close up of a purple flower

Little Marvels

Kyle van Bavel

On a grey day, viewing Kyle van Bavel’s bright, colourful florals feels like the return of summer sunshine from behind the clouds. “They’re simple in construction,” he says, but that’s not to diminish the creative journey that’s led to them. In fact, Kyle's path into the miniature world of nature photography is a very surprising and encouraging one indeed.

a dragonfly resting on a purple flower head © Kyle van Bavel | Sony α7 III + FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS | 1/160s @ f/5.0, ISO 100

“It was a funny connection,” he begins, “because I grew up as a gamer, and one of my favourites was LittleBigPlanet on Sony PlayStation. The game, in which the miniature main character often experiences the world from a ground-level perspective, had an emphasis on user-generated content and as part of that community, I got a message on PlayStation Network, asking if I wanted to contribute to the next version. A month later, I was in England, working on level design for LittleBigPlanet 3.”

As much as he enjoyed contributing to the game, Kyle needed time away from his screen, so he started visiting gardens and parks with his camera in hand whenever he could. “I was attracted to the open spaces, the flowers and the wildlife,” he remembers, “and started shooting with a regular lens. But there was always this desire to get closer, which inevitably meant investing in the FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS I use today. It’s a decision I’m glad I made!”

a butterfly resting on a flower head © Kyle van Bavel | Sony α7 III + FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS | 1/160s @ f/5.0, ISO 100

With his framing akin to formal portraits, Kyle describes it as “wanting the flower, fungi or insect to stand alone from the rest of the scene, creating a balance where the subject, foreground and background are all at ease,” while his light, airy style comes from “wanting a calm and almost dreamy feeling.”

“One of the things I noticed was that I was more drawn to light backgrounds than dark ones,” he continues, “so I started changing my compositions to be brighter. Many people aren’t looking at the backgrounds in their macro work, but it's incredibly important. A wider aperture and the close focusing distance will naturally create a lot of blur, but you can still be selective with light and colour and find something that really complements the subject.”

a purple flower with a ball of light behind © Kyle van Bavel | Sony α7 IV + FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS | 1/160s @ f/2.8, ISO 400

Once Kyle finds a subject, he spends time moving around it to find the composition that pleases him the most. “I look out for a view that’s against a bright background and without distractions,” he says, “and if there are highlights in the background it can also produce beautifully rounded bokeh balls in which you can place the focal point of the subject.”

“The foreground is also really important,” he continues. “I try to place elements, like leaves or petals between me and the subject so that they frame what I’m shooting. Close to the camera, these blur out too, and create a nice soft blend, balancing blur across the frame. But the most important thing is to shoot from the same level as the flower. A top-down view just doesn’t work in the same way. It’s less intimate and there’s so much less depth for the scenery to blur away.”

a bell shaped purple flower © Kyle van Bavel | Sony α7 III + FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II | 1/250s @ f/5.6, ISO 100

“I shoot handheld or lean the camera on the ground and compose via the tilting screen,” he continues. “For that reason, the Steady Shot technology that’s in both is incredibly useful. I don’t want to tie myself to a tripod, because I like to make minor changes to the composition all the time, but thanks to the image stabilisation, I get beautifully sharp details, even at slower shutter speeds.”

“I’ve recently moved up to an Alpha 7R V and that stabilisation also makes the most of the camera’s huge resolution,” he says, “because you don’t want 61-megapixels of camera shake! I also find the big files useful if I want to crop in and refine composition a little. And the incredible autofocus leans into that, too. When I shoot butterflies or other insects, the subject recognition is a huge bonus in many ways. It’s constantly adjusting based on the camera distance and it also means I can concentrate on little changes to framing while the focus stays exactly where it’s needed.”

ladybird sitting on a leaf © Kyle van Bavel | Sony α7R V + FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS | 1/320s @ f/5.0, ISO 200

“The 90mm is also incredibly sharp,” he finishes, “but one of the nice things about working with it is that it can make even the most inconsequential things look amazing. So many of my best photos are taken on a walk close to home, or in my back garden. So for that reason, I’d always say a macro lens is the way to really connect with this beautiful little planet.”

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