I have been teaching workshops for a couple of years now, I have gained some idea of the most common areas that many aspiring macro photographers need to work on to improve their photography.
- Compose — first compose yourself, then work on your composition. The more excited you are about a subject, the more likely you are to make errors. Take a deep breath, check your equipment and settings, take a test shot then plan your approach before moving in to take photographs.
- Get down — down to the level of your subject: it’s eye contact you want. While other viewpoints can be interesting or helpful for identification, it is eye-to-eye contact that allows viewers to connect to the subject.
- Eyes in focus — in most instances, the lack of depth of field in macro photography is rendered acceptable when the eye is in focus. However, to make maximum use of limited depth of field, in may be best to focus at a point in front of, or behind the eye so that more of the subject falls within the zone of focus.
- Use a flash — learn to use flash to freeze your own magnified movements and the movements of the subject. Without good diffusion and an understanding of how shutter speed affects flash exposure, flash photos can appear harsh and unnatural. With good technique, the image should appear as if you have only one light source, without blown-out highlights, deep obscuring shadows or black backgrounds. More on this in a future post.
- Work your subject— a quick glance at the LCD will tell you if your exposure is right. Now forget chimping and keep shooting: focus variation of fractions of a millimeter can determine the success of your photograph. Repeated shooting gives you a better chance of finding that magic zone. Staying with a cooperative subject often opens up new possibilities to produce better compositions or more interesting behaviors. Move yourself, your camera, and your light source to focus, to find a better plane of focus, to improve composition and lighting and to find better backgrounds that emphasize the subject.
- Practice — Finding your subject, approaching it, getting close enough, holding the plane of focus while you move and/or when your subject moves–all the while still paying attention to composition and good exposure is a challenge. Living in Canada, I have to deal with 4 or 5 months where there are no bugs to be found outdoors. Every spring I enter the field impatient and raring to go…and find that I have fallen out of the ‘groove’ and am making silly errors. Practice when you can: with table-top photography in the home, in the garden, at a local park or a nearby nature reserve. Don’t expect great results if you only do photography on a few weekends and vacation.
Despite all precautions and preparations and often a great deal of effort, there will be days when you come home with no outstanding results. Don’t despair, remember that you had the privilege of spending time in nature and that your failures are all part of the regular process of learning. Eventually, your patience and persistence will be rewarded.