4 Macro Photography Tips to Inspire the Contortionist in You


Macro photography is also referred to as ‘extreme close-up photography’. Macro photography personalizes images by introducing an awareness to details that may go unnoticed in real life or in a typical photograph. Beautiful macro photography begins with the artist’s own imagination in how they see their subject. There’s also the technical side to it which is necessary to capture and bring the image to life.  With macro photography, almost anything indoors or outdoors is fair game as an interesting subject.

The macro below of bright, colored pencils shows the beautiful, slightly textured grooves in the wood.

Macro of sharpened colored pencils aranged in a circle

Macro of Sharpened Colored Pencils – by Horia Varlan, on Flickr

Combining the artistry with the following 4 simple tips will lead to magical macro moments. The 4 simple macro photography tips include those on technique, composition, tools, and post-processing.

1. Identify the Subject and Explore All Perspectives

This begins with choosing the image to photograph. What was it that captured your artist's eye? Was it the stamen in the flower? The veins on the backside of a leaf? The color of his or her eyes? Or, the shadows on the table of how the forks intertwined?

Keep the image simple by focusing on the single element within the subject you found most interesting.

View the single element from the side, underneath, the backside and from above. Explore the front, side and backlighting. Take a few images of each angle using the same aperture setting. This will allow you playback not for quality, but for a consistent comparison on how the image looks.

Note: this is also a great time to zoom in on the playback screen and inspect for dead leaves, twigs and distracting shadows. This will help ensure a high quality image.

Now that the desired angles have been selected, here's a fast tip. Starting with the lowest aperture number in Aperture Mode, take an image at each f/stop until f/16. Repeat this step with various lighting and image perspectives. This creates a routine that's easily used over and over again. At first, this can take time. With practice, it becomes an efficient way to collect images in the field for processing later. Thank goodness for digital!

2. Experiment With Composition

The rule of thirds is always a safe bet. However, rules are made to be broken. This, of course, is at the artist's discretion. Centering the subject can sometimes be just as impactful as the rule of thirds. Having a little extra room for cropping provides additional flexibility in post processing.

Since it's extreme close up and the details are important, fill the majority of the frame with the subject. Even with filling the frame, there's still some background. How does the surrounding area complement/contrast with the subject? Is it a soft bokeh or other background that creates additional artistry and interest?

In macro photography, the optimal depth of field and composition for an image is subjective. One artist's disaster may be another's masterpiece.

Clematis image below was taken using Nikon 600, 105mm Macro, f/9, ISO 250, 1/60 sec.

Lavender Wings by ©Sheen's Nature Photography

Lavender Macro Wings – Sheen's Nature Photography

3. Choose the Right Equipment for Consistency

It's been written many times, in many ways. A tripod will make the difference. Good photos can be taken with a macro lens without a tripod. However, to get consistent results, a tripod and cable release are almost always the first two recommended items for the tool bag.

Collapsible reflectors are available in multiple sizes and colors. They come in singles or kits. These light, easy to throw in your camera bag discs allow the photographer to filter, reflect, harness and control lighting conditions.

Keep a square yard and a square foot of black velvet in your camera bag. Sometimes the perfect image does not have the perfect backdrop. Use a clean, lint free black velvet fabric strip as the background. A black background can really pop a colorful subject.

Lenses – Macro photography lenses begin with a 1:1 ratio of life size magnification. Focal lengths range from 40mm to 200mm. The shorter the focal length, the closer the lens needs to be to the image. The 100 – 105mm range is a solid performer and gives a greater working distance. For chasing butterflies, damselflies and other insects that are quick to take flight, a 150 – 200 provides the greatest working distance. Focal length comes at a price, knowing how much you want to spend and what working distance you need will help guide your purchase.

Macro Morning - Football Laces - VoxEfx

Macro Morning – Football Laces – by Vox Efx, on Flickr

Fixed or Zoom? Quality close up images can be taken with zoom lenses. If macro photography is more of an afterthought versus a photography destination, investing in other gear that would be used more would be recommended. If you already own a zoom and know that you'll enjoy macro photography, invest in the lens that you'll use long term.

4. Add Some Post Processing Magic in Lightroom

The image quality steps below prepares the Raw image for creative editing. This is a subset of the article on Lightroom and Wildlife Photography.

These post-processing steps are specific to Lightroom 5 but they can essentially be applied to any other image-editing program.

A. Crop & Spot Removal: This is always my first step in all types of photography. Cropping is the action that determines the optimal positioning of the point of interest.

B. Reduce digital noise: this includes color and luminance noise

C. Sharpen the image to desired state. If pixels start to show, back off the slider.

D. Work the Radius and Details sliders

E. Use Masking to eliminate any artifacts/digital noise created when adjusting the sharpening, radius and detail sliders.

macro bass #2

Macro Bass #2 – by Becky, on Flickr

Once these steps have been applied, the additional quality and creative editing begins. Working with the many tools within Lightroom or Aperture is highly suggested to expand the image's potential.

Macro photography brings the viewer up close and personal to your subject and your artistic interpretation.

About Author

Sheen Watkins is a conservationist, wildlife photographer, instructor, author and photography writer. You can follow her photography on Facebook, Instagram and her website.

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