Close Up Photography in Nature, by John and Barbara Gerlach | Book Review

A comprehensive instructional book on techniques and technicalities of capturing photos of flowers and insects you might find in your garden.

Close Up Photography in Nature, by John and Barbara Gerlach
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Close Up Photography in Nature, by John and Barbara Gerlach Cover
Title: Close Up Photography in Nature
Authors: John and Barbara Gerlach
Publisher: Focal Books / Routledge
Publication Date: September 23, 2014
Total Pages: 214 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0415835893
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In short: A comprehensive instructional book on techniques and technicalities of capturing photos of flowers and insects you might find in your garden. Think of it as a multi-part workshop in book form.

Close Up Photography in Nature, by John and Barbara Gerlach, is far more information and instructional than some of the other macro photography books I’ve reviewed recently. Which is another way of saying that there’s a higher ratio of text to images. It’s not that there aren’t beautiful images in this book–there are still plenty of them–but they take a supplemental role to the text information.

The focus is also broader than some of the other books I’ve reviewed recently, which have tended to lean more heavily on macro photography of flowers. Flowers do make up some of this book, but critters also figure prominently, especially butterflies and bugs.

The book starts with a discussion about digital photography technique. Most of the first five chapters apply more broadly to digital photography. To be sure, the emphasis is on ways it applies to close-up photography, but much of it wouldn’t be out of place in books about many other niches of digital photography.

This book describes a photographic shooting system for capturing enchanting close-up and macro images. [p.1]

It’s not until Chapter 6, 141 pages into the book that we get to the chapter on photographing flowers. That chapter is about 20 pages long, nearly half of which is on focus stacking. That’s followed by a chapter on special techniques for capturing photos of butterflies and dragonflies. Then it’s on to gear.

As you can tell from that summary, the book is heavy on technicalities and techniques, on the nuts and bolts. Put another way, it’s like a book version of a class or workshop in close-up photography in nature. It covers a lot of digital photography jargon and technology that applies to other types of photography.

If that’s what you’re after–an instructional manual– it’ll be a good fit. If you’re looking for something a little more aspirational, something that will challenge you to expand your creative vision, you’ll likely find it less satisfying.

A huge advantage close-up photography offers is that it doesn’t matter where you live, there are unlimited subjects to photograph all year long. Weedy fields, marshes, ponds, and forests all offer numerous subject that vary through the day and during the year. [p.3]

A strength of the book is on the topic of focus stacking. That’s when you take multiple images of a since scene, with each one with a slightly different focal point. You then use special focus-stacking software to merge the images into one that has much deeper focus that you can usually get in a single image. Focus stacking is a technique that comes up in several parts of the book.

About the Authors

Official Bio: John and Barbara Gerlach are founders of Gerlach Nature Photography. They are professional nature photographers. Their pictures have been published in National Wildlife, Sierra, Natural History, * Petersen’s Photographic*, Ranger Rick, * Birder’s World*, Michigan Natural Resources, Audubon, Outdoor Photographer, and Popular Photography, as well as in books published by National Geographic Society, Sierra Club, Kodak, and wrote Focal’s own Digital Nature Photography and Digital Landscape Photography.

Flash is so frightening to many photographers that they avoid using it. If you fear flash, now is the time to master it. Using flash is crucial in close-up photography and easy to use well with digital cameras because you can see what it does right away. . . . We use some flash for about 75 percent of our close-up images. [p.4]

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Cameras and Lenses
    • Crop Factor vs. Full-Frame Cameras
    • Features to Look for in a Camera
    • Taking Advantage of Camera Options
    • Lenses and Accessories
    • Final Thoughts
  • Chapter 2: Exposure Essentials
    • Avoiding Common Exposure Mistakes
    • The Averaging Histogram and Highlight Alert
    • JPEG and RAW Image Considerations
    • The Ideal JPEG Exposure
    • The Ideal RAW Exposure
    • The RGB Histogram
    • Clipping on the Left
    • How Images Lose Highlight Detail
    • Metering Modes
    • The Language of Stops
    • Exposure Modes
    • Exposure Modes and Metering Modes
    • Automatic Exposure Using Live View
    • Manual Exposure Technique
    • Conclusion
  • Chapter 3: Shooting Sharp Images
    • Focus Properly – Manual Focus is Preferred
    • Reduce Camera Motion and Its Effects
    • Reduce Subject Motion and its Effects
    • Use Focus Stacking
    • Tripods
    • Tripod Heads
    • Lens Plates
    • Dedicated L-brackets
    • Tripods, the Environment, and Camera Steadiness
    • Focusing
    • Optimum Apertures
    • Shoot a Little Looser
    • Subject Plane and Sensor Plane Should be Parallel
    • Keep Still!
    • Ladies and Gentlemen: The Plamp!
    • Focus Stacking
    • Using Flash
    • Image Stabilization
  • Chapter 4: Light and Color
    • The Role of Light
    • Qualities of Light
    • Conclusion
  • Chapter 5: The Power of Flash
    • Ambient Light Defined
    • Advantages of Flash
    • Applications of Flash in Close-up Photography
    • How the Flash Works
    • Flash Basics
    • Close-up Flash Techniques
    • Specific Flash Techniques
    • Main Flash
    • Balanced Flash
    • Camera-mounted Flash
    • Should the Flash be Diffused
    • Conclusion
  • Chapter 6: Photographing Flowers
    • Something Extra!
    • How do you Photograph Flowers?
    • Focus Stacking Techniques
  • Chapter 7: Special Photo Techniques for Butterflies and Dragonflies
    • How to Find Butterflies and Dragonflies
    • Find the Optimum Subjects
    • A Successful Morning
    • What About the Dragonflies?
    • Attracting Butterflies with Flowers
    • Photographing Active Butterflies in the Wild
    • Butterfly Houses
  • Chapter 8: What’s in Our Camera Bags?
    • Barbara’s Bag
    • John’s Bag
    • Why Do We Use This Gear?
  • Appendix
    • Custom Macro Accessories
    • Photography Workshops
    • Photo Stacking Software
    • Books
    • Websites
    • Magazines
    • Photographic Equipment

Where to Buy

You can find it in hardcover, paperback and e-book versions.

Close Up Photography in Nature
  • Gerlach, John and Barbara (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

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David Coleman / Photographer

David Coleman

I'm a professional freelance travel photographer based in Washington DC. Seven continents, up mountains, underwater, and a bunch of places in between. My images have appeared in numerous publications, and you can check out some of my travel photography here. More »

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