Natural world expert Tesni Ward shares her advice for getting close-up to flora & fauna...
You shoot all kinds of flora and fauna – what’s so special about ‘small world’ nature?
It’s wonderful to observe and photograph the smaller details in nature that people would otherwise overlook. There are some things that simply can’t be seen or appreciated with the naked eye so photographing it and bringing it all to life can be very rewarding.
What are the key ingredients to successful close-up nature photography?
Depth-of-field and good light are two of the main things to consider when it comes to this style of photography, and when these elements come together you need the subject to be right. Spring can be a great time, particularly early in the morning, as this is when animals and small critters are slow and groggy, and also when there’s also a higher likelihood of dew droplets and low light for flora.
Talk us through your compositional process – where do you start?
It very much depends on the subject – am I trying to show just a small part of the flower or animal or all of it? I almost always try to ensure that if a larger portion of the subject is shown, that it looks into the frame. I also try to look for eye-catching textures or shapes in the petals, fur or feathers, which would work well for a natural world abstract image.
How important is aperture in natural world close-ups?
It’s absolutely essential. It’s important to carefully consider what style of image you want – do you want to focus purely on the eye of the subject and blur the foreground and background out, or would you like to show the subject in context with its surroundings? This will help not only with your choice of settings but also the lens you select.
And what about light? What’s the best way to use and manipulate this?
My personal preference has always been to try and achieve images with natural light. However, close-up images sometimes come with the requirement for additional light, mainly due to having to decrease your aperture to increase the depth of your image. First and foremost, if working with an animal, you must put the welfare before the image itself – don’t, for instance, go using a high-powered flash directly in the eye of a nocturnal animal, just to bring out the details of the iris. A reflector or a specific macro flash unit is usually the best option if you do want to go down the artificial light route.
What’s the best piece of close-up advice you’ve ever been given?
It’s important to know your subject when it comes to close-up photography. If working with flora, what time of the year is it flowering? Where can you find it? Where does the sun rise in relation to the location? With fauna, understanding its behaviour and habits will help you increase your chances of capturing something unique or quirky. Knowing certain plants or habitats where you can find insects or small animals will help decrease the time spent looking in the wrong place for them!
Are there are any rookie mistakes or common misconceptions to avoid?
Depth-of-field can catch people out with this style of image, often accidentally having it too shallow and therefore having some areas out of focus that become a distraction. The great thing about Olympus’ system is that with a 2x crop sensor, the depth-of-field is naturally wider so I don’t have to sacrifice light, but there’s often still the requirement to decrease the aperture further to ensure the portion of the frame I’m interested in is all in focus.
Are there any technique ‘secrets’ you’ve learned over the years that could help Camera School students?
Not secrets as such; it’s usually more a case of persistence. A perfect, crisp morning with great light and a good subject will produce fantastic images, although they can be taken throughout the day depending on the animal or flower you wish to find. Be observant in your surroundings, as the smaller things don’t usually stand out like a sore thumb.
Tesni Ward is a professional wildlife photographer based on the outskirts of the Peak District. While the majority of her work focuses on British wildlife, she also photographs projects across the world and aspires to promote conservation and education through her images. She runs workshops and tours throughout the UK. See more of her work here.