12 July 2012

Avoiding Five Common Macro Mistakes

I've returned after a short summer break for family trips, power outages, and portfolio preparation. In this Thursday Tips post, I'll talk about five common mistakes people make when trying macro photography and how to avoid them. All of the images accompanying this post were taken on a June trip to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in DC. Without further ado, here are the tips:

1. Composition Is King

Yes, the macro perspective is undoubtedly cool. It is fascinating to see very small objects up close in great detail and it can make the mundane unique. That does not mean, however, that the requirement for thoughtful, careful compositions goes out the window. To make a great photograph, it doesn't matter how cool or unique the subject is; what matters most is how you choose to present it.

2. Stabilize!

Just like shooting with a super telephoto lens, macro photography magnifies issues with camera shake. It takes good technique to get a tack sharp image. Under most circumstances, unless you are photographing active subjects with a flash rig, you should be using a tripod. Yes, the new vibration reduction lenses are fabulous, but unless you have a ton of light, your images still won't be as sharp as they could be. Beyond using a tripod, you should be using a remote release or the self-timer. If your camera model allows mirror lock-up, do that too (check your manual). Using a tripod will also aid you in making thoughtful compositions.

3. Focus Is Critical.

At the shallow depth of fields present at high magnifications, critical focus becomes even more important. Don't rely on autofocus to choose the most important part of the composition for sharpness. Choose your spot of critical focus and then adjust the autofocus to focus on that spot or switch to manual and do it yourself. Live View with magnification and manual focus mode can be really useful here.

4. Don't Neglect The Background.

Despite the shallow depth of field, a distracting background can really ruin a good macro image. Always check your background, using the depth of field preview button beforehand or using the review function immediately afterward. Particularly check for distracting highlights. Especially when using a telephoto macro lens, small shifts in perspective can cause huge changes in the background. Play around until you have the background color and texture that compliment your composition. It doesn't always need to be a smooth posterboard-like background either, sometimes texture will enhance the image.

5. Light Matters!

Photography is all about light, and just like composition, the requirement for interesting lighting doesn't go out the window when you attach your macro lens or switch to macro focusing mode. It may be tempting to only photograph during a cloudless middle of the day or with flash to help with camera shake/subject movement issues and maximize depth of field. However, that light might not best suit your subject and the mood you want to convey. Learn proper flash techniques to avoid harsh shadows and flat lighting and don't shun low-light situations. I'm not necessarily saying to avoid sunny bright days altogether, just be aware of the light and how you are using it to best represent your subject and your photographic vision.

Hope this helps you bring your macro images to new heights. Please feel free to leave a comment below if you have other tips or disagreements.


  1. Awesome tips and images Elijah!

  2. Terrific macro tips, Elijah! Macro lenses can open up a whole new fascinating world to photographers. As always, your images are exquisite!