Want to discover the unique secrets of macro photography? Learn the art with these behind-the-scenes tips and stories from five pro photographers.

In his own words, the 20th-century photographer Fritz Goro chose subjects many of his contemporaries would have dismissed as “unphotographable.” After his passing, he became known as the inventor of macro photography, and in the years since, the technology has advanced leaps and bounds. A magical universe of small but extraordinary creatures exists right beneath our noses, and these days, we only need a camera and the right lens to navigate its depths.

Macro photography has always appealed to our sense of curiosity and wonder, but in 2018, perhaps its power goes beyond that. For more than a decade now, bee populations have been in crisis, while almost 33% of all amphibians on Earth are now threatened or endangered. Macro photographs can teach us about these critters, and ultimately, they can inspire us to care about their wellbeing and take steps towards their protection. We asked five fantastic photographers with experience in the macro world to tell us about some of their most memorable encounters. Below, they share the insights they’ve picked up along the way.

1. “Many times, I have created a sort of “tunnel” with paper to direct the light towards my subject.”

Tomatito

5 Photographers Offer Their Surprising Tips for Stunning Macro Photos — Direct the Light

Image by Tomatito. Gear: Canon EOS 40D camera, Canon EF-S 60mm f2.8 macro lens, 2 additional magnification glasses in front of the lens. Settings: Exposure 1/200 sec; f6.3; ISO 100.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I always had a dream of photographing this beautiful little jumping spider, who is mostly red and has beautiful blue-greenish metallic eyes. This jumping spider is around 3 millimeters in size, so you can only see a small red dot with your eyes, but a macro lens and proper lighting will give you a fantastic result.

It was challenging to find this spider. As I live in London, the spider was sent to me from Barcelona. I took care of this little jumper for four months, feeding it flies. It took me three weeks of trying and failing to get such a shot, as the spider was moving around quickly and never stayed in one place. But the result was worth it.

Tomatito
Tomatito

Pictured: [1] Tomatito [2] Tomatito

Pro Tip

The most enjoyable way to shoot macro is probably waking up in the early morning when all the insects are still sleeping. Take your macro lens, camera, and tripod, and go into a forest or a meadow. Usually, the insects will still be covered in morning dew in the early hours, and the light can be amazing during sunrise.

If you want a great macro lens for cheap, you can purchase an old manual 28mm, 35mm, or 50mm lens and put it on your camera reversed. You can usually tape it with electrical tape on some cheap extension tubes. That will give you fantastic magnification and sharpness. Because the lens is manual, you can also set an aperture which provides you with a deeper depth of field. I wish someone would have told me this many years ago.

Another fantastic tip is to diffuse the flash from your camera with tissue paper. Tissue paper softens the light. Many times, I have created a sort of “tunnel” with paper to direct the light towards my subject. In this case, the flash won’t travel all around the room but to a specific place. This method can deliver fantastic results, and you won’t need to buy an expensive additional macro flash. It’s an excellent DIY project on a budget, and it’s also fun!

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2. “Look for a perfect angle and a breathtaking background.”

Earnest Tse

5 Photographers Offer Their Surprising Tips for Stunning Macro Photos — Look for the Perfect Angle

Image by Earnest Tse. Gear: Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera, Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens. Settings: Exposure 1/200 sec; f9.0; ISO 800.

What’s the story behind this photo?

Mudskippers are active in grey and black mud flats during the summer, but they often keep a distance from human beings, making them difficult to reach. From what I understand, mudskippers are not as sensitive to things that approach slowly and quietly, so I walked close to a burrow and set up my camera nearby before calmly waiting for its appearance. As expected, the mudskipper was not aware of my slow movements and crawled out. I took this photo at a distance of 30 centimeters.

5 Photographers Offer Their Surprising Tips for Stunning Macro Photos — Think About Your Background

Image by Earnest Tse.

Pro Tip

It is crucial for you to understand the behaviors of your subject, including its habits, the location and time it generally shows up, and how closely you can approach. You’ll have a higher chance of getting a good photo if you wait for your subject at a particular place rather than chasing after it. If you would like to take pictures of bees or butterflies, for example, stay close to nectariferous plants and set up your gear.

Capturing a spectacular photo with that “wow” factor doesn’t always come down to luck. Instead, you need to make preparations. Look for a perfect angle and a breathtaking background. Additionally, always focus on the eyes of your subject. After all, they are the windows to the soul.

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3. “My favorite time is the early morning, when the light is soft and your subjects are still dewy.”

Artur Rydzewski

5 Photographers Offer Their Surprising Tips for Stunning Macro Photos — Work with the Right Equipment

Image by Artur Rydzewski. Gear: Nikon D5200 camera, El-Nikkor 50mm lens with extension tube, flash with diffuser. Settings: Exposure 1/200 sec; f5.6; ISO 800.

What’s the story behind this photo?

I photographed this bee in the dew early in the morning in a meadow near the forest.

Pro Tip

First, you should have the right equipment, especially lenses, a flash, and a diffuser. The most important is the lens, but you don’t have to buy expensive macro lenses! I use reversed enlarger lenses. My favorite is the El-Nikkor 50mm, f/2.8N, which is ideal for extreme macro photography. You can also use an extension tube for more magnification.

Artur Rydzewski
Artur Rydzewski

Pictured: [1] Artur Rydzewski [2] Artur Rydzewski

You also need a flash with a diffuser. My first diffuser was made of an A4 hard plastic sleeve with paper towel inside. I used stapled rubber bands to mount the diffuser to the flash. It worked well.

The time of day is also important. My favorite time is the early morning, when the light is soft and your subjects are still dewy. Your chances of taking sharp photos are much higher at this time than they are during the rest of the day.

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4. “In macro photography, the most important things are patience and the pursuit of your goal.”

Ireneusz Waledzik

5 Photographers Offer Their Surprising Tips for Stunning Macro Photos — Be Patient

Image by Ireneusz Waledzik. Gear: Nikon D750 camera, Mitutoyo M Plan Apo 10x (microscope lens). Settings: Exposure 1/200 sec; ISO 80.

What’s the story behind this photo?

In this photo, we see a tiny jumping spider. He is a member of a species called Salticus scenicus, and his head is less than one millimeter! I took this photo using the stacking method.

5 Photographers Offer Their Surprising Tips for Stunning Macro Photos — Keep Your Goal in Mind

Image by Ireneusz Waledzik.

Pro Tip

In macro photography, the most important things are patience and the pursuit of your goal. As you gain more experience, your macro photos will get better and better. One of the most important tips I can give is to take macro shots very early in the morning. At this time of day, insects are lethargic, and you can approach them very closely.

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5. “Always use natural light, especially in the case of a backlit shot.”

Fauzan Maududdin

5 Photographers Offer Their Surprising Tips for Stunning Macro Photos — Make the Most of Natural Light

Image by Fauzan Maududdin. Gear: Canon EOS 80D camera, Canon Macro 100mm IS USM lens. Settings: Exposure 1/125 sec; f7.1; ISO 200.

What’s the story behind this photo?

This is my pet Gecko. He likes to play in the sand in my backyard, so I just put him there and waited for a magical moment.

Fauzan Maududdin
Fauzan Maududdin
Fauzan Maududdin

Pictured: [1] Fauzan Maududdin [2] Fauzan Maududdin [3] Fauzan Maududdin

Pro Tip

Learn about the subject you want to shoot. Always use natural light, especially in the case of a backlit shot. It will give you a more dimensional image. Don’t be afraid of creating a concept by cleaning or arranging your background or offering your subject a place to stand, but make sure to never harm or interfere with your subject. Photoshop can also make your photos more eye-catching and colorful.

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Top Image by Artur Rydzewski.