11 min. to read
There's something magical about looking at the world on a minuscule level. Macro photography gives photographers the chance to share that with the world. There's much more to creating amazing macro shots than offering a closer point of view, however. To create images that stand out, you need solid composition, excellent depth of field control and interesting subject matter. In this article, we'll explore a few ideas for macro subjects that can help make your photos more memorable.
This subject has been shot hundreds of times in just as many different ways. Despite that fact, it's never become passé. That's because it's one of the most versatile macro subjects around.
You can photograph drops as they fall, as they collide with standing water, on plants, on glass, on spiderwebs, and countless ways. You can use them alone or as a feature of the photo. Photograph them with a slow shutter speed or freeze them in time with a fast one. You can even photograph the likenesses of other objects refracted in them.
Every time I think I've seen about everything you can do with water drop macros, someone comes up with a theme that surprises me. In fact, it seems that droplets somehow encourage that creative spark in photographers.
Place translucent objects on a lightbox or white background and photograph their insides. Sliced vegetables, leaves, fibers or anything with a structure that can be enhanced with backlight. Move outside and try to orient the leaves of shrubs of trees so that the sun shines through them. Try using a flashlight at night to discover what's hidden inside various natural or man-made objects.
The world around us is full of things with surprisingly intricate structures. Use your macro lens and some ingenuity to discover and share them.
The inner workings of our computers, televisions, MP3 players and the like are something most of us never think about, much less look at. Getting up close and personal with the discreet components within them can give those parts an almost-alive appearance that can be disturbing and captivating.
Reveal the complexity of vacuum tubes from vintage radios. Offer a perspective that shows an IC chip as a monolithic hulk. Show the smoke rising from a boiling drop of solder securing a lead to a PC board. Getting in close to these devices can fuel your creative engine for some time. NOTE: Exercise caution when working with any electronics. Even disconnected, some components can store lethal charges.
Cold weather brings some unique opportunities for macro photographs. Frost creates those delicate patterns on windows and decorates lawns, trees, shrubs and even your car. All you need to do is bundle up and get out there with the camera.
Be very gentle with your outdoor subjects. The structures of this phenomenon are brittle, so just a touch can be enough to bring them crashing down. It's always interesting to use sunlight for backlighting, etc. but remember that frost won't last long in the light. Try using an external flash for lighting effects while the sun is still low.
Have you ever noticed the wide variety in the eyes of creatures on our planet? The differences range from subtle to complex and the best way to realize them is to get in really close. Even our own eyes take on a whole new uniqueness at the macro level.
This is a macro subject that you could dedicate a good portion of your lifetime to photographing. Insects and arachnids alone offer thousands of fascinating examples. The reptile kingdom also offers some truly unique eyes.
With many subjects, the hard part will be getting in close. You can start with your pets and those of your friends and family for some good opportunities. When you're working out there in nature, the key is patience. Oh, and always remember that some of your subjects are dangerous. It's probably better to find a captive rattlesnake.
When we think of shooting nature, we often forget about one of the most basic forms: the geology of Earth, herself. Look deep into the structures of the rocks that make up our planet and you'll find a hidden world of color and complex geometry that's perfect for your macro lens.
You'll want to bring many of these subjects inside, to create the right lighting to take advantage of their refractive and reflective properties. At this level, you'll find many of your subjects will be full of surprises.
Here's a great example of how looking closely can turn the mundane in to the spectacular. At a distance, soap bubbles can be interesting. Moving in really close can give you a new appreciation for what's happening on their surfaces.
If you're interested in physical science, you'll find these images a great example of interference patterns in light waves. You don't need to know that to appreciate the swirling, iridescent colors, though. Try different light sources and colored backgrounds to see what you can uncover.
Although there are certainly more fascinating macro subjects out there, I want to wrap up this article with an important note about creating the best possible images of these subjects. Many photographers become frustrated with macro during their early attempts, because they don't get the results they expected. It's important to realize that the best macro photos aren't just taken; they're created with a careful and deliberate process.
For instance, one of the most challenging aspects of macro photography is achieving sufficient depth of field. In many cases, the final image is actually a composite, created with a technique called focus stacking. In a nutshell, it consists of taking a series of photos at incremental focus settings, then “stacking” them and selectively removing out-of-focus areas to create maximum sharpness throughout the scene.
There are many other possible processing steps in creating the perfect macro image. Sharpness, contrast, color and clarity often need to be enhanced. Cropping and noise reduction are common improvements. Levels, Curves, Hue and Saturation and many other terms you may not now be familiar with will become part of your regular vocabulary.
The point is that to excel in creating macro images, you're going to need powerful photo editing software. Of the several hundred applications available, there are a select few that include all the capabilities you'll need to make your images “pop”.
The most well-known package is Adobe's Photoshop®. It has all the functionality you'll need. It also has a very long learning curve and, now, pricing that requires ongoing subscription payments.
If you're a Mac user, there's an option you really should take a look at: Luminar. It also has all the functionality needed, plus an intuitive interface that makes learning easy. The manufacturer, Skylum, also provides a great series of video tutorials covering just about any procedure. Best of all, it comes with a price you can afford and you only have to pay it once! Windows users will have the chance to try Luminar in the near future.
Macro photography is challenging. It can also be extremely rewarding. I hope that some of the ideas in this article will feed your creative muse and encourage you to learn some of the more advanced techniques for both shooting and processing your images.
With creativity, patience and the right software, you, too, can create spectacular macro images.