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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!

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Good to know I’m not alone! And I make people cranky all the time with my photography! 🙂

  • Catherine D Costolo says:

    Thanks, Jaymes.

  • You’re so welcome, Catherine! I hope you enjoyed the article!

  • Jaymes, you said, “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!”

    I do too! I spend so much time with it that whoever is with me becomes cranky. Thanks for our insight!

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