesting image based on their arrangement. Initially I arranged them underneath a piece of glass and made several images using top and side lighting. Not satisfied, I arranged them on my old light box which made both the color and detail pop. The image was taken with the Nikon D300 and the 105mm lens on the Manfrotto tripod. Exposure was f/36 at 1/4 sec at ISO 200.

To see more of Jeff Howe’s work, visit his website, http://jeffreyhowe.zenfolio.com.