A Step-By-Step Guide to Capturing the Perfect Macro Composition

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This step-by-step guide will help you capture the perfect Macro Composition!

Do you struggle to create beautiful macro photography compositions? Do you worry that composition is something that will take years to master?

It’s a common problem.

But fortunately, macro photography composition isn’t as hard as you might assume. Because there are a few simple compositional guidelines that will get you shooting amazing compositions, every time you take out your camera.

And in this article, I’m going to teach you the exact steps I use to compose my own macro photos.

So next time you’re in the field, you won’t have to worry about creating compositional failures. Instead, you can follow these steps–and capture amazing macro photos.

Let’s get started.

Step 1: Find a Main Subject That Stands Out

Great macro photography composition starts with a great subject.

Which means that you absolutely must take care to choose a subject that works.

Now, the best subjects in macro photography are simple. And they stand out.

For instance, they’re a single, colorful flower. Or an interesting, eye-catching insect.

The key is to choose a subject that actually draws the viewer in. If you’re struggling to identify a strong subject, think about what drew you to the scene in the first place. Were you taken in by a flower? By an interesting leaf? By something else entirely?

And then, once you’ve found your main subject:

Step 2: Isolate Your Main Subject as Much as Possible

In composition, simple is best.

Which means that you should strive to make your whole photo as simple as possible. That means removing all distractions. It means making sure that the whole frame acts to highlight your subject.

So here’s what I recommend:

Frame your subject in your viewfinder. Then look around it and at its surroundings. Ask yourself:

Are there any distracting twigs, leaves, branches, or plants?

Is there anything that might take away from the main subject?

If there are distractions, then you can do one of two things:

First, you can try to angle yourself so that the distraction is no longer present. This might mean getting low to the ground. It might mean getting up high. It might mean moving in closer.

I shot from a downward angle to avoid distractions for this photo:

But if that doesn’t work, then you have a second option:

Remove the distractions from the scene.

I never advocate destroying a scene to get a photo. But it’s okay to gently move a leaf aside. And it’s okay to move fallen branches out of a composition.

Once you’ve isolated your main subject, it’s time to actually position it within the frame:

Step 3: Position Your Main Subject Using a Compositional Guideline

Even if you have a powerful main subject, you still have to position it correctly.

If you position your main subject in the wrong place, you’ll end up with a weak composition. One that nobody likes to look at.

But if you position your main subject correctly, you’ll keep the viewer engaged. You’ll keep them coming back to the photo, over and over again.

So here are two great guidelines for positioning your main subject:

Option 1: Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is a classic compositional technique. It states that the best composition has its main elements a third of the way into the frame.

In fact, it comes with a helpful set of gridlines:

The basic idea is to position your main subject (and any supporting subjects) along these gridlines. So, if you’re photographing a flower, you can place the stem along a vertical line.

However, there’s actually an ‘upgraded’ rule of thirds. It’s a more powerful version of the original rule, and it states:

Place your main subject on one of the rule of thirds intersection points (also known as power points).

This is what I often use in my photography. For instance, notice how I positioned the flower at a power point in this photo:

It makes the scene feel nice and balanced!

Option 2: Center Symmetry

Sometimes, the rule of thirds just doesn’t work.

And sometimes, you just want to try something new.

Well, a great way to produce a bolder, more in-your-face composition…

…is to use centered symmetry.

To pull this off, you have to start with a symmetrical subject. Flowers work well, because they often have completely symmetrical centers.

Then put the flower smack-dab in the center of the frame, so that the center of the flower corresponds to the center of the image.

And you’ll capture a powerful macro photo.

Step 4: Use Leading Lines to Emphasize Your Subject

Now that you’ve carefully positioned your subject, it’s time to talk about enhancing it.

This is about using other elements to emphasize your ‘main attraction.’

If you do it right, the viewer will be directed straight to your subject–which is exactly what you want.

And one of the best ways to do this…

…is to use leading lines.

Leading lines are simply lines that lead the viewer through the frame. They tend to work best when they’re pointed toward your subject.

Leading lines can be anything–branches, petals, stems, grass, and more.

Notice how the petals in this photo point toward the main subject (the sharp petal in the top center?):

They’re leading lines!

So here’s what I suggest:

Once you’ve framed up your subject, look at the surroundings. See if there are any interesting lines you can add into the frame. You might even take a step back to incorporate leading lines into the frame.

Just use them when you can–because lines really are quite powerful.

Step 5: Use Negative Space to Draw Attention to Your Subject

Here’s another way you can emphasize your subject:

Use negative space.

Negative space is basically just empty areas of a photo–areas where nothing is really happening.

Like the area around this leaf:

What’s so great about negative space?

It directs people toward the non-negative space in the image. Which means that you can surround your main subject with negative space. And the viewer will be drawn straight toward the main subject!

So when you’re shooting, try to add a bit of negative space around your subject. It might seem like a small enhancement–but it’ll make an important difference.

Capturing the Perfect Macro Composition: Conclusion

Hopefully, you now have a sense of macro photography composition–and how you can easily create a stunning macro photo.


Just remember to choose a powerful main subject.

Isolate it.

Position it carefully.

And emphasize it!

If you can do that, you’ll take macro photos you really love.

4 Amazing Types of Natural Light for Macro Photography

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Use These 4 Amazing Types of Natural Light When Macro Photographing

 

If you want to capture incredible macro photos…

…then you must master lighting.

For most photographers, this is an extremely difficult task. But here’s the thing:

Macro photography lighting isn’t that hard–once you know a few basic lighting secrets.

And in this article, I’m going to share them all with you.

Are you ready to take your macro photography to the next level?

Let’s get started.

1. Use Cloudy Light to Bring Out Colors

I’m going to start with the most basic form of macro photography lighting:

Cloudy light.

Cloudy light is most macro photographers’ bread-and-butter. It’s subtle. It’s soft.

And best of all, it brings out colors.

You see, sunlight is diffused by clouds. This diffused light deepens colors. It makes them vivid and rich.

So when the sky is cloudy, I recommend finding something colorful to shoot. Flowers are my cloudy-day favorite, but there are plenty of other options, too.

Here’s some advice:

Pay careful attention to the amount of cloud cover. If the clouds are heavy, then you’ll need to go out shooting around midday–otherwise, you won’t have enough light for good shots.

On the other hand, if the clouds are thin, you’ll need to shoot early or late in the day. You don’t want to go out around noon and deal with harsh shadows and contrast-heavy lighting.

Bottom line?

If your subject is colorful, get out and shoot on overcast days.

You’ll come home with some great shots.

2. Use Evening Frontlight for a Lovely Golden Glow

Cloudy light is great for many types of macro photography–especially when they involve colors.

But what if you want photos that are a bit more powerful? A bit less subtle?

What do you do?

You go with golden-hour frontlight.

Let me explain:

When the sun gets low in the sky, its light starts to turn a brilliant gold color. This happens during the hour or two just before sunset on clear days, and it’s referred to as the golden hours.

(I should note: You’ll find the exact same golden light during the early morning on clear days, but most people don’t like to get up that early! If you do, then take advantage of it.)

Now, golden hour lighting is amazing for photography. The gold color looks really incredible. It’ll even give your photos a nice glow.

Plus, when the sun is low in the sky, lighting becomes directional. That is, the light will hit your subject from different angles, depending on your position.

If you’re standing in front of your subject with the sun positioned behind you, your subject will be hit on the front. This is called frontlight.

Whereas if you’re standing with your subject between you and the sun, your subject will be hit from behind. This is called backlight.

Now, frontlight is the most common form of directional lighting. It should be your go-to directional lighting, and here’s why:

Frontlight will illuminate your subject evenly. It won’t cause any dark shadows. It won’t make for difficult exposures.

Instead, it’ll just look really, really good.

Which is exactly why you should use it often. If you’re out shooting in the evening, you can’t go wrong with a bit of frontlight, no matter your subject.

However, you should be careful, because it’s easy to lose track of the sun’s position. So here’s what I recommend:

When you’re out shooting, look at your shadow. And always position yourself so that your shadow points directly at your subject.

That way, you’ll always have direct frontlight.

And you’ll get some fantastically-lit macro photos.

3. Use the Broken Backlight Technique for Dramatic Macro Photography

Here’s the thing:

Frontlight will get you some amazing images. But while frontlight is powerful, it’s not dramatic–it gives your subject some nice, even, low-contrast lighting.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for something more dramatic…

…go with backlight.

As I mentioned above, backlight is when the sun comes from behind your subject during the golden hours. In a backlit situation, you position yourself behind your subject. And you point your camera so that you’re basically shooting into the sun.

A few things to note about backlight:

Your main subject won’t be very well lit, because the light comes from behind. For that reason, you need to be extra careful not to let the photo become too dark.

Also, you don’t actually want to capture the sun in your photo. The sun is just too bright compared to everything else, and it will cause huge blown out areas in the photo.

So I recommend you position yourself so the sun is blocked by your main subject, or so that the sun is just out of the frame.

Now, standard backlight will work. It’ll give you a really nice shot–one that’s nice and dramatic.

But if you want to go further, you should use the broken backlighting technique.

Here’s how you do it:

Instead of letting the sun fall directly on the back of your subject, you should try to find an area where the sun’s light is broken by some object. Leaves work great, but flowers will get the job done, too, as will empty tree branches, cattails, and more.

Then get down low, so that the broken light is in the background of your photo, directly behind your subject.

If you use a sufficiently wide aperture (in the f/2.8 to f/4 range), you’ll get some magnificent background blur. And it won’t be completely smooth. Instead, it will have bright spots of light, like this:

It’s a look that I absolutely love. It’s just so stunning and powerful!

So try to use some broken backlight.

And capture some truly dramatic macro images.

4. Use a Sun-Shade Pairing for Amazing Macro Backgrounds

Macro photography isn’t just about the subject. It’s about the background, too.

(And it’s about making the subject stand out.)

The more gorgeous the background, the better the overall photo will look.

In fact, I often spend longer thinking about the background than the subject. It’s just that important!

Now, one of the best ways to create a gorgeous background is to produce smooth, creamy bokeh. Which you can do with a wide aperture, somewhere in the f/2.8 to f/4 range. Having a large distance between your subject and your background helps, too.

But even if you create a nicely blurred background, you still have to consider the background colors.

Which is where the sun-shade pairing comes in.

You see, if you want really gorgeous macro backgrounds, here’s what you can do:

Go out to shoot during the golden hours. The more golden the light, the better.

Find a subject that’s in the shade…

…while the area behind the subject is in the sunlight.

Then get down low, so that you have a shaded subject framed by a sunny backdrop.

And shoot.

If you follow these instructions, and you shoot late enough in the day, you’ll get a photo with an incredible background: a lovely yellow-gold.

Like this:

Amazing Types of Natural Light for Macro Photography: Next Steps

You’ve now discovered everything you need to know about light…

…to take some amazing macro photos.

You know how to shoot in both cloudy weather and sunny weather.

You know how to make the best of directional lighting.

And best of all, you know all about my (favorite!) sun-shade combination.

So get out there and start shooting. The good light won’t wait for you!

7 Easy Tips for Beautiful Soft-Focus Macro Photography

7 Easy Tips for Beautiful Soft-Focus Macro Photography

By | Macro & Close-up, Photographing | 4 Comments

Check out these 7 Easy Tips for Beautiful Soft-Focus Macro Photography

 

Do you want to capture amazing soft-focus macro photos?

You can.

While soft-focus macro photography may seem daunting, it’s actually pretty easy–once you know a few tricks.

And in this article, I’m going to share these tricks with you. You’re going to learn how to shoot in the best light and create the best compositions. Ultimately, you’ll come away with the ability to take gorgeous soft-focus photos.

Are you ready to take your macro photography to the next level?

Let’s dive right in.

1. Shoot During Cloudy Days to Bring Out the Soft Effect

One of the essential ingredients in any stunning macro photo is good light.

If you can shoot with beautiful light, your macro photos will look so much better.

But if you shoot in bad light, your macro photos will generally fall flat.

Which leads to the question:

What counts as good light?

For soft-focus macro photography, one type of light reigns over all others:

Cloudy light.

Cloudy light is wonderfully soft and diffused. It gives your macro photos a more subdued look–which is perfect for this type of photography.

Cloudy light also brings out colors. This is great for the soft-focus flower photographer, because the diffused light makes the reds, oranges, and greens much more vivid.

For instance, look at the intense colors in this photo:

This would be hard to create naturally–if it weren’t for cloudy days.

Now, I should note: You can take soft-focus macro photos on days that aren’t cloudy. On sunnier days, I recommend working with backlight.

But cloudy light will get you some incredible soft-focus shots–and you should take advantage of that whenever you can.

2. Use a Wide Aperture for a Lovely Soft Look

If you want amazing soft-focus images, you need to make sure very little of your main subject is in focus. That’s how you’ll get the look you’re aiming for.

And to ensure that very little of the subject is in focus, you have to use a wide aperture.

The aperture is basically a hole in the lens, which gets wider and narrower depending on your camera settings. Narrow apertures make sure that the entire image is sharp, from front to back. But wide apertures do the opposite: they decrease something called the depth of field, and cause much of the photo to be blurred.

The size of the aperture is referred to using f-stops, like this: f/2.8, f/5.6, f/8, etc. The smaller the f-number (e.g., f/2.8), the wider the aperture.

I recommend using an aperture in the f/2.8 to f/5.6 range if you want truly stunning soft-focus photos. If you go too narrow (e.g., f/8), you’ll start to lose that wonderful soft-focus look, and you’ll get too much of the photo in focus.

Which brings me to the next tip:

3. Create a Large Subject-Background Distance to Make the Subject Stand Out

Almost every great macro photo has a clear subject.

The subject is the focal point of the photo–the thing that anchors the image and draws the viewer in.

And your goal as a soft-focus macro photographer is to make the subject stand out.

But it’s impossible to do this with a subject alone. The subject can’t just stand out. Instead, it has to stand out in relation to something:

The background.

Now, a background that looks the same as the subject will result in a muddy mess.

But a background that contrasts with the subject…

…well, that background will make the subject pop off the page. The whole photo will look gorgeous. And one of the best ways to create a contrasting background?

By blurring it.

That is, if you can create a deeply blurred background, your main subject will stand out.

As discussed previously, a great way to create a blurred background is to use a wide aperture.

But did you know that you can also enhance the background blur by increasing the subject-background distance?

That is, if you make sure that there’s a large gap between your main subject and its surroundings, the background will look much more blurry. Even creamy.

That’s why I always check the background before taking a macro photo. And I try to position my subject so it’s pretty distant from its background.

Then I can capture photos like this:

And this:

Both of these required large subject-background distances. That’s how I achieved that soft, creamy background look.

And speaking of backgrounds:

4. Create a Beautiful Background With Colorful Flowers and Leaves

As you’ve just discovered, the background is an important part of your soft-focus macro photos.

So it’s worth covering backgrounds more thoroughly.

Now, great backgrounds help the subject to stand out. They make the viewer look straight toward the subject.

And great backgrounds continue the soft look of the subjects. They add a sense of harmony to the image.

So what makes for the best background, specifically?

First, the best backgrounds aren’t distracting. They’re simple, they’re blurry, and they’re mostly uniform–a single wash of color, with maybe the hint of an out-of-focus object. To do this, you need a shallow depth of field, as discussed above.

Second, the best backgrounds add some variety to the photo. If your main subject is a white flower, the background probably shouldn’t be white. Instead, it could be a golden color, like this:

Or it could be a nice black, like this:

The point is to create a background that enhances the image as a whole. A background that is beautiful on its own.

You can find backgrounds like this by carefully observing your surroundings. Are there any autumn leaves? Are there any other flowers? Leaves and flowers make for great backgrounds–and you can always change your position to incorporate these elements.

Worst case scenario, you can get down low and shoot up toward the sky. While this doesn’t make for the most interesting background of all time, it still gives a nice look:

Bottom line?

Create the best background you can come up with. It should complement your soft-focus subject. But it shouldn’t dominate the frame.

5. Include a Main Subject for a Powerful Soft-Focus Macro Photo

I’ve talked about the importance of a great subject.

But what should be your main subject in soft-focus macro photography?

First of all, I advocate starting with flowers for a soft-focus macro subject. Flowers give you all sorts of interesting shapes and colors to work with.

But it’s not enough to just choose ‘flowers’ as your subject and be done.

Instead, you need to think about how your subjects will appear.

Because here’s the thing about soft-focus macro photography:

You generally work at high magnifications. And when you work at high magnifications, your subject doesn’t appear to the viewer as a flower. Instead, your subject appears as a curve, or a straight line, or a circle.

Look at this photo:

What does the main subject look like? It’s two flowers–but it’s also two curved lines and two semicircles.

I suggest you think about your soft-focus subjects in terms of geometry, not objects. And, paradoxically, you need your soft-focus subject to be sharp. 

In other words, even among a sea of softness, your main subject should stand out as sharp. Even if your main subject is just a line, it should be a sharp line. It should stand out.

And it should anchor the whole photo.

6. Change Your Angle for a More Intimate Perspective

When you’re doing soft-focus macro photography, you want to create a connection with the viewer. You want the viewer to look at the photo and feel drawn in.

One of the best ways to do this is to change your angle.

Because certain angles create very intimate perspectives. Which is exactly what you need.

Specifically, I suggest you don’t just shoot your soft-focus macro from a standing height. Take a few images from up high, but then get down on the ground. Lie down if you’re able.

If you can do this, your photos will become so much more intimate.

In fact, I often shoot while lying flat on the ground, with my lens parallel to the dirt. This low angle does so much to enhance soft-focus photos. And it create such intimate, powerful photos.

I took this photo while crouched low:

(I couldn’t have gotten the angle I wanted, otherwise!)

Now, you shouldn’t feel confined to this low-angle shooting. Experiment with many different angles. Get closer to your subject. Move farther away.

The more angles you try, the more likely you are to find that perfect shot!

7. Include Several Colors to Enhance Your Soft-Focus Images

Here’s your final tip for amazing soft-focus macro photos:

Choose your colors carefully.

In particular, try to create a nice color palette–one that works together to make an amazing image.

Now, this isn’t as hard as it sounds. You don’t need to go to art school, and you don’t need to learn color theory.

Instead, in every photo you take, try to include two or three colors. If you include too few, the photo will turn out bland. But if you include too many, the photo will be chaotic.

As discussed above, the background can be a color of its own. And the subject can be a color (or two). That way, you’ll get a few nice colors. And the image will feel harmonious–not too complex, and not too boring, either.

If you want to create especially powerful photos, you can pick colors that contrast with one another. For instance, red and green are strongly contrasting colors. So you can put some green leaves behind your red (or pink) flower, and you’ll get a really interesting shot.

You can also combine similar shades of color. For instance, you can find a yellow flower and an orange flower. If you put one flower in the background and one in the foreground, you’ll get a beautiful image, one that is both simple and powerful.

The bottom line?

Just think about your colors. Don’t try to make this too complex, but don’t let them become too simple, either.

That’s how you’ll get some stunning macro images.

7 Easy Tips for Beautiful Soft-Focus Macro Photography: Conclusion

Now that you’ve finished this article, you have the ability to take amazing soft-focus macro images.

You know how to work with light.

You know how to find the best compositions.

And you know how to create wonderful, soft-focus macros.

The only thing left to do?

Get out and start shooting. Lots of amazing opportunities await!

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