If you’ve ever seen a larger-than-life photo of a butterfly or rose petal, that was macro photography in action. Before you take your own close-ups, however, you’ll need to understand the nature of the technique and how you can achieve the best results with your own camera. Here are just a few basic macro photography tips to help you capture small moments in time.
1. Go Digital
Macro photography is a modern game, and old-fashioned cameras simply don’t have the functions and features that are required for extreme close-ups of high, lossless quality. Go ahead and splurge on a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera. You’ll even find recommendations for certain brands over others if you plan on regularly taking macro photos.
2. Buy a Specialty Lens
While it’s common for digital camera lenses to have “macro” filters or “advanced zoom” settings, true macro photography needs a specially-made macro lens. In terms of focal length, they can run the gamut from 50mm to 200mm, so it’s up to you to decide the right sizes for your subject. A blushing bride might object to a 150mm lens in front of her face, but it will be necessary to capture the slow drip of saliva from a tiger’s tooth.
3. Simplify Your Backgrounds
One of the most basic macro photography tips is to rid your background of any distracting colors or patterns. Showcasing your subject is the whole point of macro photography, so you’ll be shooting yourself in the foot if your background has more visual interest than your focal point. If necessary, hang a white sheet to keep the focus of your photo where it should be.
4. Carry an Extra Battery
One of the lesser-known macro photography tips is to carry around an extra battery during photo shoots. You might need to make a dozen tiny, minute adjustments before you’re satisfied with what you see on your camera’s display screen, and this will be a big drain on power. Make sure that you’re prepared for it.
5. Increase Your Shutter Speed
A quick shutter speed is essential if you’re capturing photos of living subjects or fast-moving objects. You’ll have a bit more wiggle room if you’re shooting macro photography of still life, but you’ll probably want to practice with quick shutters anyway. It’s one of the most common macro photography tips for a reason.
6. Be Careful With Your F-Stops
F-stops are how your camera measures aperture. You’ll see them labeled like “f/2,” “f/4,” and “f/6.8” in your camera settings, and if you start fiddling with the numbers, you can watch them have a drastic impact on everything from your light saturation to your subject’s depth of field. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to stay at f/16 or lower with macro photography, but feel free to experiment until you find a decimal place that works for you.
7. Focus on Specific Textures
Ordinary photographers are obsessed with light and color. Macro photographers should be more interested in texture. Try to give your photos a specific feeling – sharp, slimy, rubbery, hairy – by focusing on the elements that bring those visceral feelings to mind. For example, if you want your knife photographs to be “smooth,” you might focus on the sleek, uninterrupted line of its blade.
8. Remain Calm and Patient
This is one of those macro photography tips that everyone hears but no one really heeds. Whether you’re photographing a yawning baby or a rustling tree, the perfect shot probably won’t be the first one that you set up. It’ll take awhile for your lights, colors, angles and focusing elements to align in exactly the right way, so patience is key.
9. Shoot in “Raw” Mode
It can be disconcerting to shoot in raw mode if you’ve never done it before; your photos will be completely untouched and undoctored by your camera’s color, brightness, and saturation settings, and many amateur photographers take these automated services for granted. If you’re serious about stepping up your photography game, however, you’ll need to shoot in raw mode. There’s a reason why it’s one of the most popular macro photography tips.
10. Turn Off Your Automated Settings
In the same vein as turning off JPEG mode to shoot in raw mode, it’s also important to turn off other automated camera settings when you’re thinking about macro photography tips and tricks. For example, autofocus is a nightmare when dealing with extreme close-ups. You’ll want manual focus instead.
11. Give Yourself a Hand
Known as “helping hands” or “third hands,” these flexible tools will help you set up your shots just the way you want them. They’re a bit like tripods except that they come with adjustable clamps and pulleys. You might also find them listed as “camera support stations,” but make sure that you’re browsing ones designed for macro photography specifically.
12. Compare and Contrast
One of the easiest ways to make a splash with your macro photography is to compare and contrast your subject with something else in the shot. For example, you might create an optical illusion with a huge ant in front of a tiny anthill, or you might anchor the smallness of a flower petal against the wide expanse of the sky. These are macro photography tips that are sure to get you noticed.
13. Play With Angles
It’s a common misconception in macro photography tips that your subject has to be front and center. You can create interesting, dynamic images by shooting your subject from an unexpected incline or letting it fall just slightly out of frame. Never be afraid to experiment; it’s one of the ironclad rules of photography that some of your best shots will be complete accidents.
14. Use an External Flash
You can’t really use your camera’s regular flash with macro photography. The length of your macro lens will cast too many shadows. However, you might still need a flash depending on your subject matter and the time of day, and this is where external flash tools can come in handy. Look for ring flashes and remotely triggered flashes in particular.
15. Boost Your Sharpness Levels
One of the defining traits of macro photography is that it provides clear, sharp detail for things that are usually too small to be seen. So it stands to reason that common macro photography tips revolve around increasing your sharpness levels. A blurry photo of a raindrop is no different than a regular photo of a raindrop, but with keen details, it can become a piece of macro art.
16. Learn the Way of Post-Processing
You don’t often see this in tips for macro photography, but it’s a widely-known secret that most digital photographs are edited before they’re shared. You’ll need to understand how it’s done if you want your images to compete with others on the web. Start with basic photo editing programs and work your way up to serious post-processing software.
These are just a few tips for macro photography you can use to improve your skills. What do you think of our round-up? Have we forgotten any important tips, or do you have further suggestions for first-time macro photographers? Sound off in the comments!