Macro photographer Doris Berlenbach-Schulz: ‘I just transform what nature shows me’

Nature lover Doris Berlenbach-Schulz lives next to a forest in the biodiverse region of the Rhine Valley in Germany, making her garden the perfect location to photograph a wide variety of insects.

We had the pleasure of chatting with Doris about how she developed an interest in photography and what she hopes people will take away from viewing her photographs.

We also gained some insight into her post-processing steps in Affinity Photo, as well as some valuable tips for photographers who are just starting out in nature macro photography.

‘Backlighting’ - Common darter
How did you become interested in macro photography?

I studied graphic design with a focus on illustration and photography. Photography was still analogue then, and I had a small photo lab at home.

What camera gear do you shoot with?

Almost 30 years later, in 2016, I decided to revive my passion for photography with a Sony mirrorless system camera—a Sony Alpha 7II (currently an ALPHA 7III), and a macro lens—the Sony FE 2.8 / 90 / MACRO G OSS.

There is nothing better for me than to go out into nature with my macro lens. It brings two things together I love: nature and searching for beauty in shapes and colours.

‘Before takeoff’ - Painted lady

“There is nothing better for me than to go out into nature with my macro lens. It brings two things together I love: nature and searching for beauty in shapes and colours.”

‘Shimmering’ - Red admiral
Your Instagram feed has an incredible array of colourful insects. What is it about photographing insects that appeals to you?

It is a journey of discovery in nature. The macro lens reveals what you can’t see with the naked eye—an incredible diversity of insects, their shapes, patterns and colours.

Where in the world is your favourite place to shoot and why?

In fact, almost all of my insect photos were taken in my own backyard or in close proximity.

What are the main challenges that you face with macro photography?

To this day, all my photos are taken handheld, in natural light and habitat, without a tripod or flash.

‘In my territory’ - Blue featherleg

This is where the challenges lie: you hardly ever have predictable light, plus there are moving objects and maybe wind, so you have fast shutter speeds and a very shallow depth of field.

The shallow depth of field does not need to be a disadvantage. Playing with sharpness and bokeh can be a wonderful design tool. For example, when the focus is only on the eyes of an insect.

“The shallow depth of field does not need to be a disadvantage. Playing with sharpness and bokeh can be a wonderful design tool. For example, when the focus is only on the eyes of an insect.”

‘I see you’ - Common darter
When did you start using Affinity Photo, and what are your thoughts on it as a tool for post-processing your macro images?

I’ve been working with Affinity Photo since the beginning. I use an iMac, and my previous application was Aperture. When I started to get more involved with photo editing, I decided to use Affinity Photo, which was new at the time.

German is my native language, so it was important to find tutorials in German. There are some, but I wish for more of them and for more forums in German language.

What are your usual steps for post-processing macro shots?

As far as image editing is concerned, it is important to me to show the animals as they are—no species manipulation. I photograph in raw and try to bring out the best of what is in the image without altering it. For that reason, the Develop Persona is important to me. After developing, I do the fine processing in the Photo Persona.

I admit, when editing macro photos, a penchant for accuracy is an advantage. It’s all about the finest hairs, compound eyes or antennae.

“I admit, when editing macro photos, a penchant for accuracy is an advantage. It’s all about the finest hairs, compound eyes or antennae.”

‘So long sensors’ - Speckled bush cricket
What do you hope people take away from viewing your photos?

I would like the viewer of my photos to be as fascinated by the beauty of the shapes and colours of these little creatures as I am and perhaps appreciate them more.

Is there a ‘shot that got away’ that you wish you had managed to capture?

Honestly, I feel this is true for any photo. I guess that’s a characteristic of creative people. You always think you can do better.

‘Orange backdrop’ - Hummingbird hawkmoth
‘Eye to eye’ - Bee
Do you have any advice for someone looking to get into macro photography?

If someone is interested in nature macro photography, the main requirement is the joy of nature. I was once asked, ‘How can you tell you are a macro photographer?’ My answer was: when you realise that you have fallen in love with spiders.

First of all, you don’t need an expensive macro lens. On the internet, you can find many videos showing how you can achieve great results with extension rings and macro conversion lenses. Learn to handle the camera, and then observe and be patient. It’s a case of trial and error.

“I was once asked, ‘how you can tell you are a macro photographer.’ My answer was: when you realise that you have fallen in love with spiders.”

What’s next for your photography? Is there a particular subject or place you would like to capture, or something in particular that you would like to achieve?

Dragonflies are beautiful, fascinating creatures for me. I would like to get more into the habitats of dragonflies. Then it’s up to the dragonflies which motifs they offer me. I just try to transform what nature shows me.

‘Red on green’ - Ruddy darter

You can see more of Doris’ stunning macro photography on Instagram and Photocircle.