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How to Capture Stunning Macro Photos With Your Phone

Amazing macro photos with your mobile phone

Scrolling through Instagram or Flickr, you’ll often encounter incredible close-up photos of flowers, insects, or jewelry. And if you’re anything like me, you probably wonder: How can I get photos like those?

If you own a dedicated mirrorless camera or a DSLR, the basic answer is to invest in a macro lens or another close-focusing aid, then learn the craft of macro photography.

But if you don’t already own a camera, or you don’t want to invest in heavy, bulky equipment, you have another option:

You can delve into mobile macro photography, where you can create amazing close-up shots using the camera on your phone.

I’m completely serious: As long as you have a mobile phone, a simple accessory, and a bit of curiosity, you’re capable of capturing stunning mobile macro photos. In fact, once you understand some basic techniques, no one will be able to guess that you took the image with your smartphone rather than a $1000+ camera.

Therefore, in this article, I’ll go through some tips to help you get stunning macro photos using your mobile phone. I’ll also share some of my own mobile macro photography, so you know exactly what that camera in your pocket is capable of!

Pick the perfect smartphone macro lens

Smartphone macro photography
Without a phone macro lens, capturing an image like this would be impossible – I wouldn’t have enough magnification!

Some smartphones offer a macro mode, and it’ll get you reasonably close to your subjects. However, in my experience, the absolute best best way to get amazing macro photos with your phone is to invest in an inexpensive lens (or set of lenses) that clip over your phone camera.

When I first explored phone macro photography, I purchased the Olloclip 4-in-1 set, which included several clip-on lenses, including two macro models: a 10x and a 15x.

Mobile phone lens for macro photography
Phone macro lenses are tiny, so they’re easy to carry around. They’re also inexpensive (compared to a conventional macro lens, at least!).

I quickly discovered the 10x macro lens was my personal favorite since it suited most of my subjects. So I also got the Olloclip Macro 3-in-1 set, which has lenses offering 7x, 14x, and 21x magnification, as well as a couple of 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 might feel differently, so invest in a few different clip-on lenses for your smartphone, then experiment with different magnifications until you find one that you love!

Smartphone macro photography

Unfortunately, Olloclip has paused its operations, so finding these lenses has become tougher. If you specifically want to purchase Olloclip products, you can look around on Amazon or eBay – though there are plenty of other great phone macro lenses available on Amazon. (You also have to be mindful of phone compatibility; since Olloclip no longer makes its products, some of the more recent phone models might not work well with older Olloclip macro lenses.)

Anyway, 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. Some companies offer special cases with openings around the camera area for easy access, though certain mobile macro accessories will need to be used without a case.

You never know when you might come across a great macro subject, so I’d suggest taking your lenses with you (they fit in a pocket), especially when you go outside. This is a good habit to get into, and when you’re just starting out, it’ll let you 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, you can use your lens as an excuse to buy a bouquet of flowers!)

Smartphone macro photography

Get your lighting right

As with all forms of photography, lighting is critically important for taking good macro pictures. In other words, if you want good mobile macro shots, you must learn to use the light to your advantage!

I personally like to shoot in daylight – it’s generally bright and easy to work with – but the midday sun casts tricky shadows that can make it hard to create good images. With macro photography, you can sometimes just 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.

Smartphone macro photography
Lighting is key in mobile macro photography! Here, I’ve avoided high-contrast shadows by keeping this bee in the shade.

Another option is to shoot during the golden hours (sunrise and sunset); while the light tends to be less bright, and while you do sometimes need to be mindful of accidentally casting unwanted shadows over your subject, the soft light can complement flowers and insects beautifully.

One trick: If you shoot when the sun is low in the sky, you can catch bits of sunlight in the background of your images. When you get close to your subject using a macro lens, the background 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:

Smartphone macro photography
These flowers looked nice on their own – but thanks to some beautiful background light, my phone camera managed to create something spectacular!

Carefully focus and frame your macro shots

With macro photos, there are endless ways to frame your subject, but you will have a very limited depth of field to work with (i.e., the area of the photo that will remain in focus).

I generally want the subject to remain (mostly) in focus, but the extent of the depth of field depends on the lens magnification. The larger the magnification, the smaller the area of exact focus in your pictures. For many beginners, this can be frustrating – but in my opinion, it often leads to surprisingly beautiful photos that you might not expect to get from just your mobile phone.

Smartphone macro photography
This sunflower isn’t completely in focus – notice the blurry petals in the foreground and background – but I like the effect!

Additionally, smartphone macro lenses generally restrict you to close-up focusing. One consequence is that your intended subject can be too large to capture in its entirety, even with a lower-magnification macro lens (e.g., the 7x Olloclip).

You may have to focus on a part of the subject – the center of the flower or a few petals, for instance. That’s 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.

Smartphone macro photography
When doing macro photography, you’re not stuck to specific angles. The sky is the limit!

Stay still while photographing

When taking macro photos, movement is your enemy. Even slight movement while shooting will result in blurriness. You will need to remain very still, and you’ll also need to do everything you can to keep your subject from moving.

A tripod for your phone can help, but it 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 (e.g., when shooting flowers), but other times you can’t (e.g., when shooting insects). 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. It’s how I get most of my insect photos: by being patient, and by taking many shots. I weed out the blurry photos later.

Smartphone macro photography

Enhance your images with editing

Once you capture a nice macro photo on your phone, you can share it directly on social media. But a little bit of editing can go a long way! To get that polished look, I encourage you to spend a couple minutes post-processing your phone shot before sharing.

Since many people who use their phones for macro photography share them on Instagram, I’ll focus on the Instagram app in my discussion.

1. You don’t need to use Instagram’s filters to make great macro photos

Instagram’s filters are often too heavy-handed for my tastes; while they might look cool at first, the result is rarely very natural.

So instead of using filters, try adjusting the color or warmth of your image just slightly to make your photos look more like real life.

2. Turn up the Lux

Smartphone macro photography

This is the little wand icon at the top of the screen when you are on the Filter page in the Instagram app. It allows you to access the Lux slider, and I recommend you try boosting it by 50 or even 100!

The effect isn’t good for everything, but it’ll increase the intensity of your macro shots, which I often like.

This makes the photo a little less washed out, which can help if you’re taking photos on a very bright day. I’ve used the effect on my sample image above to create this result:

Smartphone macro photography

Note how my slight adjustment gave the petals greater three-dimensionality!

3. Add a little sharpening

In the Instagram app, once you select a photo to post, you can choose Edit>Sharpen.

This will bring up the handy Sharpen slider, which you can use to bring out a bit more detail from your macro photos. For the image below, I boosted the Sharpen slider, which helped the center of the flower pop a little more:

Smartphone macro photography

Mobile macro photography: final words

Capturing macro photos doesn’t have to be difficult. With a smartphone and a clip-on lens, you can get amazing results – as I hope this article proved!

Do you have any tips for getting good macro shots with a mobile phone? Leave your thoughts in the comments below! I’d also love to see your smartphone macro shots, so feel free to post those, too!

Smartphone macro photography

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Beth Ringsmuth Stolpman
Beth Ringsmuth Stolpman

is a library administrator in Minnesota who loves to sing and go on macro walks around a lake in her neighborhood. She enjoys sharing her photography on Instagram.

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