Article updated April 2012.
Article by John Gravett of Lakeland Photographic Holidays - www.lakelandphotohols.com
When the weather's not great for vistas, there's still no need to stay indoors – get out and try some micro landscapes. I'm a great believer that there's no such thing as bad weather for photography, just different types of lighting which lead to different types of pictures.
While no special equipment is really needed, a macro lens could be useful, depending on how much of a micro-landscape you are looking at, or a telephoto lens, to eliminate a bland and uninteresting sky. I would also recommend a tripod, both to aid accurate composition, but especially to eliminate camera shake on a dull day.
If your type of micro landscape is simply the more intimate landscape, long lenses can help you isolate the subject – I find lone trees ideal subjects, especially in boggy areas at this time of year, when bog myrtle is out, giving rich russet-red tones to the surrounding grasslands. Try shooting at fairly wide apertures, to concentrate the viewers attention on the subject whilst throwing the background slightly out of focus.
Where To Look
For the macro/micro specialists, micro landscapes can be found anywhere – I tried my local woodland, and found fabulous patterns in tree bark and mosses, as well as with moss seed-heads. Other great subjects were sheep wool caught on barbed wire, textured patterns of log ends (I can spend hours on a log pile) and even air bubbles trapped in a puddle. Small apertures to keep the whole subject crisp can help, but simple, basic common sense is important, too. If you are shooting moss on a tree bark and trying to retain maximum sharpness, be careful to set the camera up so the camera back is parallel with the bark itself (unless you're using a tilt/shift lens) so the plane of focus is the same plane as the bark – keeping as much of the subject sharp as possible. Then the need to stop the lens down only relates to the depth of the subject (bark texture and moss).
Depth Of Field
Remember, at close distances, depth-of-field is really shallow, and you might well need f/16, f/22 or even f/32 to achieve overall sharpness. Use your depth-of-field preview button here to check sharpness – if the image goes too dark in your viewfinder, open the lens up a couple of stops and try that – when your eyes become used to the slightly dimmer image, then stop the lens down a bit further, until you can really see the effect.
It can be effective to use a wide aperture too, by selecting just a single point that you want sharp and throwing the rest out of focus.
When working on macro subjects, I almost always use manual focus, and I find live-view really useful, as it enables me to zoom in to check accurate focus on the subject.
So the next time you have a "dull" day, get close to your subjects, cut the sky out of the picture and look at micro landscapes.