Invaluable Tips for the Macro Photographer (PHOTOS)

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Hey! I'm Thomas Shahan, an artist and macrophotographer from Oklahoma. In my spare time over the past few years, I've been shooting portraiture of local arthropods. Why would I devote countless hours to tramping through forests, fields and the like searching for insects and spiders? Well, despite some common beliefs, arthropods (members of the phylum Arthropoda -- insects, spiders, crustaceans...) represent an endlessly varied, wildly beautiful and fascinating bunch of animals with surprisingly personable faces and behavior. Often, all it takes is simply inspecting their lives on a closer level to turn repulsion to reverence.

An adult female Jumping Spider - Phidippus mystaceus

As a quick introduction to topics I will be delving into in later posts, here I will offer a few basic tips to consider when getting into macro photography. Despite this post's title, I'm no guru on the topic, but these concepts are the best bits of advice I have to offer on the subject:

  • Equipment is secondary - you can do a lot with a little.

All too often, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking, "if I just had better equipment, I could take better photos". Although it is inarguable that the cameras out there with more features will yield better image quality, great photos truly come from the photographer, not the camera. Many of the simple digital point-n-shoots of today are completely capable of taking wonderful macro photos, and if you own a digital slr, try out a cheap set of extension tubes with whatever lenses you already have. Worry more about the subject matter and less about the technicalities of the photo.

Male Striped Horse Fly - Tabanus lineola

  • Get to know your subject.

This is key -- especially when working with animals. Being familiar with their behavior and how they will respond to you and your camera is invaluable. Recognizing and becoming familiar with arthropods is another important thing to look into. Bugguide will become your best friend if you seek to shoot arthropods.

  • Persistence and patience are vital.

This is pretty straightforward -- just don't give up. Most of the shots you take will be absolutely awful, and that is just fine. Great shots are the result of simply shooting a lot. With digital photography, there are virtually no restraints -- you can just shoot until you card is full and then pick out the best shots later. If I had to estimate, about 90% of my bug shots are completely unusable -- out of focus, poorly lit, or out of frame.

  • Put some thought into your light source.

This is really quite important. Macrophotography innately requires a lot of light, so if you are planning on shooting bugs outside, believe it or not, the sun won't always be enough of a light source. Most of the time when you see a photograph that just somehow looks "professional", there was likely some sort of supplemental light source or bounced light. Invest in a nice flash, and if needed -- find a way to diffuse it!

Me at work photographing a robber fly. Photo by Sam Martin

So, in short, just get out there with whatever you have and get shooting!

Check out the video below, and be sure to click over to the my website here and Flickr page for more information and images.

I'll be posting more in the future, so if you have any questions for me or suggestions for future topics you would like me to cover, leave a comment below!

To see more great photography visit HuffPost Exposure.

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