Drew Wolford
Drew Wolford

How to Shoot Better Macro Photography

Quick Info

Read along to learn some of my tips & tricks for shooting macro photography.
Never heard of macro photography? Don’t worry, I will explain!

Macro photography not really your cup of tea? It’s all good, check out my article on the best hikes for landscape photographers in Virginia. Here’s the link: https://wolfordmedia.com/besthikes/

For those who want to jump around quickly, here is a table of contents:

Table of Contents

What is Macro Photography?

Macro photography is the art of photographing small objects and essentially making them look larger than in real life. I could go on about reproduction ratios and other technical things, but I don’t want to put you to sleep… If you are interested in learning more about the technical details of macro photography here is a great source: 

Unknown beetle species in Peruvian Amazon

Macro vs Micro Photography: are they same?

You may have heard people use macro and micro photography interchangeably, but is that technically correct?
Well, sort of, but not really. Micro photography is the process of taking photographs and shrinking them down (aka microfilm). Some confusion might stem from the train of thought that if you’re photographing micro sized objects it should be called micro photography. Adding to the confusion, Nikon refers to their “macro” lens series as “micro lens,” but this is only because they are a weird and ancient company that nobody uses anymore (I’m just kidding, they just do this because of their history in making microform).

Have I mentioned that I am a biologist and like to take photos of spiders and other creepy crawlers? If this is news to you, you might want to scroll down past the next paragraph… 🙂 

Lasiodora parahybana moult

Photomicrography... What the heck is that?

Photomicrography sounds kinda crazy but it’s very simple, it’s taking a photo through a microscope! If you can’t tell what you’re looking at, it’s the underside of a Lasiodora parahybana, the Brazilian salmon pink bird-eating tarantula! I used to have 20 of them for my research, talk about nightmares haha. Anyways, back on topic, the photo to the left was taken with an extremely high powered dissecting microscope that allows you to see your subject up to 50x magnification which allows for some pretty awesome photos! 

What You Need to Shoot Macro Photography

  1. Camera (SLR, DSLR, or Mirrorless will work)
  2. Macro lens (here are two great entry level lens – Canon shooters &  Nikon Aliens)
  3. A fun subject! I recommend things with 6+ legs
  4. Optional gear – price ranges from $15 to very expensive
    1. DIY Macro Lighting LED Ring 
    2. Wireless Flash Speedlite & Softbox for external flash
    3. Canon MR-14EX II Macro Ring Lite 

    4. Canon MT-26EX-RT Macro Twin Lite (the goat of flashes)

Tip #1 - Angles

This might sound obvious —
LOOK FOR GOOD ANGLES! Angles are everything when it come to macro photography (really just photography in general). Get low, like lay on the ground in the dirt. Yeah, don’t wear your white polo shirt if you plan on getting some crazy close ups of some jumping spiders! Typically shooting on a level plane, or even shooting up on your subject will create not only a more interesting photo, but also create an image with more depth.

A. 2016
B. 2017
C. 2018
D. 2019

Here are four images of jumping spiders. It’s pretty clear that D. is a much better photo than A. Why? There are multiple reasons, but the main one is the angle in D. is much better than A.! Image A. was shot directly down on the spider and this created a very flat image (I can’t be too hard on myself, this was one of my first photos).

The next thing you might be looking at is the lighting in A & B vs C & D, and that brings me to my next tip!

Tip #2 - Learn How to Use Light (natural & artificial)

Natural Light

The next factor that really ups your macro photography game is learning how to use natural light. A lot of manipulating natural lighting is using your skills we just talked about above, using your angles! Along with proper positioning, I will a lot of times try to shoot through something like leaves or branches. This not only helps bend the light around your subject, it also creates a more three-dimensional photograph. Before we move on and talk about artificial light, let’s play a game!

FUN GAME: Can you tell which photos below are naturally lit and which are artificial? Leave your answer in the comments section at the end of the article. 

Artificial Light

So you’re probably like okay, cool, got it, angles, shoot through stuff, I just want to use my new flash and blind some insects! Well that is definitely one way to go about it, but typically when using flash (this goes for any flash photography) the idea is to blend the light and make it look like you’re not using artificial light. Well how on earth do I do that? A lot of trial and error, finding the right settings and using diffusers

Tip #3 - Do NOT Shoot During Mid-day

While shooting during mid-day doesn’t always guarantee bad photos, it just doesn’t produce the best. The lighting from usually 12-4pm (variable – time of year & location) provides extremely harsh light because of the angle of the sun. AHHH — this dude is talking about angles again… by now you should know that with photography everything boils down to angles, it’s all math. So when is a good time to shoot? It depends, are you looking for cooler tones? If so, shoot in the morning right before the sun comes up during blue hour. If you want your photographs to feel warmer, shoot during golden hour.

Blue Hour (Morning) - Cool & Crisp Light
Mid-day - The Most Awful Nasty Light
Golden Hour - The Most Beautiful Light

Drew, these aren’t macro shots… you get the point I’m trying to make (and I really like these photos). 

Fun Trick: Focus Stacking

Okay, so you’ve found some good angles, the lighting is just right and now you’ve encountered one major issue.
Only part of your subject is in focus….
why is this happening? Your camera can only focus on one plane at a time. This means when you photograph a three-dimensional subject some of the image is going to be out of focus. So how do you get everything in focus? FOCUS STACKING! Basically you take multiple images at different focal lengths (neither you or the subject can move, that’s very important for a clean stack) and bring your shots into a post-processing software and blend them all together. If you’re going to try this, I highly recommend a camera with image stabilization or putting your camera on a tripod.

Want to learn more about focus stacking? Here are some great resources:

Last Piece of Advice: Shoot Often & Have fun!

Hopefully this week’s article was fun for everyone and didn’t scare too many people with all the creepy crawlers! If you enjoyed this and would like to see more content like this, leave a comment below. Also, don’t forget your answers from the game above!

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