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The Vibrant World of Macro Photography

Staying creative with your photography is a matter of seeing what others do not see. But there is a world out there which is so small that we pass it by without noticing it, and yet so vast that it can provide us with photography subjects from now until eternity.

I am speaking of the world of macro photography. Like other photography niches, macro photography has its own equipment and techniques. But as you will see in this article, the basics remain the same. Composition, lighting, and color are what separate spectacular macro photography from the everyday.

Lens Equipment

As you might guess, the most basic requirement is a lens system which can get you very close to the subjects of the macro world. Magnification can only get you so far. For example, a 600mm telephoto can magnify a subject a great deal, but it is not built to focus on a subject an inch or less from the lens.

This is where a macro lens comes in. As a Canon shooter, I regularly use the Canon 100mm macro. I especially like it because it doubles as an excellent portrait lens. Canon has several macro options, as does Nikon. They allow the photographer to get the lens very close to a subject while still keeping the subject in sharp focus.

An alternative method is to employ the use of extension tubes. Extension tubes allow a standard lens to focus much closer than it otherwise could. You lose some light when using extension tubes, but that is a small price to pay for the world of opportunity they open for you. You can combine extension tubes with your macro lens and get even closer to a subject while staying in sharp focus.

Lighting Equipment

Photographing very small subjects introduces complex lighting challenges. A lady bug hiding inside a flower is probably shielded from the sun. The sunlit portions of the flower and the interior portions may represent several stops of lighting differential.

Macro photographers often times rely on a ring light to properly light their small subjects. Other choices include diffused flash. Reflectors are also important for evening out the light.

A much cheaper methodology, and arguably more effective, is to create a scrim. By placing translucent paper over and around your subject, an even and pleasing light is created. The paper has the added benefit of blocking your subject from the wind so that it stays steady in your field of focus. Using scrims and reflectors require a second set of hands, so make sure you have a friend or family member help you out.

Macro Photography Technique

The most challenging aspect of macro photography is dealing with the extreme shallow depth of field. Unless you are deliberately attempting to reduce your depth of field for artistic reasons, you want to keep the plane of your lens parallel to the surface of your subject.

This is easier said than done, as just a millimeter or two of angle differential will make a big difference with your depth of field. If your subject is alive and moving (for instance a colorful spider or lady bug), the degree of difficultly is magnified.

Manual focus is a must. Because of the very shallow depth of field, where you choose your focus point will make all the difference. You don’t want auto focus choosing your focal point for you. Where to choose your focal point is an artistic decision. But a good rule of thumb is to choose the eyes of live subjects, the internal features of flowers, etc.

Above all, macro photography requires patience. Especially when dealing with moving subjects, it is easy to get frustrated and move on to a different subject. Bugs have a nasty tendency to move just before we press the shutter. Flowers in perfect composition suddenly catch a slight breeze, destroying our shot. Stay calm, keep your lens parallel to the subject, keep your shot composed and in a good soft light, and be ready to fire the shutter.

Color and Composition

The importance of color and composition to successful macro photography is the same as in any realm of photography. Always be on the lookout for colorful subjects and backgrounds, and visualize potential color combinations.

For example, you might combine wild growing red raspberries against a soft green background of leaves and grass. Multicolored flowers and plants open up a world of possible color combinations.

A great example is the Nemodus fly macro. The fly is in sharp focus, and the focal point is properly placed on the eyes. However what makes the shot spectacular is the beautiful background flower, the perfect even light, and the composition.

The trick to great macro photography is to go beyond the subject, and utilize vibrant scenery to compliment the subject.


Macro photography is a great antidote to creativity blocks. It forces us to recognize a tiny world which we do not notice in everyday life. As such, the images we produce in the macro world are often never seen by people in their everyday lives. When we give our viewers a view of a world they have never seen before, we captivate and engage them. As artists, what more can we ask for?

Daniel Padavona is the founder of Warmpicture, which licenses royalty-free nature photos. When he is not taking his own photographs, you can find Daniel online helping others improve their own photography.


Bogdan is the founder of Top Design Magazine. You can find him in Bucharest-Romania so next time you want to drink a beer there and talk about web and stuff, give him a message.