1. Shoot low for the best angle of view
Shooting at your macro subject’s eye level gives you a much personal and natural perspective. This lower view places you in the subject’s world and surroundings. A top view looking down on your subject is usually less appealing and less interesting. I recommend shooting macro subjects in the same way you would photograph humans and other large subjects. I use the same light, shooting angle and composition rules for macro that I do for all of my other nature and wildlife photography.
A foam or rubber pad can make working at low angle images much more comfortable. Any soft material will work or you can buy commercial products like foam pads or professionally made knee pads at hardware or landscaping stores.
2. Control your background
Controlling your background in macro photography is vital to a successful, pleasing image. Balanced Green or earth tones, like the image above, look very natural. A smooth soft bright background really shows your subject best, bringing out details and a nice three dimensional look. When a subject that fills the frame like the image above, I strive for a smooth even background, with a smaller subject background details can look better.
The use of flash and or diffusers can really help balance the subject and background tones and to help you avoid overly dark or light backgrounds. Low contrast lighting on cloudy or overcast days are easiest to balance tones and sunny days are the most difficult to keep background tones under control.
3. Avoid dark backgrounds
It is always a good idea to avoid dark backgrounds with macro photography. Overly dark backgrounds just do not look natural unless you are photographing at night. Dark backgrounds, especially when using flash, look as if they were taken at night or in a dimly lit studio environment. Also remember a dark background will always show more digital noise than a middle or light toned background.
Proper exposure and flash output will keep subject and background tones balanced and natural looking. This image was taken with the same conditions as the previous lighter image but the flash output was increased and the aperture was stopped down. This kept the proper exposure for the flower but allowed the background to become very underexposed.
If you are looking for a certain creative effect strive to get the entire background dark and avoid overly dark areas. Dark areas in a background can really distract the viewer’s eye from the subject.
4. Use a monopod for macro photography
For speed and flexibility shooting macro handhold is impossible to beat. There the situation calls for some kind of support I always choose a monopod over a tripod. Monopods are light, quick to set up and can really help you avoid any fatigue when handholding. On the other hand I find tripods difficult to position too slow to set up and move to work effectively in the field. Also tripods tend to keep a lot or users locked down to a single position and limit or hinder them from trying new angles and perspectives.
I find that the automatic (without leg locks) type of monopod works best and I find that a tilt head is a real necessity for macro photography with a monopod.
5. Wear proper colors
Wearing dark, or camo clothing in the field can be a real advantage when working with live subjects. I prefer to wear browns, grays or camo patterns and avoid white or bright colors. Camo patterns can help conceal your movements and keep you from attracting any unwanted attention. Insects, especially the biting and stinging variety, can be attracted to warm colors like yellows and oranges, so its generally a good idea to avoid any bright color, the same effect can be happen with colognes or perfumes. To be safe you can buy a no scent antiperspirant.
Remember these tips next time you are out in the field, hopefully they will help you improve your macro photography.
Feel free to ask a question or share a comment below.
Robert O’Toole is a Sigma Pro and has been a professional photographer for more than 20 years. As an accomplished instructor, Robert leads photography workshop tours across the US and internationally. For more info visit Robert’s web site at robertotoolephotography.com