A Foolproof Plan for Amazing Macro Photos

‘Macro Photos’ By Guest Writer Jaymes Dempsey

Do you want to do some incredible macro photography, but you just don’t know where to start?

You’re not alone. Capturing stunning macro photos can be a struggle.

But here’s the thing:

It doesn’t have to be. Because there are a few basic steps you can use–which will practically guarantee you a stunning macro shot.

And in this article, I’ll share those steps with you. You’ll come away with the ability to capture amazing macro photos consistently.

Let’s dive right in.

Copyright Jaymes Dempsey flower photography

Step 1:

Find the best macro type lens you have

Copyright Jaymes Dempsey  flower photography

People often say that you need lots of equipment to capture gorgeous macro photos. A tripod, a flash, maybe a strobe light, maybe a focusing rail…fortunately, this is completely false.

You only need two things to do macro photography: a camera and a lens. The camera that you use is basically irrelevant. The lens is a bit more important.

Now, professional macro photographers generally use a dedicated macro lens. These allow you to focus extremely close to your subject–sometimes millimetres away.

(If you want to know which macro lenses are best, check out my review of the best Nikon macro lenses and the best Canon macro lenses).

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But while a dedicated macro lens is helpful, it’s definitely not a requirement. Instead, simply find the lens of yours that allows you to focus up close. (If you’re not sure which of your lenses focuses closest, test out each one.)

Once you’ve selected a lens, then switch it to manual focus. This will allow you to capture the best photo while in the field because you’ll be able to absolutely nail focus.

Copyright Jaymes Dempsey  photography

Step 2:

Go out shooting when the light is perfect

Macro photography is all about the light. Good light will make your macro photos incredible. Bad light will absolutely ruin them.

What counts as good light? Well…

There are two amazing lighting scenarios for the macro photographer.

First, the golden hours offer some stunning light. The golden hours are the two hours after sunrise and the two hours before sunset.

During the golden hours, the light is unbelievably warm and wonderful. Especially if you wait until the moments before the sun sets.

Copyright Jaymes Dempsey macro photography

It’s tough to go wrong with the golden hours. And the sun allows you to capture some creative macro effects, like this:

Copyright Jaymes Dempsey macro photography

Bottom line? You should shoot either during the golden hours or on a cloudy day. This will guarantee some wonderful colours.

The other great lighting scenario is cloudy light

No, it’s not quite as dramatic as golden hour light. But cloudy light has a magic of its own.

The clouds diffuse the sunlight, which helps to make colours appear deeper and more saturated.

That’s why cloudy light is especially great for macro flower photography. The soft light enhances the colours of the flowers, resulting in photos like this:

Copyright Jaymes Dempsey macro photography

You can also capture some gorgeous black and white macro photography using golden light

Copyright Jaymes Dempsey macro photography

Step 3:

Choose the perfect macro subject and background

flower photography red yellow
flower photography red yellow Macro photos

You see, backgrounds are one of the most underappreciated aspects of good macro photography.

The best backgrounds enhance the subject so that the subject stands out.

What are the worst backgrounds?

The ones that take away from the subject. They distract the viewer.

That’s why I suggest you find a background that is very smooth.

The more uniform, the better.

If you have good subject-background separation (that is, the background is far from your subject), then you can use a wide aperture (in the f/2.8 to f/4 range) to blur the background.

Do this whenever possible.

If you can keep the number of colours in the background to a minimum, do it.

Simple is best.

Once you’ve gone out to shoot, you have to decide on a subject.

Now, the subject should be the centre of attention. The focal point of your photo.

Which means you have to choose carefully.

I recommend you choose a simple subject–and one that stands out.

For instance, flowers are an excellent macro photography subject.

The bright colours ensure that they’re a great focal point.

I also recommend you choose a subject that’s in good shape: clean, undamaged, and all-around stunning.

Forgetting about this is a common macro mistake; a dirty or damaged subject can easily ruin a great photo.

And once you’ve chosen a subject, you should carefully choose a background.

flower photography red yellow

Step 4:

Focus on your subject and choose the best composition

Once you’ve chosen a beautiful subject and the perfect background, you’re almost there.

But there’s still a couple more things to take care of.

First, you need to carefully focus on your subject. Remember how I said to switch your lens to manual focus? Now’s the time to put it to use.

Manual focus allows you to turn the focus ring on your lens. Do this and spin the focus ring so that your lens focuses as close as possible. Get close to your subject. Move until the subject is in perfect focus.

Then pay attention to your composition (composition the position of your main subject in the frame).

It’s generally not a good idea to put your subject straight down the middle of the photo. Instead, try to put it off to the side.


purple pink flower macro photography
purple pink flower macro photography Macro photos

One of my favourite compositions uses the diagonal line, like this.

The goal is to move the viewer’s eye through the frame.

You just place the most prominent line so that it moves diagonally across the frame.

I like to add some negative space (that is, empty space) around my subject, to help it breathe.

Regardless, make sure you choose your composition deliberately.

Don’t just settle for a snapshot.

Instead, take a deep breath, and place your subject within the frame.

The closer you get, the better; high magnifications can make for some beautiful abstract macro photos

Step 5:

Pick the perfect settings and shoot!

Now, you can get great shots using a number of different camera settings

But here’s what I like to do:

First, I choose a low ISO, usually either 200 or 250. This minimizes the amount of noise (AKA grain) in the photo.

Second, I choose a wide aperture. Generally either f/2.8 or f/3.2. This lets lots of light into the camera, giving me a brighter exposure. Plus, it creates an artistic, shallow depth of field effect.

flower photography daisy white green yellow

Third, I choose the fastest shutter speed I can afford. At macro magnifications, it’s easy to ruin pictures with camera shake unless you take careful steps to keep your images sharp. And using a fast shutter speed is one of those steps!

And then, once you’ve dialled in your settings…take your shot! If you’ve followed all these steps, it’ll look amazing!

flower photography daisy white green yellow Macro photos

Macro Photos: Next steps

Hopefully, doing stunning macro photography seems a lot less difficult and a lot more achievable.

Just follow the steps that I’ve outlined above, and you’ll do just fine.

The only thing left to do? Get out and shoot!

Do you have an interesting photography discussion or guide?

Would you like to share it with over 90,000 aspiring photography students?

Then get in touch with iPhotography and send us your article and we’ll publish it.

About the Author:

Jaymes Dempsey is a macro photographer and nature photographer from Ann Arbor, Michigan.

To see more of his work, check out his website or his blog.

If you’re interested in reading more about macro photos, check out his website and examples of macro photography!

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