Macro Photography Tips for Beginners

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Macro photography provides a great extension to my landscape photography. It allows me to slow down, immerse myself in the environment that I am shooting, and notice all the wonderful details in the world around me. However, macro lenses are not as easy to use as they appear. It’s best to make sure that you know their limitations and quirks before trying to use them on location. Additionally, an outdoor macro photographer faces several challenges while trying to photograph small subjects. To capture successful macro photographs, you need to overcome several challenges.

Finding the Right Subject

While this may sound like it is not a challenge, finding the right subject requires you to slow down and really get close to your subject. Large macro subjects like a Hawaiian gecko may be easy to spot, but finding them can be challenge. If you know ahead of time the subject you want to photograph, a bit of research goes a long way towards trying to finding them. Even if you do find them, they may not be in an ideal location to photograph.

  • Macro Photography Example of Hawaiian Gecko

    Macro Photography in Big Island, Hawaii, USA

  • Macro photography example of tiny salt crystals in Death Valley National Park.

    Close up Photography of tiny salt crystals, Death Valley, California

Smaller subjects, like these salt crystals from Death Valley, require you to be really close to your subject to spot them. You may even have to look through your macro lens to see a good macro subject. So, if you want to find a good macro subject, I highly recommend that you slow down and immerse yourself in local environment.

Dealing with the Weather

Managing wind is one of the most common challenges to overcome when shooting any subject that is not completely static (such as flowers, leaves, and stems). When possible, we use a fast shutter speed to capture sharp photos of the wind-blown subject. However, in most cases this is not as straightforward as it sounds. We must routinely decide on the right trade-off between DOF (aperture), shutter speed, ISO, and the right filters.

Dealing with wind while photographing tiny water droplets on spider web, Big Island, Hawaii

Dealing with wind while photographing tiny water droplets on spider web, Big Island, Hawaii

Besides wind, we have to deal with harsh, uneven light and rain at times. We combine filters, diffusers, and reflectors with creative workflow to overcome weather-related challenges when we are shooting on location.

Focusing on Moving Subject

If you find that you are struggling to focus on moving macro subjects like this tiny hermit crab, you are not alone. The focus mechanism on the macro lenses is very slow (specially if you are working at the edge of its near focusing limit). Additionally, it is very difficult to re-frame your photos by moving your macro lenses because even the smallest lens movements make your subject fall out of the frame.

  • Macro Photography example of a moving subject.

    Pre-focus to capture Hermit Crab, Maui, Hawaii

  • High speed macro photography example of a moving subject.

    High shutter speed for fast moving subject, Fisherman Bay, Australia

We employ a fast shutter speed with creative focusing workflow to capture tiny subjects like these hermit crabs in the photo above. For this particular shot, Jay pre-focused on the a spot near the crab and waited for the hermit crab to emerge from its shell before taking the shot.

Developing Creative Workflow

Technical expertise alone is not enough to capture stunning photos with your macro lens. Even if you know how to use your camera and your macro lens outdoors, macro subjects may present problems that will require a creative workflow. When we took students out to photograph these gorgeous sea anemones at low tide during our 2013 Australia Workshop, we found that almost every single one of these sea anemones was closed.

  • Underwater Macro Photography Example of a Sea Anemone in Australia

    Sea Anemone, Anna Bay, Australia

  • Underwater Macro Photography Example of a Sea Anemone in Australia

    Opened by simulating an incoming tide, Sea Anemone, Anna Bay, Australia

To capture these sea anemones, Jay filled a water bottle with fresh sea water and poured the water near the sea anemones. This created bubbles to simulate an incoming tide. Within a few minutes, he was able to coax the sea anemone to open up so that the students could capture these gorgeous shots.

This is exactly the kind of information you will find in our upcoming Macro Lenses Course. We provide an in-depth look at how we use our macro lenses and we teach you to overcome the big challenges of shooting small subjects with your macro lens. You will be able to see how we work in the field with step-by-step case studies. We also explore how to create stunning photos using a macro lens using our straight-forward, non-technical teaching style.

About Author Jay Patel

I could startoff like this – “Seeds of Jay Patel’s appreciation for beautiful places were planted early in his childhood….” but it would get boring really fast. I will just sum it up and say that I am a Landscape and Wilderness Photographer who loves to capture dramatic light. My photographs have been published in various magazines, calendars and advertising materials throughout the world.
Patience is a virtue...unless you are chasing your dreams