An online book of Common Sense Photography, by Rhett Stuart

Macro Photography Techniques


Macro Backgrounds

If you are taking your macro images indoors consider using backgrounds such as a muted material or water color paint swirls. Green cloth or paints make the picture more natural like it was taken outdoors. I place the background several inches behind the subject; it makes a pleasing blurred background. Black backgrounds are dramatic once in a while but when they are overused they get old.

Micro Aquariums

4”x6” glass from picture frames (just the glass can be bought at craft stores like Michaels) make a good aquarium for small pond life. The little aquarium contains the little creatures making it easier to focus on them. Simply glue the slides together with a waterproof glue or adhesive like silicone caulk for bathtubs. Wash off the insects or fish first with clean water before placing them in the clean water. Microscope slides can work for micro aquarium also, if you can find them. Edmund Scientifics sells small microscope slides in bulk cheaply. Using a small aquarium like this confines the subject to a small area and makes it much easier to get the photograph of them.

The Freezer and Glass Cups

I use the freezer just to slow the insects down. Small ground dwelling yellow jackets are really hyper for example. Chilling them slows them down. As they revive from the chill there is a brief moment to take their picture before they start buzzing all around again. Frozen insects make lousy macro pictures, they look frozen. Wait until they revive before taking their picture. All they need is about 5-10 minutes in the freezer. No, it doesn’t hurt them; they go back to being completely normal with no harm. I don’t want to alarm the insect rights people. I also let the insects go free afterwards.

I also use clear glass cups or a micro aquarium to cover the insect and keep them confined. I can compose the shot, and wait for the insect to calm down and get into the right position without worrying about it flying or crawling off. Then at the right moment I press with shutter button with a 2 second delay, I take off the cup slowly and presto, another great macro photograph. Hopefully the insect doesn’t fly away before they get their picture taken. Sometimes this takes a lot of patience!

Macro Panoramas

Taking Macro Panoramas requires some specialized equipment, but are very rewarding and fun!
Once you are set up, simply take a panorama of the flower or slow moving insect that you want. Remember to overlap by 20-40% so it is easier to stitch together in Photoshop® later. See the article on Panoramas in my site.

Other Techniques

Another technique for inside macro photographs is to include a flower or leaves for the insects to rest on. Bumble Bees are a lot calmer and more at home on a flower and also it looks more natural.

Smear a little sugar water for wasps and bees. They will stay in one area to eat the sugar while their picture is taken. Just don’t get distracted watching them eat on your live view screen and forget to take the picture.

Some insects are attracted to light, others attracted to the dark. Some insects, like some spiders, are repelled by human breath. This can be used to manipulate them to move to the right area to take the photograph.