9 Macro Photography Tips for Beginners

Spring is here in the Northern Hemisphere. Many of us are now ready to venture outside and search for creepy crawlies in humid, hot areas. Macro photography is… odd, I have to admit. However, anyone who has tried this genre knows the appeal. You’ll be able to capture countless photographs in your backyard if you can overcome technical obstacles and listen to the mosquitos. These tips will help you get started with macro photography.

1. Learn about the behavior of bugs

If you want to photograph your subject as accurately as possible, it is important that you get to know the details. How do you approach a dragonfly? Knowing the answer will dramatically increase your chances of getting that photo.

Some bugs will fly away when you approach them or your flash turns on. Some bugs take a while to adjust to you, but once they do, they will be able to ignore you. Others don’t care at all about people. Macro photography is a type of wildlife photography. To photograph your subject successfully, you must work with their natural behavior.

The best way to learn about bug behavior is to simply take lots of macro photos. It’s easier to predict the behavior of an insect if you take more macro photos. This applies to spiders and lizards as well.

Let me now answer the question that I asked a moment ago.

My experience has shown that slowly approaching a dragonfly is the best way to approach it. As you approach closer and closer, slow down and take it slower. Every now and again, pause for a few seconds. Lastly, never make sudden movements. These steps worked almost flawlessly for my. One time, I accidentally touched a dragonfly using my lens hood. It didn’t seem to be afraid.

1-1 magnification manual focus macro

2. Start at Sunrise

Many photographers have asked me why I prefer macro photography. My answer is always the exact same: sunrise. Ideally, it should be on a sunny, warm, humid, windless day.

  • Sunrise is the best time to see bugs as they are more likely to be sluggish than the night before.
  • Warm because you are more likely find lots of bugs in the first place.
  • Dew droplets make beautiful photos in humid conditions. Many creatures are also slowed down by water (making them sit still while drying off).
  • Windless because it is difficult to focus on a macro topic when plants are moving in wind. More bugs are often out on calm days.
  • Sunny because it attracts more animals and makes for better light.

This is the common denominator: sunrise. The light is bright, the bugs are slow and the water drops are more likely decorate the world.

Macro photography is possible at any time of the day, not just sunrise. Your lighting will look the same regardless of when you take photos. It’s all about finding interesting subjects, regardless of the time.

Sunrise is my recommendation if you are starting from scratch and want to have the best chance of success.

Brown Anole

3. Tell a story

Because they are able to connect with our emotions, the best photos are successful. A story is one of the most effective ways to communicate emotion in macro photography or any other type of photography.

My favorite macro photos don’t just show a subject. They show a subject doing. A bug is looking for a leaf nearby, or waiting for something. It is playing with light and background. Instead of looking at a photograph of a bug, it’s watching a story unfold.

When it comes to telling stories, macro photography is an advantage. Your subject is so far beyond what most people see. This allows you to use a simpler and more literal style, while still maintaining a sense of wonder. You might photograph a common bug, such as a housefly. Then magnify it with a microscope to reveal incredible detail.

Some macro photographers don’t tell their audience why they take photos. They find a bug that interests them, freeze it, then manually manipulate it in a studio to create a whimsical atmosphere. This type of photo is very easy to recognize because it looks totally unrealistic. It’s like a praying mantis sitting on top of a mushroom with perfect background lighting and studio lighting.

Morning, Dual

4. Flash

Macro photography has one of the most difficult challenges: capturing enough light. Three reasons are:

You’re first focusing at extreme magnifications. This reduces the depth of your field to a mere hair’s width. It will be difficult to get enough detail from your subject unless you are shooting a stationary subject or using a tripod. A small aperture, such as f/16 (full frame) or f/22 (full-frame), is the best choice. This makes your photo very dark.

Second, close focus magnifies your subject and blurs motion blur (and blurred from camera shake). Sharp macro photos can be captured handheld using the old “1/focal distance” rule. Vibration reduction is a good idea. You can also stand a little further away from your subject to magnify it more, but still you will have blurred images.

The third is that the closer you are to your subject the more natural light will you block. Even on bright days, a wrong angle can obscure everything and reduce the light by many stops. This not only makes it harder to take bright photos, but also means that you may have poor light quality.

A flash is the easy way to go. A flash can provide all the lighting you need and freezes any motion in your scene in a flash’s short duration. For macro photography, some photographers use constant lighting, such as ring light, but they add only a few stops to your images. When flashes are placed close to the subject, they can actually outshine sunlight.

Step

5. Diffuse your Light Source

A flash can be incredibly useful for macro photography but there are some things you need to consider. They are not always required. You can use wider apertures and slower shutter speeds for macro photography with lower magnifications, such as photographing butterflies, dragonflies, and flowers.

Also, flashes can cause harsh light, bright specular reflections, and make your subject look awful. We have an entire article about macro photography lighting. It is complex and essential. However, the key point is to diffuse your flash.

To soften the flash, use a diffuser. If done correctly, you won’t be able tell you used a flash. You have two options: the $7.50 Vello Mini Softbox or you can make your own. This is an important step to take if you are just getting started with macro photography. You’ll be able to tell how frustrating it can sometimes be when you take photos of a beautiful moment or subject but the lighting is too harsh and poor.

SKY_6471

6. Reduce Your Flash

Many photographers may assume that I mean to tone down flash. This is not true. It doesn’t matter how bright your flash is, it’s not going to affect its harshness. That’s due more to how diffused it is. My reason for suggesting a lower flash power is that it will be more efficient at recycling.

Even higher quality flashes may take several seconds to recycle each shot after they are turned on at full power. You won’t be capable of taking multiple macro photos at once. In the worst cases, your flash might not fire or is too weak to allow you to capture the moment.

Instead, I recommend that you shoot most macro photos at 1/4 to 1/3 of the flash’s power. This gives you a balance between bright output (so that your ISO doesn’t go too high) as well as fast recycle times. Although “1/4 power” may not be the same for all flashes; these suggestions will help you get started.

Gold

7. Make sure you set Auto (TTL). Flash correctly

Flash-lit macro photography requires that you set the aperture, shutter speed and ISO manually. This can be done in conjunction with an automatic/TTL flash. Your flash should be at 1/4 power. This can change depending on the reflectiveness and color of your subject. How do you achieve this?

It is quite simple. To get the best depth of field, first set your aperture. The distance of your subject will determine the ideal value. I recommend f/16 (full-frame equivalent) for macro photography with high magnification. If your subject is further away, you can use a wider aperture. For close-up shots, I use f/4 or even f/2.8.

Next, adjust your shutter speed to the sync speed. This is the fastest speed you can use with a speedlight and it works for a lot of cameras. You’ll need to reduce the amount of natural light and motion blur as you are lighting the image artificially using flash. This is how to set the sync speed.

Your flash is next. You can set the flash power at 1/4. Although you can eventually make it automatic, for now the goal is to manually set 1/4 flash power.

The last is ISO. After you have set everything, increase your ISO gradually from the base value. Take sample photos of normal leaves. When your photos are properly lit, you can stop increasing ISO. Keep the aperture, shutter speed and ISO at the settings you have. The flash should be set to Auto/TTL. It will still be at 1/4 power, even though it is an automatic flash.

Sideways

8. Sometimes, focus manually

Even in landscape photography, where manual is recommended by some photographers, I am a strong advocate for autofocus. You might have to choose macro photography.

Autofocus is not fast enough to keep up with all the movement in extreme close-ups. Instead, I recommend that you set manual focus. Next, slowly rock back and forth until your subject appears sharp in the rear LCD or viewfinder. Once it appears, take a picture immediately.

Although this isn’t a perfect method, I have yet find one that does better. This technique can be used to sharpen handheld images with a macro lens and a stationary subject at 1:1 magnification. Depending on the technique, it will produce anywhere from 25% to 50% perfect sharpness.

By avoiding excessive magnification and photographing larger subjects, you can increase your keeper rate. Autofocus is possible in this situation, and I highly recommend it.

Perhaps the most important thing to take away from this article is that macro photography can be difficult, but it is possible to make it easier by taking photos of larger subjects. Extreme macro photography is much more difficult than close-up photography. Both are worthwhile. However, anyone just beginning macro photography will be more successful and less frustrated if they use less extreme magnifications.

Crab at Sunrise

9. Eliminate Dust Spots

Final, you need to properly edit your macro photos. This includes removing dust spots from your images. A smaller aperture will result in more dust spots and darker images. This will immediately distract a lot photographers who look at your photos – and it still amazes how often I see dust marks in published macro photos online or printed.

Most post-processing software can remove dust spots. To see dust that isn’t obvious at first glance, you can use software such as Lightroom or Capture One’s “envision dust spot” tool. This is a quick and easy way to enhance photos without distracting the experienced viewer.

Dust spots on the camera sensor
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