Whether you’re in a vast mountain landscape or just your back yard, the possibilities for great close-up nature photography are infinite. Once you start paying attention to the little things, you’ll discover a whole new world of photo opportunities. In this tutorial you’ll discover 14 top tips for taking the most beautiful close-up iPhone photos of nature, including flowers, leaves, feathers, spider webs and water droplets.
1. Get The Focus Right
Focus is key in any kind of photography, but it’s especially important in close-up photography.
iPhones generally produce images that have a large depth of field. This means that when you take a shot you have good sharp focus throughout your image.
But when you take a close-up shot, you’ll find that you start to experience a shallower depth of field where only part of the image will be in sharp focus.
This means that focussing on the desired part of a close-up image is essential in order to get your main subject in sharp focus.
Think about the composition of your shot, and which part of the image you want to be in focus. Then tap the iPhone’s screen on the subject that you want in focus.
You’ll see on the screen whether or not that part of the image sharpens as the background drops out of focus.
It may take several attempts to get the focus exactly right, and you may need to move nearer or further away from your subject to achieve sharp focus.
Another tip that I find helpful in achieving the desired focus is to zoom in slightly on your subject. Pinch the screen to zoom in and out. As you do this you’ll see a slider appear on the screen which you can also use to zoom.
Be careful about how much you zoom in though as that will affect the final image quality. Too much zoom will result in a poor quality and grainy image.
2. Hold Steady
It’s essential to hold your iPhone steady when taking a close-up shot. This will help you get that all important focus nice and sharp.
To help steady the phone, you could use a tripod if you have one. But for convenience, simply hold your arm or phone against something fixed such as a wall, tree or rock.
A useful item to carry with you is a bean bag. These make great supports to steady your phone when taking a shot, especially when you’re down at ground level.
3. Think About The Background
When taking a photo of something close up, it’s very easy to forget about what appears in the background of your image. So always make sure you think about the bigger picture.
Ensure there are no items that will distract from the main subject of your image, and keep an eye on the horizon. It’s all too easy to end up with a 45 degree horizon!
Your choice of background for your subject can also enhance the final image. Choose a natural background canvas such as grass, a wall, or sky by changing the angle you take your shot from.
Background choice also gives context to an image. You’re outside, getting close to nature, so let that be felt in your image.
In the photo above, there’s no doubt that we’re outside in the countryside. The choice to set the barbed wire against the grass background allows the detail to be seen, and the sheep in the background add depth and interest.
4. Go For A Minimal Look
For a minimalist look, try a plain background to really give your subject center stage. Getting down low allows you to fill the background with sky which allows for minimal distraction from the shapes of your subject.
A textured, uniform background such as a wall, fence or rippled water can also provide a great backdrop for your subject.
Think about the distance your subject is from a fixed background. As you increase the distance and focus on your subject, the loss of focus of the background ensures that it’s not distracting and that your subject stand out clearly.
A snowy landscape can also make a great background for a minimal shot. The photo above shows how the out of focus background allows the subject to stand out clearly.
5. Try Something A Bit More Chaotic
Nature is often a beautiful chaotic mess. So another approach is to fill your image with a mixture of the best that nature has to offer. You can use a wonderful mix of colors, shapes, webs and droplets galore.
Think about which part of the image you want to be in focus, and make sure you tap the screen to set focus on that area.
If you’re not sure which part of a busy scene you should have in focus, tap different areas of the screen to find what looks best. Take several shots so that you can select the best one later.
6. Compose Your Images With Thought
Composition is just as important in close-up photography as it is when shooting wide open landscapes. It’s always a good idea to have the rule of thirds in mind when composing a photo, and this remains true for close-ups.
Imagine your viewfinder to be divided into nine equal sections, then think about lining up elements of your image along these lines or at the places where the lines intersect.
In the image below, the focal point lies at the top right intersection of the thirds lines, and the background fills the bottom third of the image.
To help you visualize the rule of thirds when shooting, turn on the grid setting in the native camera app (Settings > Photos & Camera > Grid).
Always think carefully about how you place your subject in your shot. Sometimes you’ll want to include the entire subject, but as you get closer this may not be possible.
Choosing which part of the subject will fill the frame allows further artistic control of the image.
If I’d chosen to photograph the entire dandelion in the photo above, it wouldn’t have been possible to show the detail that becomes apparent with a closer cropped image.
7. Try Unusual Angles
The angle you choose to take your shot from can be the making of an image. You might find yourself in some strange positions, but it will be worth it to get that unusual perspective!
Try crouching down low, or even lying on the ground, so that you can shoot from a very low angle. Looking up from beneath some flowers will change your subject completely, creating a more unique view of the scene.
By changing your position relative to the sun, you can use that bright light to highlight color and detail as it shines through the petals.
Nothing captures the feeling of a relaxing summer’s day more than lying back in a field. Try capturing this feeling in your images by photographing some tall crops from beneath. Canola is perfect with its vibrant yellow colors.
During fall, look out for those beautiful red, brown and yellow leaves on the ground as well as in the trees. Try getting down low for a sense of scale. Really get up close with your subject for maximum impact.
8. Look For The Unordinary
Nature is full of wonderful surprises, and the unusual often make great photo opportunities.
A falling oak leaf caught and suspended by a fine strand of spider web made for a great shot on a foggy morning.
The combination of the foggy backdrop and the close-up view of the leaf work together to make sure the leaf stands out in the shot.
In the photo below, a delicate feather caught in tall grass in the summer provided a similar opportunity.
The slightest breeze or movement of the iPhone will affect the focussing in this type of shot. So remember to steady your iPhone against something solid if possible, and take several shots so that you can select the best one later.
Reflections can also provide interesting subjects. Look hard and you’ll come across these in less obvious places.
In this shot, a pool of rainwater caught in a fallen leaf after a heavy downpour gave an unusual abstract view of the forest above.
9. Get The Lighting Right
Golden hour is a great time to take photos because the light is so warm and beautiful. The golden hours occur around sunset and sunrise when the sun is near to the horizon.
When the sun is low in the sky, your subject will be lit from the side rather than above, enhancing shadows and textures.
The light is softer and less harsh during golden hour which minimizes the chance of glare and light spots. For detail on close-up shots it’s best to avoid taking shots during the middle hours of the day.
Cloud and fog also works well as it diffuses the sunlight, creating a nice soft and uniform lighting for your subject.
If you want to capture moody shots without any harsh shadows, make the most of foggy and overcast cloudy days.
Light can be used in creative ways to enhance your photos. For example, you can create beautiful bokeh effects where the shallow depth of field produces wonderful circles of light, as shown in the photo below.
To help achieve this bokeh effect, a good tip is to compose your shot in such a way that bright sunlight is filtered through trees or a hedgerow behind your subject.
Another way to make use of light is to capture beautiful sun rays to add an ethereal feel to a shot.
With the sun low on the horizon, get yourself down low and shoot directly into the sun for wonderful end results.
10. Create A Striking Silhouette
Silhouettes are perfect for showing the variety of wonderful shapes and forms that nature has to offer.
To create a silhouette, shoot straight into the light. A rising or setting sun is ideal.
When you’ve composed your shot, tap to focus on your subject in the foreground, then swipe up or down to adjust exposure (image brightness).
Your aim is to make sure that the main subject appears darkened in the image.
11. Include Close-Up Foreground Interest
Don’t be afraid of getting really close to the foreground subject, so that the background is thrown out of focus. Shooting from a low angle will help you achieve this.
Always keep your eye out for interesting bits of nature that you could use in the foreground of your photos. Then get nice and close to capture its texture and detail.
Don’t just limit yourself to very small objects though. A log pile in a recently felled forest made for great foreground interest when captured from this perspective.
12. Use A Macro Lens
You can get pretty good close-up shots with the iPhone alone, but if you’re craving more detail, a macro lens add-on such as an Olloclip is a great option.
These lenses often simply clip on and off your iPhone as you need them, and they come in a range of magnifications.
When you first use an add-on macro lens, one of the initial things that you’ll notice will be the very shallow depth of field. Only a very small part of the image you’re trying to capture will be in focus across the depth of the shot.
This means you need to think carefully about which part of the subject you want to be in focus. You might find it easier to start with a lens with a smaller magnification.
The out of focus parts of your shot are just as important in contributing to the overall effect though, so use the shallow depth of field to your advantage.
13. Check The Weather Forecast
It’s always worth checking the weather forecast before setting off out into nature, particularly if you plan to take some close-up shots.
Windy weather will make it hard to get those close-up shots in focus because your subjects are likely to be moving, so try to plan to go out on a nice still day.
It’s not always possible to plan though, so if it is windy, make the best of the situation and use it to your advantage to capture movement. As with all moving subjects, using burst mode can help you capture the shot you’re after.
To activate burst mode and take multiple shots with your iPhone, simply keep the shutter button held down when taking your picture. You’ll then be able to select the best shot from the sequence.
Make the most of early morning mist or a rain shower as these kinds of weather provide the perfect opportunity to get great water droplet shots.
Look out for wonderful glistening droplets on spider webs and in grasses. And when the temperatures drop, you’ll be treated to a whole new shiny world with fabulous ice crystals created by frosts and snowfalls.
14. Enhance Your Photos With Editing
Once you’ve captured your close-up photos of nature, don’t forget to consider post-processing as part of the image creating process.
There’s a huge range of apps available on the App Store that can facilitate creativity in your image processing.
As you start trying to take close-up shots of nature, your biggest challenge will be getting the focus right.
Be reassured though that the iPhone camera can be used successfully for great close-ups, so stick with it and you’ll be more than happy with the results.
Remember to take lots of shots to make sure you end up with a final image with the focus just the way you want it.
Get creative by photographing your subject from different angles and directions, and think about how you fit and crop your subject in the frame.
Shoot in different kinds of light, and notice how this affects the final image. The same scene can look very different depending on the time of day you’re shooting.
Most of all, enjoy discovering all those little details that nature has to offer. Once you start photographing them, you’ll begin to see tiny details that you’ve never noticed before!