A macro image of water droplets on blueberries

10 Simple Tips To Improve Your Macro Photography

Do you dream of capturing awe-inspiring images showing amazing detail? In this article, you’ll discover how to do just that – with fantastic macro photography.

So what is macro photography? Quite simply it’s producing photographs where small items appear life size or larger.

Do you know what’s really great about macro photography?

Well it’s accessible for everyone. Fantastic subjects are all around – there’s no need to travel to an exotic location for the perfect shot.

Read on to discover my top macro photography tips.

A macro photograph of a snow crystals on a sphere
Get up close with your camera to appreciate the little things.

1. Choose the Right Macro Lens

Even with all the know-how and photographic skills in the World, you still need to equip yourself with some good macro photography gear.

There’s no single best macro photography lens to choose – what’s best for someone else won’t necessarily be best for you. The right macro photography lens is the one that suits your needs and shooting style.

Consider the following when choosing a macro photography lens:

  • Focal length
  • Autofocus function
  • Image quality
  • Cost

A prime lens with a fixed focal distance are a good place to start. They are generally cheaper and tend to produce sharper images than zoom lenses.

The focal length is how close you’ll need to be to your subject to get your subject in focus.

An advantage of a short focal length lens is they are very portable as they are light. They are also generally cheaper. But, when working with living subjects, getting too close may disturb the subject. You also risk limiting the light that gets to your subject by being too close.

With a longer lens, you’ll be able to work at an easier distance from your subject. A longer lens will also give you more background blur. The downside is that you’ll have a heavier lens to carry around.

Another consideration, if you plan to take macro photos of living subjects, is the autofocus function. Look for silent autofocusing to prevent disturbing your subject.

Image quality and cost generally go side-by-side. Again keep in mind your needs when weighing up these options.

A close up photo of a macro lens
Choose a macro lens that suits your needs

2. Experiment with Macro Photography Gear

Are you looking for an alternative to purchasing a macro photography lens? Or perhaps you’d just like more ‘toys’ to play with?

Well there’s no shortage of macro photography gear to try:

  • Extension tubes
  • Reversing ring
  • Close-up lens
  • Zoom lens with a macro setting 

These all provide a cheaper option for macro photography camera setup and make use of existing lenses.

Mount extension tubes between your camera and lens. They simply change the minimum focus distance of your lens so you can get closer to your subject. Pick them up for very little money in sets of three. Use them on their own or combine to try different focal distances.

Use a reversing ring to transform your lens into a macro lens by mounting the lens backward. They start at a very low price. Therefore, let you try out macro photography without a big investment.

A close-up lens is a magnifying filter that screws on to the front of your lens. It’ll let you get closer to your subject and have the advantage of not needing to remove your lens to use.

You may already have a zoom lens with a macro setting. This will generally allow you to get closer to your subject but note few will give true 1:1 images.

A photo of a extension tube that I use for macro photography
Use extension tubes individually or in combination to change the focal length of your lens

3. Hold Steady

It’s essential to make sure both the subject and camera stay still as you take the shot. The slightest movement of either causes the focal point to change.

Have you been disappointed when reviewing images to find the sharpest part of the image is not where you want it to be? You’re not alone. In macro photography, you are often working with a very narrow depth of field. This makes it tricky to get the focus just right.

Make use of a tripod to hold your camera in position. This is particularly important when working with a longer focal lens that is heavier to handle.

If you don’t have a tripod a good alternative is to steady your arm and camera against something fixed.

How many times have you wished you had an extra hand to hold your subject steady? Well with a third-hand tool, you can have just that.

This cheap and readily-available clamp tool is a useful piece of equipment.  A quick internet search will bring up many options to buy.

Make use of a tripod and third-hand tool to get the focus just right

4. Use Aperture Control to Change the Depth of Field

Do you want to know how to give your subject the viewer’s full attention? Well it’s all down to focus. The viewer’s eye is naturally drawn to the part of an image that’s sharp.

Control how much of your subject is in focus by adjusting the depth-of-field.

The depth of field in practice is the distance between the nearest and furthest part of a photo that’s in focus. Due to the level of magnification in macro photography this can often be a matter of millimetres.

Use the aperture priority mode on your camera to adjust the depth of field. Wide apertures of between f/2.8 and f/5.6 will result in the least amount of your photo being in focus. Go for an aperture setting of f/16 or smaller to increase the depth of field.

Consider the distance between the background and foreground and your subject. There will be more flexibility in depth of field with greater distance. It’s then easier to get more of your subject in focus without getting the background/foreground elements in focus.

Be sure to choose the most important part of the subject as the focal point. Use the manual focus mode on your camera for full control of this.

A good tip is to take many shots at different aperture settings. You’ll then be able to select the one that works best when reviewing your images.

A macro photo of a mushroom growing in a forest floor
The viewer’s eye is drawn to the part of the photo that is in focus.

5. Change Your Position and Perspective

It’s really important to experiment with shooting your subject from different angles. This means you’re going to have to get yourself into some unusual positions!

You’ll end up with much more interesting and sometimes surprising images. Moving yourself is necessary to get the right distance between your lens and the subject.

Shooting your subject from a different direction lets you change the mood of the image. Shoot up from a downwards position for a shot lit by the sky and a brighter background. Whilst shooting down can give a darker, moodier background.

At eye-level with your subject, you’ll really be able to immerse the viewer in the subject’s world.

Change your direction of shooting to alter the mood of an image

6. Get the Lighting Right

Do you know what the biggest lighting challenge in macro photography is? Well it’s you! Well you and your camera to be precise.

By getting close as you take your shot you risk blocking light and casting a shadow across your subject. To overcome this issue you’ll need to make sure you have a well-lit setting but avoid harsh light.

Harsh light, such as bright sunlight or un-diffused flash, can result in shadows.

Instead, make sure the lighting is bright but diffused. Achieve this by shooting at certain times of the day or in certain weather conditions.

Try shooting in the hour surrounding sunrise and sunset for a beautiful, warm glow in your images. This is the so-called golden hour.

Overcast skies provide diffused light that reduces harsh contrast in your images. So try to shoot on overcast days and avoid bright sunlight.

When shooting at such close distances, even the smallest breeze or movement can ruin your focus. To avoid this, you would generally want to have a faster shutter speed. If the natural light does not allow you to increase your shutter speed, you may need to use a macro ring light to do the job.

Shooting during golden hour gives a wonderful warm glow to photos

7. Take Your Time and Be Patient

When it comes to macro photography patience truly is a virtue.

To get the best photos you need to get to know your subject. Spend some time studying every aspect from every angle. You’ll then be able to successfully choose the best shot.

By taking your time you’ll notice details you won’t have seen with a quick point and shoot approach.

You’ll need an extra dose of patience when shooting outside. The slightest breath of wind will ruin a shot of a delicate subject.

With little control of the movement of living subjects, you’ll need to wait for the best shot. Taking your time also means you minimize the risk of damaging your subject.

A macro photograph of two lady bugs
Wait patiently to be rewarded with the best shots

8. Think About Composition

It’s easy to overlook composition when in awe of macro details. But good composition is essential for the perfect shot.

The rule of thirds is no less important in macro photography than in other photographic styles. Imagine your shot divided into 9 equal parts. Then be sure to line up key parts of the image along a dividing line or at the line intersection points.

Follow the rule of thirds for a well-balanced shot. The viewer interacts more naturally with this composition than a subject placed in the center.

When it comes to framing your subject you have a couple of options. With a narrow depth-of-field a blurred background makes a great frame. You can also try filling the frame with the subject to create even more detailed images.

Providing visual interest is important in macro photography as often a lot of your shot is selectively blurred. Diagonal lines work well for this. They give a nice lead for the viewer’s eye. Try compositions that involve in-focus subjects going from corner to corner in your image.

All is not lost if when reviewing your images you find the composition isn’t quite right. Use cropping tools in post-processing to fine-tune your image.

A macro photography of spoon with blueberries in it.
Using the rule of-thirds to compose this shot creates a striking image

9. Don’t Forget the Background

The area that surrounds your main subject is of huge importance in producing a great photo. This background area is known as negative space.

The colours and texture in negative space can be the difference between a good and a bad photo. A good background compliments the subject. A bad background choice distracts the viewer from the subject.

Think about color, texture, and light. Try to avoid including things that will distract from the main subject. These will compete with the subject for the viewer’s attention.

When photographing static subjects you’ll have plenty of time to compose the background. Move the subject and yourself to achieve the best set up.

A shallow depth-of-field and a plain background will help your subject to really pop in the shot.

In this shot the background compliments the droplet reflections perfectly

10. Get the Subject Right

Finally, remember not all subjects will make a good macro photograph. Good subjects are patterns, textures, flowers, insects, droplets, food, and close-up portrait detail such as eyes.

It’s best to avoid moving subjects or subjects that are unlikely to stay still.

As you fine-tune your macro photography skills try working with inanimate subjects. Working indoors is also a good idea to avoid movement induced by wind.

A macro image of water droplets on blueberries
Look all around you for interesting subjects for your macro photography

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macro photography article cover image

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About the author

Cat Cliffe

Photography goes side-by-side with my love of spending time outdoors. So you'll see a theme in my photos. I particularly enjoy testing the limits of mobile photography and getting creative with mobile editing apps. If you're curious to see the results check out my Instagram account @bodneyboo

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