How to Photograph Up Close – IV: Basic Macro Shots using Natural Light


Did you have a chance to read your manual on your camera?  If not, you should, because to photograph a great macro shot you really need to know your camera.

Read up on F-Stops and Shutter Speeds so you understand what you will need to do to make adjustments to the camera to get what you want.  The F-Stop is one of the most important aspects of photographing up close.

Today my post will be about basic Macro photographing in natural light.  My next post will discuss software to process your photographs, basically, when you work on your photos using your computer,  you will be able to achieve a more professional look to your photographs.  So don’t be discouraged if you’re not seeing the photographs you thought  you were going to shoot now.  Trust me…I will get you there


I would like you to play with your camera this week and focus on the various f-stops and shutter speeds to see what is in focus and what is not in focus.  When you shoot, for example an f-stop of F8 compared to F1.4 you can see that the F8 has more in focus, see below:

FYI: A variable to remember is that the closer you get to a subject with your lens the harder it is to achieve a sharp focus from edge to edge.

Click on this to go to the link from wikimedia.


If you want your photograph to be more in focus change your f-stop to F22 and see what it does.  Be careful to not increase your f-stop more than F22 because of the Reciprocal factor.  Just be aware that anything above F22 may have a dark ring around the outer edges of the photograph.  Of course you will need to make sure your exposure is correct. Due to digital technology you can see the exposure at the moment you take the picture.  An easy way to check your exposure is to set the aperture to your liking, move your shutter speed so the exposure guide in your viewfinder is in the middle (read your manual if you don’t know what I’m talking about) shoot the photo, if the photo is too dark slow down your shutter speed (say from 160 to 100) if the photo is too light speed up your shutter speed (say from 160 to 200) each time looking at your photo to see how it looks. Again, later in our posts we can talk about more detailed info on exposure, but for now play with this and USE YOUR MANUAL MODE.

I like to shoot with an ISO of 100 in natural light.  You can read about ISO here.  Basically, the lower your ISO the better the photograph.  If your light is limited go to an ISO of 400 or use lights.  I rarely use an ISO higher that 400 because of the grainy look to the photo.

When you photograph with natural light, pay attention to the light hitting your subject. Try not to have too much shadow on your subject, for now… when we talk about lighting (later) we can play with shadows. I begin my macro mode by photographing the subject in full – no macro.  I guess for me it’s getting to know the subject with the camera.  See how the dog is in the light and the backgound is in shadow. This drawes my attention to the dog – so cute isn’t she!

Pay attention to the light hitting your subject.

Pay attention to the light hitting your subject.

Ok, I’m going to confess! I am handholding the camera on the dog shots, but I’m not getting really close to her so I can wing it. The next two photographs I want you to see the difference in the aperture setting. This is what defines the photograph’s depth-of-field.

This photograph was taken at F8 @ 1/160 of a second:

F8 @ 1/160

F8 @ 1/160

The photograph below was taken at the same speed but with an F-Stop of 2.8:

F2.8 @ 1/160

F2.8 @ 1/160

Notice that her eye is in focus and the face is out of focus on the second photo (F2.8).  Remember,  you have the control!  Just change your f-stop to achieve what you want.  Take a look at the two photographs below with the same F2.8 stop.  The first flower is flat to my camera, notice that the flower is more in focus than the other flower.  I moved my camera to view the side of the flower (second photo) to show you how drastic this stop (F2.8) is.  Yes, I had to use my tripod, cable release, and focusing rack, for the flower shots. I had fun playing with the focusing rack…you can determine what you want the viewer to see in focus.  It’s a perfect toy for creativity!

front view f2.8

front view f2.8

Side view:

side view F2.8

side view F2.8

So your homework this week is to play with your apertures. Remember that an F22 will be in more focus than F2.8, but because of the small amount of light coming into the camera at F22, you will need to slow your shutter speed to add more light into the camera to get the exposure.  The next post  I will have photographs with F22 and some details about processing your photographs.

One more thing….because you need to slow your shutter speed…you may need to wait for the wind to stop blowing if your subject is outside.  I had to wait until just the right time to achieve a sharp focus on the flowers below.  I also suggest that you read up in your manual how to lock your mirror on your camera and use your tripod and shutter release cable.

Two more photos…can you tell which one has the f-stop open more? If not ask me:

Used a tripod and waited for the wind to stop for a sharp focus on flower.

Used a tripod and waited for the wind to stop for a sharp focus on flower.

Used tripod and cable release for a sharp focus on flower.

Used tripod and cable release for a sharp focus on flower.

Remember, the f-stop is one of the most important parts of macro photography.  Play with it so you understand how to create awesome macro photographs.  A great book to read is, “The Complete Guide to Close-up and Macro Photography” by Nicki Wheeler.




11 Comments on “How to Photograph Up Close – IV: Basic Macro Shots using Natural Light”

  1. […] always use a tripod, at least try to use a tripod.  Set up your shot… you can go to my basics here for more […]

  2. […] II: Cameras, Lens’ & Tripods / III: Fun Gadgets for Macro Photographing / IV:  Basic Macro Shots using Natural Light / V: Digital Darkroom Basics / VI:  Creative Techniques using Natural Light / VII: Alternative […]

  3. Walter Malone says:

    I am new at this but I am learning and really enjoying. I know very little but I am a quick study and enjoy trying different approaches. Thank you very much for the great information.

  4. […] your flashlight and adjust the f-stop & shutter speed to achieve the correct exposure, read my previous post IV if you don’t know what an f-stop or shutter speed is.  You may need to play with the […]

  5. Mary says:

    Pretty cool post. I just found your site and wanted to say
    that I have really liked reading your blog posts. In any case
    I’ll be subscribing to your blog and I hope you write again soon!

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