7 Easy Tips for Beautiful Soft-Focus Macro Photography

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!

Jaymes Dempsey

Freelance Writer and Photographer at Jaymes Dempsey Photography
Jaymes Dempsey is a macro photographer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He's been doing photography since he was fifteen years old, and he absolutely loves exploring nature. Jaymes is also passionate about helping others learn macro and nature photography, and he's always excited to teach new techniques! To see more of Jaymes's work, take a look at his website!

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