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The world of ultra-close up photography, macro photography and photomicrography, is a fascinating part of digital photography. In addition to the technical challenges of focusing and lighting these extreme views, many of us will also benefit from macro photography composition tips.
How to compose macro photos is an important aspect of this field. Many ultra close views tend to have the subject centered, because the very nature of macro photography tends to emphasize the non standard nature of these extreme views.
We can also apply general photography composition tips to our macro photography. Photomicrography is a little bit different, but even in this super extreme view, we can sometimes apply the macro photography tips that we learn in our macro photography composition tutorial.
Don’t Get So Close
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Macro photography is close up by very definition and here we are telling you not to get so close! The reason is because sometimes getting closer is close enough without getting into macro reproduction ratios.
An example of this type of macro photography composition tips is capturing a butterfly or a bee on a garden flower or a large sunflower. It might actually happen while you’re playing around with the flower that an insect suddenly lands in the field of view.
The tried and true composition tool Rule of Thirds is often what can be utilised in this circumstance. Having the insect fall on one of the intersection points of the dividing lines will create a pleasing balance, enhancing the natural beauty of what’s happening.
The Leading Lines and S Curve composition tools might also be useful in photos that are close up but quite macro photography. We could use the same example, a bug and a flower, or we might try this out with a still life composition. Sometimes, getting in a little closer than normal makes a huge difference in how the picture turns out.
Get Really Close
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The distance we are from our subject is a huge factor to consider in macro photography composition tips. Subject distance, lens choice, camera position, all play a part in photographic composition. This remains true in macro photography and photomicrography.
Since we mentioned those two terms again, let’s touch on what they mean, what the differences and similarities are.
There are some good guidelines to consider about the close up photography capabilities open to us. As a personal consideration, I like to think of macro photography beginning at a reproduction ratio of ¼ life size. Anything else before getting that close is simply me doing close up photography.
Macro photography reproduction ratios are typically ¼ life life size, also labeled 1:4, ½ life size, 1:2, and 1:1 lifesize. These reproduction ratios refer to how big the object is on the capturing medium, our sensor. Crop factors, physical print sizes, and screen sizes will all make the item being imaged display as an even bigger ratio.
Photomicrography involves closer focussing and larger reproduction ratios. There are some specialty lenses available for DSLR and mirrorless camera lens mounts that work in this range, or you can use an adapter on a microscope like what we used in biology class at school.
Common reproduction ratios are 2.5:1 to about 6:1 for lenses we can mount directly to our camera and maybe up to 10:1 or 15:1 for microscopes using a photographic adapter..
Higher reproduction ratios are possible in micrography using specialty instruments, but I consider that an even different realm of imaging than macro photography and photomicrography. Transmission, scanning, and tunneling electron microscopes are capable of imaging bacteria and atomic force imaging has revealed the structure of molecules.
Centered Is Great
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But let’s get back to our personal cameras and lenses. As we get closer to our subjects, we’re often concentrating on the subject alone. So we end up with that ultra close up subject matter smack dab in the middle of the frame.
That’s good. Since the macro aspect of the image can be the sole purpose of the composition for macro photography, it makes perfect sense to have the image composition be centered.
If we are using centered composition for our macro shots, we really want the focus and exposure to be as good as we can get it. Since the close up thing IS the image when centered, making it as clear to see as possible is important.
Negative Space Is Your Friend
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One of the nice things about macro photography composition is that we’re pretty much in a selective focus frame of mind throughout the entire process. Focus distance is one of the variables involved in calculating depth of field along with focal length and lens aperture. The closer you focus, the less actual distance is within the zone of sharpness (circle of confusion).
Therefore, you have an easy to access composition tool when considering how blurred the foreground and background can be when shooting macro. Almost everything else in the image, regardless of brightness level or color, can be used as negative space for composition.
Negative Space composition allows you to move the subject out of the dead center spot of the image area. Once you do that, you can employ Rule of Thirds, Implied Motion, and Leading Lines composition tools to add interest or impact to your macro photography image.
Shooting Angle Matters
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I’ve noticed that a lot of us tend to make the same choice with how to compose macro photos that we do when taking pictures of kids or pets. At least, when we’re not actively thinking about it. We shoot from a standing position, maybe leaning over just a bit.
That’s great for when the primary interest of our macro image is best seen from straight overhead, but all we need to do to give ourselves better options is get down. Kneel, sit, lie down, lower our tripod by reversing the center pole or sing a tripod alternative that’s low to the ground, all of these open up opportunities for a different view.
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While we’re discussing macro photography composition tips, we’ll also include another great tool for these ultra close views that’s made available to users of digital cameras: focus stacking.
What is focus stacking? Think of it as HDR for focus. In HDR, we take images at different exposure levels and use bracket and merge functions in our post processing programs to blend them together.
Focus stacking does the same thing for focus distance. When there is no way to capture enough depth of field while imaging a macro subject, you can focus on different parts of the subject and then blend the image files together to create the depth wanted in the final image.
A Fascinating World
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The world around us is full of amazing things that can be revealed by macro photography. From flowers to insects, pets to people, there are really no bounds to how creative you can be in terms of the subject matter, composition, and style of your macro images.
Use these macro photography composition tips to make the images you capture both interesting and beautiful!