Secrets to good macro photography

I feel like it should be mentioned that those tipps are especially for good macro photos for IDing purposes.

When I read the headline and then recommendation 1 and 3 I was very surprised at first, until I realized again which platform I am on right now ;-)

For artistic macro photos in nature it is mostly recommended not to use a flash (depending on your goal and taste of course) and use bigger aperatures rather than smaller ones. For a while I was mostly photographing with open aperature.
I know, nowadays as the macro community is more interested in stacking the preferences changed a bit. So it really depends on what your goal is in macro photography: e.g. showing as much detail as possible or creating a more artistic depiction

Those examples are photographes without flash and big aperature (5.2 and 3.5)


Are those stacked? Most of the time the things I’m photographing don’t sit still long enough. I’ve seen people do something like 40-shot handheld stacks but I’ve never been able to do more than 3, they’ll always move at least the antennae or legs. Or else just moving myself will shift the perspective enough to throw it off.

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Unless you’re using a cheap third-party one that doesn’t support TTL, why would you use manual flash? I was watching somebody do this the other day and being completely unable to get a good photo. I use manual exposure (1/200s, f/11 on a Canon 100mm macro) but leave the flash on automatic. Unless it’s an unusual scene (dark object on a light background or vice versa), it usually comes out good.

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All this talk about flash and manual settings … one reason I don’t use manual is that the subjects I like to photograph are usually far too mobile and don’t sit still long enough for me to adjust the settings I want.


It seems that there is a common misunderstanding about why people are using manual settings for their camera and flash. It certainly is not to force yourself into changing settings between every shot. It’s quite the opposite actually. By using manual settings you ensure that you always have the optimal settings for your system (camera, lens, flash, diffusor and focal distance combination) and don’t rely on what your camera thinks is best for a certain situation. You get much more uniform output. Photography becomes so simple this way that it’s like studio photography in the field. I have the camera at the same settings for 90% of the time without a need to change anything. Only when you encounter animals in weird situations you need to change some settings which you can do already before you get close if you have some experience with your gear.

The scenario where someone observed another person failing at using the flash in manual mode is not at all an argument against using flash with manual settings. It’s just an example of someone not knowing how to use their gear. It takes practice and experience. But once you figured that stuff out it’s the simplest way of macro photography.

Manual settings allow me to concentrate on the organism that I’m trying to photograph more, because I simply don’t have to worry about the setting. You know that the shots will look good as long as you nailed the focus.



I bought the Ztylus Revolver after reading this thread and have to say, it´s second bar none, a real gamechanger. I agree with @frousseu though too…its amazing what you can get even with just a loupe.

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Gotta say I love my little Olympus TG5 for iNat purposes–a starter camera from which I have yet to graduate. It won’t get you to fine art level macro, but it’s better than any phone+clip on combo I’ve seen. I’ve gotten “great photo” responses from bug IDers more than a few times–and it fits in a pocket!


You set settings for lighting conditions you have, in macro it’s still much easier and recommended to use flash, so it doesn’t matter much in which conditions you shoot (unless it’s really bright sun on object is on a very reflective surface, e.g. paper, wood, etc., where you have to agjust flash), cameras are never that clever and they can solve problems weird way, e.g. first day of my first dslr with tele lens result in pretty bright but okayish as I though at the moment pics, now I know that camera automatically setting 5000iso for bright sunny day wasn’t a good decision from it.

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No, I do not do stacks, all one shots

I love the Olympus TG5! For entry-level point-and-shoot macro, it’s probably the best out there (especially with the ring flash attachment). My only gripe with it is that the lens fogs up in tropical climates (due to it also being an underwater camera with a sealed body).


The truth is, I don’t always use flash! If the subject is in direct sunlight, isn’t glossy (e.g. butterflies), and isn’t too small, I’ll shoot it without flash. Usually though, using the flash gives me more control over the lighting and better sharpness, especially if I’m shooting at a small aperture (which I prefer for more depth of field and less chromatic aberration).

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Even though I have a DSLR with macro lens and ring flash, I almost exclusively use an Olympus TG-4 Tough with a flash diffuser in the field. It’s quick and easy to use particularly for moving insects and small animals. I get consistent excellent results. Also, with its small size and good view screen, I can get much closer to the subject than with my DSLR.


Wonderful tips. I find myself in violation of almost all of them :sweat_smile:
My main focus is bees and they are skittish enough as it is. Artificial light sources are often a non-starter, with a few exception for the individuals who are fast asleep. I use shutter speed settings most of the time depending on the foraging speed of the beast I’m following and amount of light I have, I just try to find the right balance between those two factors and seldom have the luxury to worry about aperture. I’m fine with variable depth of field since most my photography is for identification.
This is inspiring me to try some kind of light source again and play with it. Thanks for this great post.
And yes, @sbushes the stealth predator approach is a must. It is really tricky because for better light, you want to be between the sun and your subject, but that’s where they look to spot predators and even if there’s no shadow, they will quickly go into hiding. The approach is definitely an art on its own.


Just one question - does using a flash damage insects’/spiders’etc’s eyes??? Or leave them stunned long enough for a predator to grab them???

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Thanks zygy. Could you just disclose whether you have any relationship to Zamir or Brendan? You hide your profile, so for all I know you could be being paid to promote them.

No. I have never noticed any ill effects. Arthropods don’t have eyelids, so they have to have a mechanism for coping with natural bright lights including the sun and lightning.


Great ideas. Also, if you want keep things on the cheap or if you’re in a pinch, you could try

  1. Bouncing the flash
    Use a white index card or piece of paper. Bounced light looks nicer than straight-on harsh flash and has fewer shadows.

  2. Reflecting ambient light
    You can also get a cheap reflector or use a white card or tinfoil to reflect ambient light onto your subject and fill in the shadows.

  3. Put a tissue in front of the flash. It’ll work somewhat like a diffuser, even with an iPhone flash.


You can easily see their profile on iNat though.

No I have no relation to either of them other than the fact that I bought a flash diffuser from Brendan (after deciding to upgrade from my homemade one). I’m glad you asked though as there is so much sketchy social media advertising going on these days!


I don’t see how this works for the flash. If you have more ambient light in one shot and near-total darkness in another, using the same amount of flash in both is going to throw off at least one. This is a case where the camera usually does a good job – you manually set the aperture and time for the DOF and amount of freeze you need, and then the flash adds whatever the correct amount of light is without you having to worry about the setting. If the flash is in manual as well, then you do have to worry about it.