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8 Tips for Shooting Macro Photos More Creatively

Spring is here and flowers are opening up everywhere. It's the season for shooting macro out in nature and enjoying the outdoors. But beware that macro photography has the potential to be addictive! These eight macro photography tips will help you recognise more possibilites for enhancing your own creative close up shots.

The Right Light for Shooting Macro

What is photography without light? Without a doubt, the early morning hours and late afternoon or evening are my favorite times of day for shooting macro images. In the morning, the first sun rays creep over a dew covered meadow and its sparkles help create wonderful moments. When the evening sun’s rays are no longer as strong – the light becomes softer and warmer. That’s when my macro photographer's heart beats the fastest. But time is never on my side and the magic is often short-lived. My first macro photography tip is to check out the location and subjects in advance so you can maximize the best light of the day.

 

Soften the Light for better Macro Photos

But what if you encounter a wonderful motif during the day and you don't have the chance to take pictures in the morning or in the evening? If the light is too harsh, try (macro phography tip #2) shading the flower and (if necessary) lighten it up with the reflector – to keep the light from appearing too hard or unnatural. Since our macro photography subjects are quite small, a small light diffuser is adequate for the job. Likewise, a small reflector is especially handy for shooting macro photos in backlight. Since the harsh light bleaches away the colors and leaves hard shadows, I prefer to soften the light with a simple, white studio umbrella. This inexpensive piece of equipment helps me create naturally diffused light during any time of day and helps me show off the natural colors textures of my subjects with maximum effect.

Direct sunshine, no diffuser.
Light softened with diffuser.
Studio umbrella diffuses sunshine plus reflector to balance backlight.

When Shooting Macro Pay Attention to the Background

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For me, the background is almost more important than the motif when shooting macro. It’s a crucial aspect of the photo which presents challenges but also helps put the icing on the cake! Thankfully with macro photography I can adjust my point-of-view by moving around my subject. Macro photography tip #3: invest the time to look from many different perspectives. I often discover solutions to distracting backgrounds and difficult light, for example putting the mushroom (below) in just the right light. Under no circumstances should the background distract from the subject. I don't always try to shoot in the same direction. Often you are so absorbed in the subject and forget that something wonderful is happening in the opposite direction!

Experiment with shooting through foregrounds.

Macro photography tip #4: After the background, the foreground also contributes a lot to a successful macro picture. Why not shoot your macro subject through a foreground of plant parts, drooping leaves or branches? In macro photography we can work with extremely shallow depth of field, which helps by blurring these elements so that they don’t distract from the subject, but rather add interest to the photos. In the examples below, the blurry purple flowers and the leaves in front of the mushroom, make interesting foreground elements.

Key Advantages of Shooting Macro Photos

Nowhere else in photography can you get as close to the subject as when shooting macro, so make use of it! Macro photography tip #5: Fill the frame with your subject so that the background is completely hidden behind it. This helps eliminate distracting elements and I find that my creativity runs free as I go in close to photograph a flower in an abstract way so that it is no longer even recognizable, as seen in the crocus example below.

Close up view of a crocus

In macro photography our depth of field is so shallow that the focus is handled in millimeters. This offers many creative possibilities but can be a technical challenge for others. Shallow depth of field allows me photograph ordinary subjects as abstract textures, lines and color motifs resulting in a very unique effect. Macro photography tip #6: When I’m shooting macro I enjoying opening up the aperture in my lens to its maximum setting. This shallow depth of field effect is intensified when shooting with a macro lens or bellows device, but can also be achieved by using extension rings in combination with a standard lens like the 50mm. This can be an effective way to do macro shots without spending lots of money on an expensive lens.

 

Finding Your Ideal Position for Shooting Macro

Is there an ideal shooting position for macro photography? I would say there are many. Depending on my subject’s position and what I want to convey in my image — I make decisions about the position where I’m shooting from. I am frequently reminding students in our macro photography courses that they should experiment by shooting their subject from many different angles. Macro photography tip #7: My preferred position for shooting macro is the "beetle perspective," because it gives us a point-of-view that we typically don't see. Pointing my camera upwards towards the sky, I get a very light, airy background that makes the delicate motif appear even finer and more fragile. If you should come upon a person lying motionless on the ground in the forest, please do not be alarmed, it’s probably a macro photographer who is concentrating hard on her composition. I’ve had some pretty amusing encounters when other forest-walkers or mountain bikers came rushing to my aid. I was so focused on finding the lowest, most photogenic point of view to shoot my flower or mushroom that I completely forgot how unusual or ridiculous I must look.

Recognising a Great Opportunity for Shooting Macro

As with all genres of photography, successful photos start with good seeing. Of course this is easier said than done. As a creative macro photographer, my process begins with a search for a special motif that appeals to me and provides potential for implementing my ideas. Photography teaches us to search and observe carefully, because not every flower is a suitable close-up subject. I study my candidates closely and notice things that the normal viewer does not see at all. Macro photography tip #8: My advice is to others is to think carefully and consider all the possibly improvements before clicking the shutter. I often notice other macro photographers switching from one motif to the other too quickly. They don't take the time to really explore the chosen subject. It is not uncommon for me to spend half an hour or more shooting macro shots of single subject, trying to get as close to perfection as I possibly can. After I think I’ve got it, I really look critically at my image on the LCD screen, if I’m really convinced, then I’ll move onto to my next motif. But if not, I concentrate harder on doing justice to my little subject and I keep looking for more possibilities!

Camera Support for Macro Shooting

Bonus Tip: Many beginning macro photographers struggle to stabilise their cameras while shooting macro photos. Tripods can be very helpful, but sometimes they are awkard to work with. If you're not "getting along" with your tripod it can block your creativity. A simple bean bag can serve as a very simple and inexpensive way to stabilise your camera while working low to the ground. 

Viewfinder Macro Photography Day-Trips

If you're unsure where to find the best subjects for doing macro photography or if you wish to learn new skills from our experts, then join Viewfinder on a macro photography day-trip. Our day-trips visit some of Switzerland's hidden gems and the logistics are all taken care of for you. Our instructors are leading day-trips throughout the year, so there's a variety of day-trip styles to choose from. Viewfinder photography courses and trips are a great way to learn new skills, gain confidence with your camera and build your macro photography portfolio. Our group sizes are small, giving each participant the chance to receive thoughtful, personalised instruction from our expert instructors. Make your next creative adventure with Viewfinder Center and take your macro photography further!