Top Macro Photographers Share Their Secrets
If you have ever tried macro photography for yourself, you probably know that it is a fascinating field to work in, but also a very competitive one. There will always be somebody who takes sharper images or steals the perfect moment better than you… Don’t panic! In search for the most comprehensive advice on how to take the perfect macro shot, we got in touch with some of the world’s best macro photographers. It was hard to find them – they all take pride in their macro photos, but most of them are expressing their love for photography through nature and landscape shooting, too. However, we’ve got a great selection of macro photography tips and we’re very happy that we can share them with you. Here is who took part in our research and what secrets they shared with us…
“My “secret ingredient” for anthropod macrophotography is the perfect focus on the eyes! Another requirement is a nice balance of value contrast and colour contrast. Of course, there are different aesthetic and stylistic reasons for not doing so – but I always like having light subjects on darker background and darker subjects on lighter backgrounds. Also, as an art student, a utilisation of complimentary colours and certain colour palettes comes a bit more naturally. I always try to use objects and foliage from the subject’s environment as well to find flattering backgrounds that enhance the subject’s beauty.
“Also, most importantly of all – I only photograph live, healthy bugs. Sure, it can be an absolute pain to miss focus on one 4mm spider outside in heavy winds for four hours, but once you get that perfect shot, it’s all worthwhile.”
“I love the amazing detail hidden around us every day – the majority of my macro photography is taken within a few miles of my house, if not right outside my front door.
“Working with subjects at this scale, depth of field and lighting become a real challenge. Working at low ISO and small f-stops, a diffused off-camera flash is essential in providing the extra illumination necessary at these smaller f-stops. I’m always experimenting – testing new lighting methods and creating DIY diffusers to create the best lighting.
“Fast reflexes, patience and a bit of chance are a must. Whether photographing a snow flake or a tiny insect, nature is always moving and changing. You need to be patient to find the right subject, but ready to work quickly before opportunity disappears. Change your perspective. Nearly everyone sees the world from the height of 60-inches. Get close and get low. I try to get eye level with my subject, and zoomed in to pull out the detail you can’t see with the naked eye.”
3. Mark Plonsky
“Nature is beautiful and I like to capture it. I especially enjoy extreme macro photography because you get to see what we ordinarily cannot. Thus, my goal is to get the viewer up close and personal with the smaller forms of life on this planet. I try hard to really give the viewer a portrait of the critter that shows it in a good light. Two tips for aspiring extreme macro photographers are to experiment with different set-ups and use manual focus.”
“Working at the macro end of the scale, changes the way you look at a scene. Instead of absorbing the whole, you develop a seeing eye that draws you to a design or a pattern in a natural object or it may be the way it is lit, how it moves or leaves a trail. Once you learn how to separate macro subjects from amongst the plethora of natural and man-made structures that overshadow them, they are everywhere. Whatever I am doing in any part of the world, I always make time to take at least one macro shot a day.
“There are three points to consider when working on a macro scale:
- Where you focus is absolutely critical for achieving a perfect macro shot and for static subjects it is often preferable to focus manually.
- Understanding how to control depth field, by changing either the image size or the aperture (or both) is also paramount.
- For me, the most exciting aspect of macro work is that you have complete control of the lighting – both in the field and in the studio.”
Heather took the photo shown above using dark field illumination that she first used for marine and freshwater invertebrates with translucent bodies.
5. JONI NIEMELÄ
“Macro photography opens a whole new different world so observe your surroundings carefully and shoot a lot but with patience.”
6. MIKE MOATS
“Here are my five things to consider for better photos…
- Finding character. When you are out shooting, go slowly and take the time to study every subject for interesting characteristics. All settings that contain flowers, leaves, trees, and bugs have the potential to reveal elements of character. Character is reflected in an object’s distinctive shape, remarkable lines, exceptional contrast, unusual pattern, unique texture, or special light. Finding character in nature is about creating images that set themselves apart from the ordinary and mundane that most photographers capture.
- Know your environment. One of the benefits of macro photography is that the environment is constantly changing with the different seasons. The life cycle of the plants we shoot are changing on a monthly basis. Study and learn the patterns of the environment that you shoot in, so you will be in the right place at the right time.
- Are you creating art or just documenting? When you photograph a flower, does it tend to look documented, like something you would see in a flower identification textbook? In documented photos, it shows the flower and the environment it grows in with all the clutter. Are you creating artistic compositions with a clean background that allows the flower to stand out? Find the right camera angle with the least distracting background that allows the flower to stand out, creating a more artistic composition.
- Do you think before you press the shutter? Once you find a subject and set up your tripod and camera to take the shot, do you think to yourself… “Have I seen this subject composed in this manner before?” If you have, then don’t shoot. We all study other photographers’ work online, and we have all seen thousands of images of flowers and other macro subjects. If you are composing your subject as you have seen it done before, then find a way to compose the subject to make it different to anything you have seen before. If you want your images to stand out, then stop copying others and come up with your own unique way of seeing a subject.
- Software for post-processing. By following these tips, you can produce some unique and artistic photos. You may have found a subject with great character, and you have composed it in your own original style, but when it comes out of the camera, it lacks life. Digital cameras are not designed to produce finished photos, that’s up to the photographer. You need editing software to bring your photos to life by adding depth, contrast and colors for a dramatic feel. Two of my favorite programs are Viveza 2 and Color Efex Pro 4 from the Nik Collection. By using these programs I have taken my photos to another level that really grabs the viewer’s attention.”
“I photograph invertebrates so close-up that they are transformed into large subjects. Through my images I aim to highlight the different characteristics of a variety of species – and their individual charm. Each image is a single image made in our own garden, I never apply focus stacking.
“Insects generally have two things in mind: to get on with the task at hand and avoid getting eaten. The task at hand might be finding food, mating, or just basking in the sunshine. This means that insects are somewhat predictable. Bees, butterflies, and similar insects, for example, might be just bumbling about from flower to flower. One of the first things you’ll notice is that some insects are extremely skittish, like butterflies, damselflies, and dragonflies, while others aren’t bothered by your presence at all. You’ll see that some insects are constantly moving about, such as ants and bees, where others prefer to sit still for extended periods – many spiders and assassin bugs. Others, like leafhoppers and plant hoppers, don’t seem to mind being photographed, but will shyly turn their back on you, forcing you to change position constantly. The point is that you should invest some time getting to know the common behaviour of your tiny subjects and how they sense their environment before firing the first frame.”
Detail head of male Brimstone butterfly, looking to the left side: Magnification 6, f/14, ISO 100 and 1/250 sec.
“My top tip to get the perfect macro shot would be to start looking at the world around you as an infinite combination of little details that can be isolated and used to show the beauty of what we usually overlook. A flower is very pleasant to watch and photograph by itself, but look closer. Every petal, vein, stamen, pollen grain and the tiny animals that live within it become incredible subjects worthy of taking many more pictures.
“All this can be photographically explored with both ambient and artificial lighting, with a close as well as a fully open aperture, and with different exposure times to create visually stunning images. Remember to pay attention to the background as you do with the main subject. Only their combined graphical interaction will give you a “wow” picture. Macro photography is a fascinating kind of photography that can be performed at home as on top of a mountain, and you will always get beautiful shots if you learn how and what to look for.”
Alessandro’s photo above has been recently accepted for publication on 1x.com – it’s a macro shot of water and oil drops designed in the shape of an eye bulb.
“Simplicity is often the key to capturing a compelling, successful close-up. Try to create a clean, flattering background for your subject by using shallow depth of field and exclude messy, distracting elements from the backdrop.”
We hope you enjoyed the great tips and advice these professional macro photographers shared with us. Let us know who is your favourite in the comments section below.