How To Learn Macro

by Johan J Ingles-Le Nobel
Last updated August 31, 2017


Although time practising with the camera is invaluable, studying how great macro shots are made and just looking at macro work is as important, and gives the aspiring macro photographer a great repertoire of do's and don't's.

Learning What Works


FlickStackr, an excellent ipad app to organise your image research on Flickr. Use the stack functionality to keep searches and cache into stacks for offline research.

One of the bizarre things about photography is that people seem to get better and better at it as they get older. I think this is due to being able to read a great image better and better and developing a great understanding of what works and what doesn't as you get older. That's why I think looking at other work and deconstructing how it was made and why it works is really a worthwhile exercise, one that I personally do all the time.

Cost of Learning

We have it so easy nowadays compared to say 20 years ago. Back in the day we had to go and buy expensive books to be able to look and learn, and we had to buy expensive film to practice photography. Nowadays, the cost of learning has diminished to a fraction of its former self, as there are no film costs anymore and there are reams of great galleries online where you can go and look at stuff.

Image Research

Nowadays, the cost of learning has diminished to a fraction of its former self

I have a particular thing about colour combinations and backgrounds - it's something that I've always found tricky. Although I had a scholarship at the Academy of Art College in photography, I never got further than black and white work there so colour work I still consider a bit of challenge. This is where 'looking' research has helped me -- I use an ipad app called flickstackr to go through all macro shots I like on Flickr and divide them into colour foregrounds and backgrounds. This sort of reference material then becomes invaluable when it's time to do my own work with an insect of a certain colour, as I'll know what goes well with it. All though just looking... and underrated tool as far as I'm concerned.

... and Learn by Reading!

Certain photography books should be on every photographer's bookshelf, both to provide a general grounding in photography and to provide specialised summaries of certain areas. These are the books that have a permanent place on my bookshelf, and I would welcome suggestions for others.

Light: Science and Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting (Fil Hunter and Paul Fuqua) Classic lighting book that takes you through all the principles that you need to know; principles that apply to all forms of photography including extreme macro.
Digital Photography For Science: Close-Up Photography, Macrophotography And Photomacrography (Enrico Savazzi) Bible for digital macro, about 700 pages in total. If it's not in there it doesn't matter. Buy here but check for discount codes first!
The Camera (Ansel Adams) Beautiful photography classic coffee table book covering everything from "seeing" the finished photo in advance, to lens choices. It is illustrated with many of Ansel Adams most famous images.
The Negative (Ansel Adams) Discussions of light, film and exposure, including the zone system, chapters on natural and artificial light and the darkroom and its equipment. For 35mm but relevant today.