Basic Rules for Shooting Macro Photography

learn macro photography.

Macro Photography

Macro Photography is all about the details. With macro photography dealing with such close proximity between camera and subject, there are plenty of concerns and problems that need to be addressed. These can be more easily solved with the knowledge of what can help make macro photography excellent.

Before you start shooting any and everything that looks like it might be interesting when really close up, it is best to know about the “rules” and camera settings that will help to enhance your macro photos.

While taking macro photos, you want to do everything you can to keep your camera, as well as your subject steady for the sharpest photos possible.

1. Use a Tripod

If there’s one rule of macro photography, it’s to use a tripod. Shooting without a tripod will simply be too unsteady since even slight movements will cause a blur. You’ll have enough problems trying to keep your subject steady as even the slightest breeze can blur your image, so don’t add to that by taking hand-held macro photos. Using a tripod will also force you to slow down and take your time getting the composition just right. 

2. Use a Shutter Release

Using a wired cable shutter release or a wireless trigger will allow you to take the shot without touching the camera. If you don’t have either, you can set your camera’s self-timer to take the shot, but be sure to set it to 2 seconds instead of 10 or you will feel like shooting the image takes forever.

macro bird photography.

3. Equipment

As with any job, the equipment is half the battle. The choice of camera equipment is a personal one, but there are some general tips that can help you choose what works best for you. At a minimum, you’ll need the camera body, a macro lens, a light diffuser, a reflector, and a tripod. That sounds like a lot, but it’s not as much as you think. 

You can use a couple of pieces of white and wax paper for light reflectors and diffusers. If you choose a lightweight tripod, that just leaves your camera with the macro lens attached–usually a 100mm macro lens works best–and perhaps an infrared (IR) wireless shutter release or a trigger cable. The heaviest part of your equipment is likely to be the camera (with the lens) itself. 

4. Planning

If you are shooting outdoors, you’ll want to consider weather conditions and the time of day that works best for your shoot. Early morning and late afternoon are times when the light is softer than what you’ll encounter at midday, but the end of the day has a warmer light. It really depends on what you’re hoping to accomplish, but these are things to consider so that you can be properly prepared.

5. Composition

After the planning and with equipment in hand, you’ve now arrived at the subject. You’re ready to begin shooting. But, before you begin, you now need to consider the composition of your shots. Following the rule of thirds by offsetting your main subject and making good use of negative space can create an interesting image.

You’ll also want to consider the angle of your shot as well. You might, for example, decide to shoot down inside the petals, if you are photographing a flower. By increasing the magnification, you can create not just a photograph of a flower, but a true abstract work of art. However, sometimes its better to avoid any angling of the camera and take a straight on shot instead of up or down.

macro flower photography.

6. Light Control

Light control is one of the most important considerations for macro photography. While you can’t do anything to control the sun or the clouds, you can reflect or diffuse the available light. Camera reflector kits are inexpensive and lightweight, but if you don’t have one, you can use something as simple as a white sheet of paper or foam board to reflect light and translucent wax paper to diffuse it, thereby creating a softer light.

If sunlight just isn’t enough or isn’t quite right, you can also resort to artificial light to enhance the shot. LED lighting is now the main source of continuous photographic lighting. For the purpose of macro photography, two small LED bulbs on the end of articulating arms and mounted to the top of your camera will allow you to apply precise light spots, adding texture and volume to your photography.

If LED lights are not enough, you can also use flash lighting. It’s more powerful and usually overpowers the natural light, but it allows you to freeze movement, and in the case of insufficient light, you can create images that would otherwise be impossible.

7. Camera Settings – Depth of Field and Shutter Speed

Controlling the distance between the nearest and furthest objects in focus in your scene can help you create a unique, interesting image. For example, you can achieve better background separation and a cleaner composition with a shallower depth of field. To do this, you can play with your f stops to see which works best for your particular shot.

If you are close to your subject, you’ll usually want to stop your lens down (increase the aperture number) to f/16, or even f/22. Doing so will usually require you to lower your shutter speed or raise the ISO–i.e., your camera’s sensitivity to light–to compensate for the smaller lens opening. 

Your shutter speed is important for freezing the action. It might not seem like there’s much action, but even the slightest breeze can blur your image.

It might even be worth backing up a bit and cropping the image in closer in post-production. The megapixels of modern digital cameras allow for aggressive cropping without sacrificing the quality of the image.

photographer taking macro photos.

Some of those rules rely on your creativity and ability to plan to get the image you want. Making sure you have the right equipment, including a tripod and light reflectors/diffusers, is essential to creating good macro images. But, your creativity in composing your shots and adding details (like water beads) is also essential. You also need to have a good basic understanding of the camera settings.

Adjusting your depth of field and shutter speed will help you create interesting images. Additionally, controlling the light by using reflectors/diffusers, and even artificial light, will add texture and volume to your photographs.

One of your biggest problems or enemies is the wind. Even if you don’t feel the wind it is there, affecting your shot. To help you see what wind there is, even the wind you can’t feel, look through your macro lens and you’ll see the blur the wind causes.

Also, every macro lens has a sort of “sweet spot” where the focus is at its prime and you can get the sharpest picture. Find your lens’ spot and you will be off to a great start.

7 Best Macro Photography Courses

Here is a list of the best macro photography classes we have hand-picked for you to learn.

The Art of Seeing: Macro Techniques for Flowers and Plants

Macro Techniques for Flowers and Plants.

Discover the incredible art of seeing macro photography with a professional photographer, Frans Lanting. Learn how to capture stunning macro shots of flowers.

Photography Foundations: Macro and Close-Up

Photography Foundations - Macro and Close-Up course.

In this course, photographer Ben Long takes you on a fantastic journey into the realm of tiny details- from gear to techniques. He shares his expertise and knowledge in order for others like him to have access to it as well!

Introduction to Macro Photography

Introduction to Macro Photography course.

Macro photos are a fantastic way to create larger-than-life images with intricate detail and beauty. In this class, photographer and instructor Mike Hagen explores macro subjects in amazing detail and also goes over the gear you need as well as techniques for capturing extreme close-ups that will blow your followers away!

The Art of Flower Photography

image of a plant stem with rain drops.

This course by expert photographer Kathleen Clemons will teach everything from how much light is optimal for shooting flowers in different settings all through using your camera’s capabilities without getting too close (so as not to have any distortion), using basic editing tools such as cropping, plus lighting methods for optimum results.

Macro Photography & Focus Stacking Made Easy

macro image of an ant in a forest.

The course will teach you how to take amazing close-ups, from macro shots that are just a few inches away all the way up into extreme territory. You’ll learn about different lenses and attachments for your camera as well as techniques like focus stacking which helps enhance images.

DIY Food Photography: Capture Compelling Closeups of Fruit

macro fruit photography class.

Food styling meets tabletop photography in this fun, hands-on class. It will take you through a few different setups that are easy enough for your home kitchen, and create images of fruit with dramatic shadows to make them pop off the screen!

Photography 101: Shooting Macros and Close-Ups

course on photographing flowers and bugs.

Macro photography is a fascinating field that lets you take pictures of small objects like flowers and bugs. In this course, photographer Joseph Linaschke will teach how to use your iPhone for shooting macro shots with different techniques – from using special lenses called diaphragms (which are pretty easy!) or shallow depth of field scenes; he explains what equipment works best when taking these types on photos too! In addition, the basics of capturing images at ultra-close range through digital cameras.

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