Mike Moats is a pro macro photographer from Michigan. His articles and images have been published in Outdoor Photographer, Natures Best, Nature Photographer, Photolife, PC Photo, Shutterbug and many more, and his images have won local and international awards. He was kind enough to share some of his expert advice on making magnificent macro images.
Finding character. When you are out shooting, go slowly and take the time to study every subject for interesting characteristics. All settings that contain flowers, leaves, trees, and bugs have the potential to reveal elements of character. Character is reflected in an object’s distinctive shape, remarkable lines, exceptional contrast, unusual pattern, unique texture, or special light. Finding character in nature is about creating images that set themselves apart from the ordinary and mundane that most photographers capture.
Know your environment. One of the benefits of macro photography is that the environment is constantly changing with the different seasons. The life cycle of the plants we shoot are changing on a monthly basis. Study and learn the patterns of the environment that you shoot in, so you will be in the right place at the right time.
Are you creating art or just documenting? When you photograph a flower, does it tend to look documented, like something you would see in a flower identification textbook? In documented photos, it shows the flower and the environment it grows in with all the clutter. Are you creating artistic compositions with a clean background that allows the flower to stand out? Find the right camera angle with the least distracting background that allows the flower to stand out, creating a more artistic composition.
Do you think before you press the shutter? Once you find a subject and set up your tripod and camera to take the shot, do you think to yourself, “Have I seen this subject composed in this manner before?” If you have, then don’t shoot. We all study other photographer’s work online, and we have all seen thousands of images of flowers and other macro subjects. If you are composing your subject as you have seen it done before, then find a way to compose the subject to make it different than anything you have seen before. If you want your images to stand out, then stop copying others and come up with your own unique way of seeing a subject.
Software for post-processing. By following these tips, you can produce some unique and artistic photos. You may have found a subject with great character, and you have composed it in your own original style, but when it comes out of the camera, it lacks life. Digital cameras are not designed to produce finished photos, that’s up to the photographer. You need editing software to bring your photos to life by adding depth, contrast, colors, for a dramatic feel. Two of my favorite programs are Nik Software and Topaz Programs. By using these programs, I have taken my photos to another level that really grabs the viewer’s attention.
Equipment for the macro photographer. My most successful image I have ever photographed was back in 2004 with a Fuji S2 digital SLR camera. That camera was generations ago in the digital age of cameras. Any digital SLR camera that you own today, no matter the cost, will capture great macro images if used properly. As for the lenses, I use Tamron macro lenses, but all companies produce good quality macro lenses. For your macro lens, I would recommend a longer focal length like a 180mm range. A longer focal length lens with give you more working distance between you and a subject, which is important if you are shooting live subjects like butterflies, dragonflies, frogs, that may flee if you get to close. Other options would be in the midrange macro lenses, like the 90mm, 100mm, or 105mm, which will work well, but not give you are much working distance between you and the subject. I don’t recommend the 50mm or 60mm macro lenses because the working distance from your subject is just to close, which can scare away your live subjects, and makes it tough on your back and knees when having to get down low shooting subject on the ground. I do 100% of my shooting on a tripod, which guarantees that I will have good sharp images.
We would like to thank Mike Moats for this write-up and these incredible images! To find out how you can attend one of Mike's invaluable workshops visit his website here.