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Picture This

Nature Up-Close

Richard Reynolds captures flowers, shells and butterflies in extraordinary detail.


Richard Reynolds has spent a lifetime portraying Texas’ grand vistas in his work as a landscape photographer. For several years, though, he shifted his focus to taking close-up photos of nature’s most intricate features in flowers, seashells and butterflies. His macro work aims to capture, in unbelievable richness and detail, the designs and vibrant colors found in nature.

Reynolds has been photographing Texas landscapes since 1968, when he visited Big Bend National Park for the first time. He was part of the University of Texas photojournalism department before moving to Texas’ tourism agency, where he worked for seven years photographing all aspects of the state. He later started a stock photography business specializing in Texas nature and landscape subjects. He has produced 13 books, dozens of calendars and 28 Texas Highways covers. Find his work at richardreynolds.photoshelter.com.

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How did you get interested in doing macro photography?

I’ve always been interested in capturing fine detail in my photographs, an offshoot of seeing the work of people like Ansel Adams and his famous Group f/64. I’ve always enjoyed photographing flowers but was a bit frustrated with the limitations of conventional photography in terms of capturing the finest detail possible. That led to developing a technique to create very large, very finely detailed images of flowers and, later, of butterflies and seashells. 

What process do you use to create your detailed macro images?

Imagine standing before your subject (say, a flower) and placing an imaginary grid over it, containing anywhere from six to 24 rectangles, depending on the size of the subject. Each segment is photographed separately, with a 25 percent overlap to assist the software in combining them into one very large, seamless image. Additionally, every frame of the grid is focus-stacked with five to 20 exposures, each one focused on a different plane in the scene and processed with special stacking software. The result is an image that is tack-sharp throughout. All told, there are anywhere from 50 to 200 separate exposures that are combined to go into the final image. File sizes range from 50 MB to 2 GB. The image can be printed up to 40 by 50 inches (and larger) with no loss of detail.

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Can anyone do macro photography, or does it take special expertise and gear?

Anyone with a macro lens can do the first part of this technique with a stacking app such as Helicon Focus and a photo editing app like Photoshop. The part of the process in which I use a panorama program to stitch multiple frames together adds a significant layer of complexity and time to the process. It has taken me up to an entire day to fully align and edit one of these images.

What kind of equipment do you use?

For close-up work I use Canon 100mm and 180mm macro lenses, plus a tripod with a ball head.

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What does your macro photography tell us about nature?

Nature is much more complex and beautiful than we at first perceive. There’s a lot more going on at much smaller scales than most of us are aware of — tiny reproductive structures in flowers, extraordinary detail and color in the scales on butterfly wings, and so on.

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What’s next for you?

For the past three years I have changed direction drastically and switched from photographing the very small to photographing the very large — astrophotography. Most of it is creating astro landscapes — nighttime images of landscapes with stars, nebulae and constellations.

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