Backyard dragonfly

I must admit my predilection for macro shots. Perhaps because I’m short, I tend to focus on small objects that are close to the ground, which means I take lots of extreme closeup pictures of flowers, insects, and other tiny things. Even in my nature journal, I have an obvious preference for drawing the small pieces and parts of the natural landscape versus the whole landscape itself. At a loss for how to depict an entire forest, I’ll draw instead a single leaf from a single tree.

Backyard dragonfly

Macro shots are interesting because they focus (literally) on small details you might otherwise miss. It’s not uncommon to see dragonflies zooming around, but how often do you get to stare a dragonfly in the eye? What I like about macro shots is the way they force you to notice and admire the small, easily overlooked details in even the most mundane things. Looking closely at even common objects reminds you that you can find the whole world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower. Macro shots force us to look closely at the world around us, and looking closely often leads to admiration as we realize how complex and intricate even the smallest natural details are.

Backyard spider

But there’s a downside to macro shots. When you zoom in to look closely at any given thing, you necessarily lose the context of that thing: as the saying goes, you miss the forest for the trees. Looking at the two photos of dragonflies I use to illustrate today’s post, you have no real way of telling where I shot these pictures. Is the green foliage in the first shot from a marsh I visited, or is the white background in the second shot a clear expanse of sky? Truth be told, I took all three of today’s photos in our backyard, with the first photo showing a dragonfly perching on a dessicated stem in a patch of perennials and the second photo showing the same dragonfly outlined against a segment of sidewalk. Only in this third photo of a colorful garden spider can you tell for sure that the “wild” setting for this particular photo shoot was a suburban backyard, given the telling evidence of a garage door. Macro shots allow you to look closely at small details, but you’ll necessarily miss the bigger picture. When you seek the whole world in a grain of sand, you can miss the reality of the entire seashore.

This is my contribution for yesterday’s Photo Friday theme, Macro shot.

Butterfly on sunflower

Lately I’ve been experimenting with what I call “zoom-macros”: up-close, macro-like shots taken from a distance with my point-and-shoot digicam’s zoom. The first time I took a zoom-macro, I was too lazy to crouch down and stick my camera right in the face of some short flower; another time, I zoomed to take up-close shots of the frost feathers in an overhead tree. When height, unstable terrain, or other challenges prevent you from sticking your camera right up close to what you’re shooting–or when crouching would insert your own shadow between the sun and the very flower you’re trying to photograph–standing back and relying upon your digicam’s zoom is a workable alternative.


The most useful use of a zoom-macro, I’ve found, is in shooting insects, which tend to fly away (or, in the case of bees, sting you) if you stick a digicam in their face. When I bought my new Panasonic Lumix digicam last Christmas, one of the features I coveted was its 10x optical zoom, several steps up from the 6x optical zoom on my previous Lumix. Although I wanted a more powerful zoom primarily for shooting pictures at hockey and basketball games where J and I tend to have almost-nosebleed seats, I was intrigued to see my new camera’s manual recommend the zoom for the other sorts of shots I’d experimented with, advising that photographers employ what they called “tele-macro” for taking up-close shots of insects or wary animals. Here I thought I’d invented (and named) the technique simply because I’d never heard of anyone else doing it!

When it comes to photography, like anything, there’s nothing new under the sun: I’m sure folks have been using zoom lenses to take extreme closeups since those lenses were invented. Still, since I’m not one to actually read a camera manual, I’m still learning (through trial and error) how to use my “new” Lumix more than six months after I bought it. Now that I’ve almost perfected the art of the zoom-macro, I now have a bigger challenge. How do you get a pair of flower-distracted bumblebees to look at you so you can snap their taken-from-a-distance picture?

Bees on purple coneflower