Macro image of a cat

The 9 Macro Photography Mistakes You’re Making

Macro photography explores worlds unseen and invites the tiny onto the big stage. However, what can often ruin a good show are the common mistakes beginner photographers make when shooting close-ups. Here are nine macro photography mistakes that can mess with your shots and how to fix them. How many of them do you do?

Macro image of a bee
© Boris Smokrovic

Shooting at noon

All great photography, macro or otherwise, starts with getting your light just right.

The first big mistake many make is shooting under a bright midday sun. When the sun is high overhead, it creates dark shadows that add undesirable contrast to your shot that most cameras struggle with.

What you end up with is photographs with undesirable colours and very little detail. 

The fix: Shoot during the golden hours; up to two hours after sunrise, and up to two hours before sunset.

Macro image of a flower
© Aaron Burden

Holding your camera wrong

Everything is magnified with macro, including the sharpness of your shot. All it takes is the slightest movement for your photograph to come out blurry. 

The fix: If you’re not using a tripod, there are a few techniques that can help keep your camera steady. Try:

  • Securing the lens in one hand and the camera body in the other
  • Propping your elbows against your stomach or stationary object e.g table
  • Slowly pressing the shutter while breathing out

Note:  If all that’s not enough, increase the ISO and shutter time. However, remember that raising the ISO will also increase noise.

Macro image of a snowflake
© Aaron Burden

Not focusing properly

Just because you have a steady shot, doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a sharp one. Usually, it’s because you don’t have a good focusing point. The main culprit? Your camera or lens may be responsible. That’s why manual focus is recommended when it comes to macro photography.

There still are situations where you have to use automatic focus. In those cases, set the focus on a single point. That keeps the camera from jumping from one focal point to another, so you can be sure that it truly is focused.

The fix: Manually focus your shots most of the time. It will give you more control. If you’ve got a setup that lets you switch between automatic and manual focus, experiment between the two to determine which mode gets you the sharpest results. 

Macro image of a flower blooming
© Samuel Giacomelli

Using the wrong aperture

A common mistake many beginners make is using a very high f-stop. Normally, a tight aperture provides a larger depth of field where you can have your whole image in focus. But with macro, sometimes too much is too much. 

Why? Simply put, the tighter the aperture, the more you soften the image that is transferred to the camera sensor, resulting in an unfocused photo. 

The fix: Only use apertures up to f/16. You’ll still get great focus across your shot, without sacrificing the sharpness and detail.

Dragonfly macro photo
© Florian van Duyn

Not being close enough

Macro photography is all about getting up close and personal. Sometimes, photographers simply don’t get close enough.

In macro photography, the closer you get, the more unique your photo tends to be. You’re able to show the world in a whole new light, and capture a perspective that can’t otherwise be shown.

The fix: Move physically closer to your subject. If you’re still not happy with your macro shots, try switching your macro lens over to manual focus, and set it until you’re near 1:1 (true macro) focusing.

Macro image of a shell in hand
© Lauren Abrahall

Picking a bad background

A macro photography subject shouldn’t play second fiddle to its backdrop. Messy or noisy backgrounds often distract the eye, shifting focus away from what you are intending to highlight. 

The fix: The key isn’t to pick boring backgrounds, but rather uniform colours and textures that are simple and complement the subject. These backgrounds can be man-made or found in nature, for example, a piece of fabric or a leaf.

Dandelion up close photo
© David Dawson

Casting a subject that isn’t stageworthy

If you’re going to expose a subject at many times its size, it’s a good idea to make sure they are looking good. Using dirty or damaged subjects can often ruin an otherwise great photo.

Whether its insects, flowers or inanimate objects, the best subjects in macro photography are, well, photogenic. 

The fix: Inspect your subject first. If you see something that might compromise your shot explore other angles—you might just find a better one!

Vibrant flower up close photo
© Lucas Starman

Losing your composure

It’s easy to get caught up in the technical aspects of macro photography or get swept away by your fascination with the subject. Sometimes at the cost of neglecting the composition of the photo.

Macro photography simply doesn’t work without beautiful composition. A beautiful subject is one thing. But a beautiful subject and a beautiful composition are what makes macro photography impactful. 

The fix: Don’t forget that you aren’t taking an image of a subject, you are composing one. That means that the fundamental principles of photography should still be considered.

  • Rule of thirds
  • Rule of odds
  • Foreground and depth
  • Leading lines
  • Negative space
  • Left to right rule
  • The golden ration
  • Symmetry
Moth perched on a flower photograph
© Boris Smokrovic

Not being on your subject’s level

Perspective matters. Especially with macro photography.

Macro photography is about communicating intimacy, so you’ve got to get right in there and share space with whatever you’re shooting. Failing to do so creates a physical and almost an emotional separation from the subject.

The fix: The closer you get, the greater the connection between subject and audience. By shooting at your subject’s level — as opposed to shooting down on it — you’re using the most empathetic perspective to engage the viewer and fill the frame with intrigue.

Want to master more photography skills? Our ‘‘Travel Photography with Richard I’Anson’ course contains exclusive videos and course content from one of the world’s most-awarded travel photographers. You’ll also get exclusive access to the Expand My World photo community to share your photos and get tips and support. Find out more.

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