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Five Common Macro Photography Mistakes and How to Fix Them

 macro leaf autumn - Common Macro Photography Mistakes

Macro photography requires a unique set of skills, but along with these skills comes a new set of mistakes to overcome. Fortunately, many of these macro photography mistakes are easily fixed.

In this article, I discuss five common mistakes made in macro photography. Then I give you the tools to correct them in the field, which will result in instantly better macro images.

1. Shooting in direct midday sunlight

The first mistake often made in macro photography is heading out when the sun is high in the sky (midday). While the light during this time is bright, it’s also very harsh and contrasty. Images taken at this time are difficult to expose well, and colors are far less saturated.

The angle of the sun causes additional problems. It beats directly down on your subject, causing the underside to become shadowy.

flower tulip - Common Macro Photography Mistakes
I try to avoid going out to shoot on sunny afternoons. This tulip image was taken on a cloudy spring day.

How can this problem be fixed?

You have a few options. First, try waiting until the evening, when the light is warm and soft. This will reduce contrast and light your subject more evenly. You could also cast a shadow on the subject yourself, or find a subject in the shade. This will reduce the extent to which your subject encounters the harsh and contrasty light.

flower tulip - Common Macro Photography Mistakes
These tulips were photographed in the evening, when the light was far less harsh.

Cloudy days are the third option. Then, the sky acts like a huge softbox, and the light is diffused across the subject.

flower abstract - Common Macro Photography Mistakes
Another photograph on a cloudy day: notice the soft, delicate feeling and more saturated colors.

If you do decide to go out in midday, you might consider bringing a flash or a reflector to add some punch to your images and reduce midday shadows. While this won’t negate the problems described above, it will reduce them.

2. Shooting dying or dirty subjects

A second common mistake made in macro photography is shooting subjects that are either dying or dirty.

This isn’t really a problem with insect photography, but when photographing flowers, the condition of your subject is something to watch out for. If the edges of a flower are turning brown, I generally wouldn’t photograph it. Same thing if the center has some fraying stamens.

flower dahlia abstract - Common Macro Photography Mistakes
I searched through a number of dahlias until I found one in peak condition.

Flowers can also become dirty, especially if they are low to the ground. A few small pieces of dirt isn’t much to be worried aboutit’s nothing that cloning can’t take care ofbut too much dirt, and it becomes difficult to get a strong image.

How can this problem be fixed?

The first method just involves inspecting your subject carefully before shooting. If the flower is dying or dirty, find a different flower. You might also consider wiping away small pieces of dirt with your finger or shirtsleeve.

flower rose - Common Macro Photography Mistakes
Checking the center of flowers is important; it’s easy to miss anthers that are on their way out. Fortunately, this rose allowed for a few images.

The second method is more difficult and involves hiding the dying parts of the flower through creative compositions. For instance, you can ensure that the wrinkled parts of petals are out of focus, or obscured by another part of the flower.

flower red abstract - Common Macro Photography Mistakes
The outside of this flower was a bit worn, so I chose to emphasize the stamens instead.

3. Centering the subject

This is a common mistake in all types of photography – placing your subject in the dead center of the frame.

While this might make sense from a visual perspective, it generally results in an uncomfortable, less-than-desirable image. The composition feels imbalanced or boring.

How can this problem be fixed?

flower photography macro aster - Common Macro Photography Mistakes
Placing this flower off center allowed for a slightly stronger composition.

Instead of placing the subject in the center of the image, place it off to one side. Try using the rule of thirds. Additionally, you might add some dynamism to the composition by tilting your camera and placing the flower along a diagonal line. This will ensure a much more dynamic image that holds the viewer’s eye.

4. Using busy backgrounds and foregrounds

A fourth macro photography mistake often made is using foregrounds and (especially) backgrounds that are messy.

For example, messy backgrounds might have splotches of colors, might be crammed with slightly out-of-focus elements, or have sudden transitions from light to dark or dark to light. Messy foregrounds, on the other hand, consist of branches, twigs, or other flowers that distract the viewer and get in the way of the main subject.

flower bleeding heart - Common Macro Photography Mistakes
While this bleeding heart photograph may seem chaotic, it’s not particularly messythere is a clear point of focus (the flower) that is not dominated by the background.

How can this problem be fixed?

I write about this a lot, but that’s because it’s such a common (and easily rectified) problem. It involves a bit of measured consideration before shooting. Simply make sure there are no distracting foreground or background elements. As discussed above, these include branches, twigs, or sticks. It also might simply be contrasting colors or dark spots.

flower aster silhouette - Common Macro Photography Mistakes
Notice the smooth, uniform background in this flower image.

5. Capturing a subject as the subject

This final macro photography mistake is a bit less straightforward: capturing a subject as that subject.

What do I mean by this? In truth, it’s not all that complicated. Basically, macro photographers often see an interesting subject and attempt to photograph that subject efficiently. The problem is that the subject then lacks interest. It feels like it’s part of a snapshot when you want it to feel like a deliberate photograph.

abstract dew drop - Common Macro Photography Mistakes

How can this problem be fixed?

If you photograph a flower, don’t try to just capture it as a flower. Look for interesting aspects of the subject. What is it that made you want to photograph it in the first place?

Try to go beyond that basic “it’s a flower” essence, and communicate something about the flower. Does it have a photogenic center? Colorful petals? A beautiful shape? Emphasize this through your photography.

flower photography macro dahlia - Common Macro Photography Mistakes
I chose to get extremely close to this dahlia in order to emphasize the pattern of its petals.


I have discussed five common macro photography mistakes, as well as a number of simple ways to fix them. By following these guidelines, you should be able to enhance your macro photography and ensure consistently better images.

Know any mistakes that I missed? Let me know in the comments!

flower photography macro dandelion - Common Macro Photography Mistakes

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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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