Macro photography is a beautiful thing. You can show the beauty of the smallest things we even wouldn’t notice. That’s what I love about it, and that’s why all my Instagram account is related to macro photography. But sometimes you just struggle to get a good photo. I can help you with that by sharing my 10 top macro photography tips from my own experience.
Many of these tips apply to non macro photography too, so don’t run away just yet if you don’t do macro photography.
1. Use your display to see a preview of what you’re capturing (Live view)
If you shoot with a DSLR, most probably you use your eye to see what you will capture in the viewfinder. It can get challenging to capture macro photos that are low to the ground that way. This is when I usually switch to my display so that I can lay my camera on the ground without having to lay on the ground myself. If you have a flip-out screen, that’s a big plus, because you can see the screen from every angle.
For older DSLR cameras there is one disadvantage when shooting with the display preview though – it’s slower. But if you’re shooting flowers or anything that doesn’t move, this works really well. Not so well with insects, because they can run away while the camera processes your request and returns back to the display.
If you own a newer or better DSLR than my old one, or even a mirrorless camera – the live display will not differ much from how quickly you can capture the photos when looking through the viewfinder.
2. Focusing your photos
When you’re shooting macro – most probably you want the camera to focus on a specific part of the flower, not just choose a random focus distance.
Use single point auto-focus
When you have auto-focus where the camera chooses the place to focus – most probably you will get the wrong focus point. That’s why I use single point auto-focus so that I have one specific point to focus on.
You can also move the focus point with arrow buttons, so that the focus point is at the exact location you need it in the photo. That means you won’t have to move the camera after focusing, and there’s better chance that the focus will stay and you won’t move the camera out of the focus.
Don’t be afraid to use the manual focus
While most of the times you get good focus with auto focus, there are situations where the camera can have a hard time focusing on a subject, or it simply doesn’t focus on the spot you want it to. That’s why manual focusing mode exists. I have two focusing modes on my lenses – completely manual, and AF/MF (auto-focus with an option to override it with controlling the ring manually).
The second one is what I use the most – automatic focusing with an option to focus manually where the focus game is more challenging.
With manual focus you can focus on the exact spot and get the photo perfectly sharp as you want it to be. Just don’t move the camera after focusing or the focus will be lost.
3. Check your focus in the live view by zooming in
Many cameras have the ability to zoom in on the live view to see the exact spot you’re focused on. For my Nikon it’s the magnification (+) button.
While you’re in the live view – zoom in on the subject you want to focus on, and then use the manual focus to perfect that focus point and get the photo as sharp and focused as possible. This is how I captured my gingerbread and Christmas house photos.
I also have a behind-the-scenes video for the gingerbread one in my IGTV. I used a trigger to capture the photo to be sure I didn’t move the camera while taking the photo. An alternative is to connect your camera to your phone if you have such feature, and use the phone as the trigger.
4. Find a backlight for your photos
We all know that the photos look the best during golden hour. But did you know why? It’s because the Sun shines in the background of your subject, its light is soft and golden and that creates bokeh.
Try to find a backlighting. Sun shining from behind the subject creates gorgeous bokeh. Especially if it is during golden hour.
Take a look at this tulip I captured last Spring. In the first photo the Sun shines from behind me. In the second photo the Sun shines from behind the flower.
The bokeh in the second photo is much more eye-catching, don’t you think?
5. Think about what you’re capturing in the background
While you might like seeing an object and snapping a photo of it without thinking, to get a good result, you need to think about what you’re capturing around and behind your object. This especially applies if you’re doing smartphone photography, since the depth of field is not as shallow and the background doesn’t get blurred off.
Snap a photo and take a look at it – are there distracting elements in the background? Maybe it’s just a twig, or something else that could distract the viewer. If the answer is yes, then either remove those objects or change the angle so that the photo has less complex background.
Removing a distracting object near your subject or changing the photography angle can make a photo much more enjoyable.
The more neutral the background (meadow, grass, wall) – the better. The viewer’s full attention will be to the object you’re taking the photo of, not some distracting elements in the background.
Here’s an example where I could’ve worked more on clearing the scene before taking the photo. Look at all the pine needles and the leaf behind the flower:
There’s always the way to remove the objects in post processing, but trust me when I say that it’s much more easier to remove the object before taking the photo than to clone it out of all your photos afterwards.
6. Shoot as many photos as possible
Yes, exactly what I said. If you’re not confident about your macro skills, you will have many photos that will go straight to the recycle bin (I do too). Some will be blurry, some will not have the right focus, or some will have too shallow depth of field. That’s why it’s crucial to snap as many photos of the same subject as possible. Change angles, get closer, or more far away, change settings and mainly – experiment.
If you shoot only some photos, and want to leave the location, then I suggest you to check out the photos in your camera. If you see that the focus and composition looks great, then you’re good to go. But if not, then the more photos you have, the better the chance that some of them will be good enough for sharing in your Instagram.
See an example below of how I capture photos of the same subject. This is a good case scenario, and sometimes I have lots more photos 🙂
7. Shooting handheld photos on longer exposure
First of all I do not suggest choosing longer exposure times than ~1/100s when shooting handheld macros with a macro lens. Do you know why? It’s because the camera have already zoomed in the photo (for example when you have 105mm lens like me). That means that the slightest hand movement will smudge/blur your photo much more than if you were to capture a photo in wide angle.
To have shorter exposure time and still have bright enough image – you can set the ISO higher. Just don’t overdo it, otherwise the photo will gain too much grain and noise. You can also shoot in RAW – in that case you can shoot darker photos than usual and still get back the brightness and information when editing.
In case you still need that long exposure time, you can use some of these tips.
Set the camera on the ground
If you’re shooting photos of something that’s low on the ground (for example flowers), then you can set the camera on the ground or on an object of some kind. That will keep the camera steady while you’re taking the shot. If there is wind – this won’t help you though, because the camera on the ground won’t stop the flower from moving.
Take a look at this screenshot of a behind-the-scenes video where I captured the photo with the camera laying on the ground:
You can also see a reel I have made with this same exact scene by tapping here!
Hold your breath and support the camera
When your subject isn’t on the ground, or you don’t want an angle from the side/above, then you can try this. Holding your breath always helps to keep the camera more steady. Supporting your hand or camera against something steady works a little bit as a tripod. It can be an elbow supported on your knee, or an elbow against a tree trunk, or just a camera against a wall. If none of these are possible, you can always tuck your hands tightly close to your body and use the display to see what you’re capturing. That helps you keep the heavy lens more steady.
Shoot multiple photos in a row
For shooting on long exposure times what sometimes helps me is shooting more than one photo in a row. You need continuous shooting turned on so that while you hold the shutter button, the camera shoots a burst of photos. I am suggesting this, because when you press the shutter button – the camera moves a little bit. While you’re holding it and more photos are being snapped – the camera is more steady. If you have a remote shutter button, then – perfect! Use that.
The result of shooting a burst of photos is multiple photos, of which the first will be blurry if your hand moved, but the next ones would be less blurry.
8. Use foreground objects as a bokeh accent
When a photo of a flower or an object seems too boring – you can place an object in front of your camera, or get more down low in between the flowers or grass to get a colored blurred bokeh accent. It freshens up the photo and adds something interesting in.
See these examples from my Instagram:
Here’s an example of how changing the foreground objects can change a lot. I managed to get some plants in front of my lens to create a colorful bokeh accent. What I did was – I placed a crocus flower really close to the lens.
9. Know what you want to achieve
While often you get quite good result when spontaneously snapping photos of an object (I’m often doing the same), not always the result will satisfy you.
It’s good to know what you want to achieve. Get some inspiration from other photographers in Instagram or save some ideas in Pinterest. Get the idea of what you want to try to repeat or what kind of photo you want to capture, and then try to achieve that goal. You’ll think more about how you frame your photo, because you know the result you need.
Knowing the desired result and framing the photo correctly while you’re snapping it also can help you out when editing the photo. If your camera does not have enough megapixels – you won’t be able to crop the photo out as much and correct the framing in post processing. I have 24MP camera and I can crop my photos quite a lot without losing the detail and quality, so I do not worry about framing my photo perfectly every time.
10. Be patient
With macro and wildlife photography you might need to wait until you get that perfect shot. Either to wait for the animal, bird or insect to go to the location you need, stay calm for a moment, or just wait for them to appear. Or you’re waiting for the damn wind to go away (I can so relate; wind is my enemy).
While you’re out there waiting with your camera for the stars to align so that you can get the perfect shot – switch to something else. If you’re waiting for some butterflies to appear – photograph some flowers meanwhile.
Check the weather and see if there is wind in forecast. Try to go out shooting when there’s less wind, if possible. You’ll get less frustrated of not getting the shot because of the wind, and the photos will come out better.
Now you’re (hopefully) full of new knowledge to use the next time you are taking new photos. Long story short – live preview display is a must, manual focus helps a lot to get the perfect focus, good light and composition makes the photo much better, and experimenting and getting as many shots as you can is a good way to get great result. Have fun in your photography adventure and see you in my next post!
There is a second part of these tips already published in my blog! Have you read it? Tap here if you haven’t!