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The Basics of Outdoor Macro Photography

Are you ready to take your macro photography outdoors? Now if you haven’t read the first article on, “What is Macro Photography?”, then click here first and come back to this post.

Today, I will talk about natural lighting.

I advise you to make a cheat sheet so you can scan through it before you head outdoors and have some fun macro shooting.


Macro Photography Episode 2

Aperture Priority and Auto ISO

So the first thing I’d like you to do is set your camera to aperture priority. We’re going to focus on the aperture that works best with your lens.

I’m using a canon 100-millimeter macro lens, and the sharpest area in that lens is f8, but I can push it to f22.

What I suggest if you’re not a Canon user is to Google your lens and find out what’s the best aperture number that you can use for macro photography.

Now, let’s say that you want less in focus and you’ve shot a wonderful piece of grass with water drops and you just don’t want all that background that may distract us from those beautiful water drops.

What you’ll want to do is take your f-stop to around 5.6. I have gone to 2.8 sometimes when I really want that dreamy, blurry look. It’s up to you to pay attention to see how the feel is of that photograph and play around with it!

It’s a lot of fun because we’re working outdoors and we’ll have issues with wind or moving subjects.

So if you’re using a 100-millimeter macro lens, you really don’t want your shutter speed to go below 1/25th of a second. I would actually try to keep my shutter speed higher than 1/200th of a second and the way that you can do that is to have auto-ISO.

Anza Borrego Wild Flower
White wild desert flower with soft background.


Look at your HISTOGRAM in the back of your camera. Is it peaking to one side? Ideally, you’d kind of want to get that histogram going towards the middle which would be really nice but if it really goes off then it’s time to adjust and one of the ways that you can adjust is EXPOSURE COMPENSATION.

Exposure Compensation

Basically what this means is if you move it to the minus side, it’s going to make things look darker and if you move it to the plus side, it’s going to make things look brighter.


I want to talk to you about COLOR/temperature. Color temperature is a measurement of the warmth or coolness of light. The temperature of the light affects all colors in the scene.

One thing you need to do before you start shooting is look at your lighting condition. If you’re in the shade and it feels cool then put your camera on shade.

macro and closeup leafe
�Sullivan J Photography

Focusing on your subject

After color, it’s important to get your macro shot in focus. It could be really difficult when you get really close up to your subject but let’s just talk about focusing in general.

If you’re just doing a close-up, you can go ahead and push the camera halfway and have it focus on the subject.

When I first started I would have it on autofocus continuous which means that wherever I moved as long as I had my finger on the focusing button then the camera would focus on the various areas of my frame.

But the closer you get to your subject, the camera will not be able to handle it.

So my tip is to choose a location with good composition, set your lens to a general area that’s in focus and then take the shots by holding your hand under the lens.

Keep that hand stable and start taking pictures by moving towards the subject and farther away from the subject.

Do very short distances because you will realize that you will not need to move very much when it comes to macro photography.

Why shade is your bestfriend

When you go outside, look for subjects that are in the shade so you can avoid crazy bright and dark areas in the macro shot. The best thing is to use a reflector

Reflectors are perfect for macro photography because it helps when it comes to fixing crazy light conditions on the subject

A tip for you when you’re shooting is to do a variety of compositions on a specific subject. So look at your subject and play move around and take the shots in different ways and angles. When you do your post-processing, you have options to pick from.

Remember that even though you’re focusing on that one subject, you really do have to pay attention to your background. Everything combines in a beautiful story and the story is yours with the main subject and your background.


Janice Sullivan

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