If you’ve ever scrolled through Instagram or Flickr and seen an incredible close-up photograph of a flower, insect, or even jewelry, you may have wondered how you can get similar photos, especially if you don’t have a camera. Thankfully, you don’t have to buy a DSLR or expensive macro lens to get these kinds of shots. All you need is a mobile phone, a simple accessory, and a bit of curiosity. In this article, I’ll go through some tips to help you get stunning macro photos using your mobile phone.
While some phones have a macro mode, the best way to get amazing macro photos with your phone is to invest in an inexpensive lens (or set of lenses) that work specifically with your device. I have an iPhone 5s and initially purchased the Olloclip 4-in-1 set that includes lenses for wide-angle, fisheye, macro 10x, and macro 15x.
I quickly discovered the 10x was my personal favorite since it best suited most of my subjects. So I also got the Olloclip Macro 3-in-1 that has lenses for 7x, 14x, and 21x, as well as a couple special hoods that diffuse the lighting and make getting a good shot a bit easier. Over time, I’ve discovered that the 7x lens is my go-to for nearly all of my macro photos since it can capture a large enough area while still getting lots of detail. You can experiment and use any of these magnifications to get the types of shots you are not able to take with your phone camera alone.
There are definitely other brands and magnifications available, but make sure that the lens you buy fits with your phone and won’t get in the way of taking photos. Note that most lenses slip over your phone so you cannot typically use them with a phone case. Olloclip has special cases with openings at the camera area for easy access, or you can go without a case.
You never know when you might come across something that will make for a good macro photo. Initially, I suggest taking your lenses with you (they fit in a pocket), especially when you go outside so that you can experiment with different subjects. A garden or another area with flowers or insects is a great place to try out your new lens. Or if it’s winter, use your lens as an excuse to buy a bouquet of flowers.
As with all photography, lighting is critically important for taking good macro pictures. Daylight is probably the best and easiest to work with, but bright sunlight can make for tricky shadows. With macro photography, sometimes you can simply move your subject to decrease shadows by gently bending a flower stem or turning a leaf toward you.
You can also use your body to block bright sunlight or put a hand over your subject to reduce glare. You can play around with sunrise and sunset, and catch lighting in the background of your images. With macro lenses, the light will often turn into a lovely addition to your photos in the form of bokeh, or out-of-focus areas that make your pictures appear to glow.
Note: you can also add light. Read: How to Create Gorgeous Flower Images using a Flashlight and a Reflector
Focus and framing
With macro photos, there are endless ways to frame your subject, but you will be limited in the depth of field or the area of the photo that will remain in focus. You want the subject to remain (mostly) in focus, depending on your magnification. The larger the magnification, the smaller the area of exact focus in your pictures. This can lead to surprisingly beautiful photos which you might not expect to get from just your mobile phone.
Sometimes your intended subject will be too large to fully capture, even with the smaller magnification (like the 7x lens), so you may have to focus on only a part of the subject like the center of the flower, or a few petals. This is the fun part of macro photography! You can shoot the subject from directly above, from the side, or even from below. Experiment with different angles for the same subject.
When taking macro photos, any movement is your enemy. Even slight movement while shooting will result in blurriness. You will need to remain very still, and do everything you can to keep your subject from moving. A tripod for your phone can help but isn’t necessary. Just find a position that’s comfortable, stay as still as possible, and steady your phone with two hands.
Sometimes, like on a breezy day, it’s impossible to keep your subject in one place. You can sometimes hold your subject still (as with a flower), but other times you can’t, as with shooting insect photos. One helpful tip for these situations is to use the burst mode on your phone’s camera which takes many shots in rapid succession. On an iPhone, you can hold down the camera button on the side of the phone or on-screen to shoot multiple photos very quickly. Android phones usually have a way to do this, too. If you don’t have built-in burst most, just take many photos while staying as still as possible. This is how I get most of my insect photos, patience and taking many shots. It’s easy to weed out the blurry photos later.
Editing – especially for Instagram users
Since many people who use their mobile phones for photography also use Instagram to share them, here are a couple extra tips for Instagram users.
1. You don’t need to use Instagram’s filters to make great photos.
Adjusting color or warmth slightly can make your photos look more like real life. In the image below, the only adjustment has been to crop the image.
2. Turn up the Lux
This is the little light/dark option at the top of the screen when you are on the Filter or Edit pages in the Instagram app. Using this editing trick (try moving it to the right to 50 or even 100), you increase the intensity of your images. This makes the photo a little less washed out, which can help if you’re taking photos on a very bright day. In the image below, this is turned up slightly and adds more depth to the petals.
3. Sharpen your macro photos
Using Instagram’s own built-in sharpen edit, you can bring a bit more detail out of your macro photos. In the image below, this has been adjusted and brings out the detail in the center of the photo.
Conclusion – your turn
Do you have any tips for getting good macro shots with a mobile phone, or with other gear that doesn’t cost a lot of money? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and feel free to share your own macro shots, too. I’d love to see your photos.