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Not too long ago I covered some common mistakes that aspiring macro photographers make. Hopefully at least one of those tips helped to get a few Light Stalking readers moving in the right direction.
While correcting or avoiding mistakes is certain a prudent approach to improving your macro photography, there’s actually a more fundamental question to answer: what makes a “good” macro shot in the first place?
The question is easy to answer in broad terms; the basic elements of a good photograph are essentially the same regardless of what genre of photography we’re talking about. A good photograph of any kind finds the right mixture of craft and vision, of technical proficiency and artistry. Most people aren’t going to give a second glance to a blandly composed shot, even if it is tack sharp.
First impressions matter, so you should strive to produce shots that grab the viewer’s attention immediately. That simply means taking some of the basic rules of good photography and applying them to your macro work.
Do Your Macros Have the Right Amount of Sharpness?
While sharpness is a hallmark of any good photograph, it’s doubly important in macro photography where detail is the key feature. It’s one thing for a portrait to exhibit some softness of focus — you might be able to get away with it in certain instances. Not so with macro work. Sharp focus is always called for; it’s also more of a challenge to achieve when dealing with tiny lifeforms (especially when they’re moving) and objects. Additionally, account for the camera shake and microscopic depth-of-field inherent to macro photography, and you’ve got a battle of epic proportions on your hands. But remain vigilant to the object of sharpness; use good technique and you’ll emerge triumphant.
How Getting Proper Exposure Can Make Your Macros Better
This is about more than a photo being too light or too dark and not looking “good.” Of course that matters, but it takes on a new dimension in macro photography. Many macro subjects, while easily recognized at “normal” viewing conditions, take on considerably different visual characteristics at this level of magnification. That bouquet of delicate lilies resting at the center of your dining table will convey quite a different response when you’re staring at their magnified innards. Don’t make the viewer work any harder than they have to by further obscuring your shot under the weight of improper exposure. The correct exposure, combined with sharp focus, will give the amazing detail of your macro subject the attention it deserves.
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Having No Distractions In Composition is Essential
If there’s anything within the frame of a photograph that doesn’t contribute to the story/message/idea you’re trying to convey, that thing is a distraction and is only impeding the success of your shot. Some photographers find this concept more difficult to master when doing something like street photography; it’s a valid concern, as there is so much more that could possibly get in the way while shooting in city streets. But again, these are general principles that apply in slightly different ways to different types of photography. Macro photographs don’t get a pass on this issue but, admittedly, it’s a bit easier to avoid distractions when the subject is up close and filling the frame.
How to Get Interesting Macro Composition
Choosing a subject that you deem interesting is only the first step toward a successful photograph; the manner in which you present any given subject will make or break the shot. Patterns, details, and colors all lend themselves to adding interest to an image, especially macro images, but good composition still needs to be a priority. Just because your macro work doesn’t involve people doesn’t mean it can’t tell a story; this genre of photography uses characteristics that are not visible to the naked eye to tell its story. Give your subject’s story the framing it deserves.
Photography exemplifies the quest to find balance between art and science. What is considered good and not good is certainly a subjective consideration that is open to individual interpretation; and this is why it’s important to learn the rules. Learn the rules, why they matter, and how to use them — then you’ll have a strong grasp on when to throw them out the window and still make photographs that people enjoy looking at.