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5 Tips for Stunning Macro Photography

Do you want to capture gorgeous macro photography?

Macro photography might feel like a struggle. But it doesn’t have to be. By using a few simple tricks you can capture amazing macro photos consistently.

5 Tips for Stunning Macro Photography

So if you’re interested in taking your macro images to the next level, follow these five tips.

1. Simplify your macro composition’s subjects and colors

All great macro photos have a carefully chosen composition. That is, the elements in the photos have been arranged in the most beautiful way possible.

5 Tips for Stunning Macro Photography

So if you want to capture amazing macro photography, you need to carefully choose your compositions, too.

And the number one rule of composition?

Simplify, simplify, simplify.

Start by choosing a subject for your photo. Something that stands out – ideally the thing that initially drew you to the scene.

5 Tips for Stunning Macro Photography

And once you’ve found your subject, hit your viewer over the head with it. Remove any distractions from the scene. If there are stray twigs in the background, remove them. If there’s something unpleasant in the foreground, change your angle.

The goal is to isolate your subject in every way possible. You want the viewer to know exactly what they’re supposed to look at.

But as well as removing all the physical distractions, you should also remove all the distracting colors.

5 Tips for Stunning Macro Photography

A macro photo should have three colors or fewer – four if you’re really struggling. But no more than that.

Because too many colors cause chaos.

And in macro photography you absolutely need to avoid chaos.

You need to simplify.

2. Increase the subject-to-background distance for beautiful macro backgrounds

Now you understand the importance of simplifying. But it’s not just the subject of the photo you need to simplify. You also need to simplify the background.

5 Tips for Stunning Macro Photography

The best macro photography backgrounds are clean, simple and uniform. They don’t take away from the subject. Instead, they complement the subject and help it stand out.

But how do you create such a simple, clean background?

One way is to increase the distance between the subject and the background, and use a very wide aperture (something in the f/2.8 to f/4 range).

Why? Because the farther the subject is from the background, the greater the aperture needed to keep everything in focus. And so at very wide apertures the whole background becomes  wonderfully blurry.

This background blur is called bokeh. And macro photographers love it because it helps the subject to stand out.

5 Tips for Stunning Macro Photography

Just remember that when it comes to macro photography backgrounds, blurrier is almost always better.

So use a wide aperture, and increase the subject to background distance.

You’ll get far better shots that way.

3. Focus manually for the best macro photography detail

Do you ever struggle to nail the focus while doing macro photography?

It’s a common problem. Since you’re working at such high magnifications, the autofocus on your lens will undoubtedly struggle. And it’ll often miss your point of focus entirely.

5 Tips for Stunning Macro Photography

Fortunately, there’s a simple workaround for this problem: manual focus.

Manual focus lets you change the point of focus using the ring on the lens. Twist the lens ring and the focus moves, allowing you to focus close, far away, then close again without using the lens’s autofocus.

This is extremely useful for macro photography. Even at high magnifications, you’ll be able to consistently nail the focus.

As long as you switch over to manual focus, of course.

5 Tips for Stunning Macro Photography

A couple of tips:

  • Turn the manual focus ring gently. You don’t want to go at it aggressively. Instead, move smoothly.
  • If you’re struggling to lock focus on your subject, try using autofocus to get you in the general area. Then fine tune the focus with manual.

Manual focus may take a bit of practice to master. But it’ll be worth it in the end.

4. Shoot into the sun for amazing background bokeh

Now we’ve reached the fun part of this article: How to generate gorgeous background bokeh.

As I mentioned earlier, bokeh refers to a beautiful blurry background.

5 Tips for Stunning Macro Photography

And here’s the thing: If you can create amazing bokeh in your macro photos you’re practically guaranteed a great shot, because it will make your shot stand out from the crowd.

But how do you capture stunning bokeh?

Here’s one simple trick you can use: shoot into the sun.

5 Tips for Stunning Macro Photography

First, wait until the sun is low in the sky (early morning or late afternoon).

Next, find a subject and place that subject between you and the sun. Crouch down low so the sun is behind your subject.

Now, move around until you find an area where the sun is broken up by something – tree branches, leaves, etc. You want the sun to shine through these tree branches, hit your subject, and then hit you.

Why is this so important?

Well, broken sunlight ultimately creates the best bokeh. Those smaller pinpricks of sunlight produce amazing backgrounds.

5 Tips for Stunning Macro Photography

Note: You don’t want the full sun in your frame. Otherwise the sky will be far too bright and your picture will lack serious detail. Instead, block the sunlight with your subject. If you like, let the sun peek out from behind. (In fact, this can result in some especially interesting effects.)

Bottom line?

If you can create amazing bokeh, your macro photography will be stunning. So create it whenever possible.

5. Find shade-sun combinations for gorgeous colors

Here’s a final macro photography tip for you (and one of my favorites).

If you want to create wonderful, pastel-like colors in your macro photos, use shade-sun combinations.

5 Tips for Stunning Macro Photography

When the sun is low in the sky, go out looking for subjects. Shadows will be long, so you shouldn’t have any problem finding a nice subject in the shade.

Get ready to photograph that subject. But before you actually take the shot, carefully position yourself so the background of the shot is sun-drenched.

This works amazingly well, because the sunny background will be soft and golden. And golden light is amazing for bokeh.

You’ll capture photos like this:

5 Tips for Stunning Macro Photography

And this:

5 Tips for Stunning Macro Photography

With a bit of patience, you should be able to find many great backgrounds by using this trick.

So don’t forget to try it.

Stunning macro photography: next steps

Capturing amazing macro photos doesn’t have to be hard. You just have to know a few tricks.

For instance, you have to simplify your compositions.

5 Tips for Stunning Macro Photography

You have to create beautiful backgrounds.

And you have to focus manually.

If you can do that, your macro photos will be amazing in no time at all.

We’d love you to go out and try these techniques, and share your macro photos with us in the comments below.

5 Tips for Stunning Macro Photography

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Jaymes Dempsey
Jaymes Dempsey

is the Managing Editor of Digital Photography School, as well as a macro and nature photographer from Ann Arbor, Michigan. To learn how to take stunning nature photos, check out his free eBook, Mastering Nature Photography: 7 Secrets For Incredible Nature Photos! And to see more of Jaymes’s work check out his website and his blog.

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