Plant Composition

This article discusses macro plant composition techniques. All of the macro photographs in this posting were captured one-handed using an Olympus OM-D E-M1X with an M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro lens.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/11, 1/800, ISO-6400, photographed one-handed, subject distance 235 mm

Often when I’m searching for potential subjects for macro photography I let my eyes wander, looking for interesting light. Even the most common of subjects, like pistill and stamen of flowers, can make good macro images if highlighted nicely.

I positioned the flower’s stamen in centre frame so the petals would form a series of cascades. I darkened the shadows in post and added a touch of black to accent the lighting at centre frame.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/6.3, 1/800, ISO-250, photographed one-handed, subject distance 275 mm

Unusual textures and details intrigue me. You’ll notice in the plant composition above that I used a partial subject bleed on the right hand side and along the botoom to help create image flow as well as a corner exit.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/320, ISO-6400, photographed one-handed, subject distance 285 mm

My eye is often attracted to soft colours like greens, blues and purples. I find this type of colour palette can produce a restful feeling. I added some black to this image in post to give this composition a smooth, subdued feeling.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/400, ISO-6400, photographed one-handed, subject distance 270 mm

The image above is another variation of the same green, blue, purple colour combination. You’ll notice that I left some ‘free space’ in the top left and bottom right corners of this composition. It also helps to create some balance in the composition.

The lack of colour in these corners helps to focus a viewer’s eye towards centre frame. I purposely cropped off some of the smaller flowers running around the perimetre of the composition to help guide a viewer’s eye towards centre frame.

I darkened the shadows and added black to this image to mute the background. This created some additional contrast with the blue flowers, while still creating a soft, restful composition.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/500, ISO-6400, photographed one-handed, subject distance 280 mm

Darkening shadows and adding black in post can also work well with a colour palette that is skewed towards red and purple hues.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/6.3, 1/800, ISO-6400, photographed one-handed, subject distance 270 mm

When composing macro images it is important to look at the background. In the photograph above I positioned two out-of-focus stems in the background to help create a bit of a 3D effect with the subject blossom.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/6.3, 1/800, ISO-1000, photographed one-handed, subject distance 275 mm

Rather than position a macro subject in centre frame using ‘rule of thirds‘ guidelines can help create a more interesting eye flow with an image.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/11, 1/800, ISO-6400, photographed one-handed, subject distance 260 mm

With the composition above I decided to fill the frame with a single blossom. I stopped my M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro lens down to f/11 to create more depth-of-field as I wanted a good number of petals to be in focus.

You’ve probably noticed that many of the images in this article were captured at ISO-6400. I shot these earlier in the morning under very breezy conditions so I needed to use faster shutter speeds to help avoid image blur. This, coupled with the apertures I used, pushed my ISO values up.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/500, ISO-800, photographed one-handed, subject distance 270 mm

I love to find dramatic lighting. With the composition above I left some ‘free space’ in the top left corner. This helps create more contrast in the composition.

I positioned one of the leaves of the plant to act as a corner exit in the bottom right. This helps with eye flow in the composition.

To create additional contrast I darkened shadows and added black in post. I then added some white to help bring out some of the fine details along the edges of the leaves.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/11, 1/1600, ISO-2000, photographed one-handed, subject distance 290 mm

This leaf was in a hanging basket affixed to one of the corners of a pergola on my deck. It was being hit by some strong morning sun which created some dramatic contrast.

I had to use a fast shutter speed of 1/1600 to capture the leaf in the photograph above. The breeze was quite strong at the time and the leave was bouncing around vigorously. I needed to capture five attempts before I was able to get the leaf in the exact spot that I wanted in the composition.

If you examine the composition you’ll see a well defined corner exit which gives this simple composition good eye flow. You’ll also notice ‘rule of thirds’ composition technique with the stem attached to the leave about 1/3 in from the right hand edge.

I reduced the shadows significantly and added black to this file in post to make the background very dark. I also took the highlights down to make more of the details in the leaf visible. Adding a bit of contrast also helped bring out more of the leaf details.

You’d have no way of knowing that the background of this image contained a confusing array of red extension cord wires hanging down from my pergola. These were all hidden by darkening the shadows and adding black in post.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/11, 1/1600, ISO-2000, photographed one-handed, subject distance 295 mm

The photograph above is one of my failed attempts. I didn’t adjust this image in post so you could see what the original capture looked like in terms of the distracting red extension cord hanging down in the background.

Technical Note

Photographs were captured onehanded using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Image were produced from RAW files using my standard process.

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4 thoughts on “Plant Composition”

  1. Hi Tom, Re our discussion on PASM options;

    I was emulating your exercise today (taking photos of camelias out in our garden) when I realised one particular benefit of using Manual mode; it forces one to think about the shutter speed being used.

    That is, my default/preference mode is to use Aperture priority, but, in doing so, it can be too easy to simply accept the selected shutter speed.

    John TKA

    1. Hi John,

      I agree that Manual mode does force a photographer to think about the camera settings being used when compared to other modes such as Aperture Priority. This is one of the reasons that I like to shoot in Manual mode as it reminds me to think about what I’m doing. The older I get… the more important this is! 🙂

      There may be situations where shooting in Aperture Priority mode could still make sense. For example, if a photographer was doing some travel photography in very good light they may have their aperture set at a common setting of f/8 when shooting with a wide angle lens, and their ISO at a lower value such as ISO-200. Under this scenario they may choose Aperture Prioirity as all they may need to do is quickly check the shutter setting recommended by their camera to make sure it is fast enough to deal with any potential motion of plants in the scene… e.g. 1/500 or higher. If so, then they could simply focus their efforts on composition and not really worry too much about the settings on their camera. This could be a good option if they have very limited time during a photo stop during a busy travel day.

      Tom

  2. Very nice Tom; I marvel at the wide variety of your interests and application of your photographic skills. You are the best and most prolific advocate of M43 that I’ve found, and I appreciate your efforts in behalf of the M43 format. I’ve learned a lot from your posts. Thanks again.
    John M.

    1. Hi John,

      Thanks for your supportive comment… much appreciated!

      I’ve never thought of myself as an advocate for any particular camera format. I’ve used full frame, APS-C, 1/2.3″, Nikon 1 (which I still own and use), and most recently Olympus M4/3. Over the years I have gravitated to cameras that utilize smaller sensors as they best meet my specific needs. It has about 5 years since I sold all of my full frame camera gear… 🙂 time flies when you’re having fun!

      Doing reviews of camera equipment has never been of much interest to me… plus I don’t have the requisite skill sets for this type of editorial content. My goal with this website has always been to actively use my camera gear and share my photographic experiences with readers. I’m glad that you have found the content here of value!

      Tom

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