I suppose I do not need to tell you how great and ubiquitous the internet is nowadays: you see it anywhere, anytime in our lives. Thanks to the internet, we get to communicate, buy, sell, share, teach and obtain knowledge regardless of time and place- Tasks deemed impossible in the past.
Of course, one of the reasons why people cannot get enough of internet is because of social media like Facebook, Tweeter etc., platforms where people not only catch up with one another, but also to share their opinions, talents and artworks. Photography (including Macro Photography) is one of the aspects that gained tremendous boost in popularity because of social media, and I am rather pleased with it.
Here, we all love Macro Photography (or any form of Photography), but I’m pretty sure our motives behind the learning of the subject differs from one to another. Some pursue the skill for self-enrichment, some for competitions, sharing, earning a living and some for science and research etc. I, for one picked up Macro Photography because I really love cataloguing the amazing creatures I’ve encountered and try and group them accordingly (I’m a scientist by the way XD). Anyway, regardless of your motives, it is undeniable that the internet is often used as a tool to promote, share or even sell our photos and work.
Since virtually every Macro Photographer is using the internet to promote their work, competition can be stiff when it comes to getting your photos noticed. Thus, this article is dedicated to share some insights that will help gain viewers attention. Most of the contents have already been covered in previous articles but I suppose it will be a good thing to link them all up here.
So, how do you produce photos that people like?
1. Invest in a suitable camera, lens and accessories
Okay, this particular point may sound ridiculous, but I noticed a huge increase in Macro Photographers who take macro shots using smartphones with clip-on macro lenses. Now don’t get me wrong, some of the resulting photos are so good that I was actually surprised!
That said, smartphones were not really built as dedicated, primary cameras; at least not yet: The small camera sensor (detector that converts what you see into a digital image) size, poor ergonomics and accessibility, lower overall performance etc. will affect the final Macro Image you get. It will be extremely challenging, if not impossible to take a good and highly magnified Macro shot using only a smartphone.
Granted, you may get away with a decent (but not highly magnified) Macro Photograph if you are very skilled in Macro Photography and (especially) post-processing; but for serious or enthusiast-level work, it will be a better idea to invest in a proper DSLR and Macro accessories to get the job done, more so when DSLR cameras are getting more and more affordable now: at this juncture an entry-level DSLR actually costs cheaper than a premium-line smartphone! Newer generation Mirrorless Cameras will do as well, though the accessories option may not be as wide as those of DSLR.
The following are some advantages of using a DSLR camera for Macro Photography:
- Larger sensor size result in better recording of details and colour
- Higher Megapixels (MP) count (accompanied with the larger sensor size) allows better image cropping, a technique often used in Macro Photography
- DSLR, although bulkier and heavier, has better ergonomics and easier access to buttons and dials, allowing the user to shoot efficiently and for a longer period of time
- Certain DSLR cameras are weather-proof.
- Wide range of accessories that will help in improving your Macro Photography i.e. flash diffuser for softer light, Extension Tubes for higher magnification etc.
I won’t go into the details here, but should you require more info on selecting a good DSLR setup for Macro Photography, please read Getting Your First Macro Camera AND Five Aspects In Choosing The Best DSLR (Body) For Macro Photography.
2. Honing Macro Photography skills
Taking a good Macro Shot is fairly easy, so long as you cover these FIVE aspects which all attractive and great images (not limited to Macro Photography) will have:
- A good subject– The moment you decide which creature to photograph you have already determine (indirectly) the potential popularity of your shot. Whether you like it or not; a beautiful, colourful OR bizzare-looking creature will always be more popular than an ugly, dull-coloured OR rare one. In addition, viewers are always interested in subjects doing something rather than nothing. For more details, please read Taking Better Macro Shots 1- Choice Of Subject.
- Composition– An image with a good composition will attract viewers to focus on a subject or feature in particular that you want them to look at. Considering Macro Shots usually do not involve too much background, composition should be fairly easy for Macro Photography. You can’t go wrong with following the standard Rule-of-Thirds. For more details, please read Taking Better Macro Shots 2- Composition.
- Lighting– The manipulation of light is the core principal of Photography and the trick to getting great shots is to ensure you have good quality soft light. Macro Photography using Natural Light is simple but tedious: you just need to find a place with decent amounts of sunlight (best taken under shades during a very sunny day), get a tripod and patiently wait for a shot. The resulting shot will usually be awesome SOOC provided no movements occur during the capture. On the other hand, Macro Photography using Artificial Light (flashguns) requires more effort in light diffusion but generates efficient and often greater results once mastered. The trick is to design (or just copy) a great DIY light diffuser to get super soft light. Once you do this, everything becomes a piece of pie! For more details, please read Taking Better Macro Shots 3- Lighting.
- Background– One of the best things about Macro Photography is the resulting background Bokeh when you get really close to your subjects. This blur often get rid of messy backgrounds, enticing the viewers to focus on the subject instead. Getting awesome Bokeh in Macro Photography is very easy; you just have to ensure that there are little or no distractions (e.g. leaves, branches etc.) near your main subject. Here, knowing how Aperture and Depth-of-Field works will give you an added advantage. In general, the lower your aperture (F) value, or the closer you are to your subject, the more blurred the background Bokeh. For more details, please read Taking Better Macro Shots 4- Background. Also, you can learn more about minimizing dark backgrounds in Flash Macrography by reading here: 5 Ways To Minimize Dark Backgrounds in Macro Shots.
- Sharpness– Viewers like to look at the details of creatures you photograph, creatures that they cannot usually see. Hence, your images have to be sharp in order to bring out the details. To do this, use a tripod, suitable DSLR settings or use Flashguns. All these will help reduce movements or effect of movements for a sharper and clearer shot. Of course, learning a little bit about sharpening in post-processing will also help. For more details, please read Taking Better Macro Shots- Sharpness.
Now, don’t be frightened by these long and windy points. As a Macro Photographer, these are some of the many things you will learn indirectly as you improve. I am just listing them out so that it helps you to realize them earlier and level up faster XD
3. Extra tricks
Now, by fulfilling point (2) above, you will have the skills to take good Macro Photographs on your part. However, playing your part well alone often won’t cut it when it comes to photographing live subjects that don’t understand you. Uncooperative (running or fleeing etc.) or shy subjects will affect your final images as well; so it helps to learn a bit about them to get the great images you want. Please read here for more info Becoming A Better Macro Photographer- Understanding Your Subjects.
Here are some insights that might help you get better photos:
- Learn more about your subjects, know where and when to find them. The less time you spend looking for desired subjects, the more time you spend photographing it, which translates to better chances for great photos. For example, active flying cuckoo bees are a hell lot easier to photograph at night when they are “asleep”. Of course, there are loads of different creatures out there with their own specific behaviour, habitat and niche, so start from the most common or the ones you like most. Here’s an article on where to find some of the most popular Macro Subjects: Where To Find What- A Beginner’s Guide.
- Photograph large subjects. Larger subjects i.e. frogs, butterflies, lizards, dog’s eyes etc. are much easier to focus on and photograph, and since most of their facial or body features are large as well, blurred shots will not come up that obviously. Most seasoned Macro Photographers are so engrossed in the field that they actually “forget” to take less magnified photos when required: always remember not to use too much magnification when shooting a large subject, as the shallow Depth-of-Field (DOF) may not be able to take in all the details.
- Displacing subjects, only if appropriate. Wild creatures are unfamiliar with humans and will likely flee when approached. Smaller creatures can be placed onto leaves of a lone plant to be photographed. That way it will be easier for you to track it and thus take better photos of it. I suppose I do not need to tell you not to meddle with fragile, dangerous or potentially dangerous subjects. Also, if you are going to displace subjects, ALWAYS MAKE SURE YOU PUT THEM BACK TO WHERE THEY BELONG! Don’t be like the many, many irresponsible and cruel photographers who value their photographic works more than the lives of their subjects.)
- Take artistic shots. Macro Photographs can be pretty dull since you cannot manipulate much in terms of shooting angle, lighting and magnification; the only thing that keeps changing is the subject. That said, there are a few shooting angles i.e. from the front (aka face-to-face Shot) and side, though not very useful scientifically, that never fail to attract attention of viewers. In addition, you can also try out UV or infra-red Macro Photography, which not many people are doing at the moment, thus less competition! A comparison between Artistic and Scientifc photographs can be found here: Macro Photography- Scientific And Artistic Shots.
- Doing something different with your photos. Now most people know how to upload their photos onto social media or photo sharing sites i.e. Flickr, 500px etc. However, most of the time they are simply photos with a photo title (some don’t even have a title!). Many people enjoy reading a bit about the subject you have photographed, thereby learning something from looking through your photographs. I personally love to identify and describe all the subjects I found: most info can be found from the web (though one should take caution that information from the web are not always 100% correct- best to cross-reference).
- Chilling subjects. This is a controversial and somewhat cruel method used to photograph insects, a method used even by experts like BBC. The main idea is to cool down the bodies of organisms e.g. < 5 minutes in 4⁰C so that they become less active and move less, making photographing them easier. However, this method has been misinterpreted and misused by a lot of cruel and irresponsible Macro Photographers who, upon too much chilling, kill the subjects. I admit that I have used this technique a few times when I was a beginner (not something I am proud of), and found it cruel and unnatural. I have since then moved on to shooting live and well subjects. As an alternative, try going on Macro Sessions during the night with a couple of friends, most diurnal creatures will be inactive then, and easy to photograph.
- Taking extreme Macro Shots. People are always fascinated by things that they have not seen before, and highly magnified photos are one of them. However, in order to take these shots you usually have to kill and pin your subjects, so as you might as expected, its not something I am very keen of. Photos such as these usually only display the heads of the subjects, so you won’t see the distorted appendages of the subjects after dying. That said, extreme Macro Shots are actually valuable if you are using them for scientific publications, but most of the time they are not, and lives are simply wasted.
Well that is all that I could think of at the moment. I will make sure to add on more tips and tricks as I improve my Macro skills 🙂 I hope this article will be able to help you take better Macro Shots that attract more viewers.
In the meantime, keep on Macro-ing guys~ Try and go out with a group of friends who share the same passion, that way you will keep your passion burning, and improve at the same time! You can also try asking for advice or comments from good Macro gurus (avoid the mean ones!); I am pretty sure you will be able to learn one or two new tricks from them~
Until the next article, take care guys!
PS: Damn this is a long article; almost burst my bladder writing this :p