3 Things Macro Photography Can Teach You About Taking Portraits :: Digital Photo Secrets

3 Things Macro Photography Can Teach You About Taking Portraits

by David Peterson 3 comments

Over the years, I’ve learned that a lot of photography skills bleed into other areas. If you learn about action photography, it’ll help you learn how to take pictures of waterfalls. If you know how to photograph snow, you’ll probably be good at photographing sand. Another example is macro photography. Very few people know that macro photography is a primer for taking perfect portraits. How so? Here are a few reasons why.

Understanding Depth of Field

When you take those very close up pictures of flowers, insects, or anything else lying around your house, you’ll immediately notice one thing. Only a small part of the image is in focus. Why is that? It has to do with the distance between your lens and your subject. When you’re shooting macro photos, that distance is very small. You’re nearly pressing the lens right up next to your subjects.

To see the effect with your own eyes, hold your hands out in front of face. Move them closer towards you, and keep looking at them until they become out of focus. Now move them just far enough away to get them back into focus. What do you notice? Everything behind your hands appears very blurry. You’ve just reduced the depth of field of your own eyes.

What is depth of field, anyway? It is the amount of the photo that is in focus. If you have a large depth of field, nearly everything is in focus. If you have a small depth of field, only a small part is in focus.

Depth of field is important in portrait photography because you won’t always want to see the background behind your subject. It can be really distracting sometimes. If you know how to reduce the depth of field, you can create portraits with a more concrete theme. Say goodbye to poles sticking out of your subjects’ heads and hello to something much more interesting.

[For an in-depth primer on Depth of Field, take a look at my Depth Of Field Secrets product]

Get Good At Composition

Composition is essentially the framing of your photo. Where is your subject located in the frame? Are there secondary subjects? What’s in the background? Is the background drawing attention away from your subject, or is it balancing out your subject? These are all questions of composition.

When you’re shooting macro photos, you have be very discerning about what you put in your photo and what you keep out. Simply choosing where to focus is the most important part of it. You need to focus on an area of the photo that really speaks to your viewer, and you need to arrange the framing so the rest of the image draws attention to that space.

The same is true of portrait photography. You want to focus on the most important part of a person’s face (usually the eyes, but not necessarily). You also want to organize the photo so your viewer is directed to that part. What you learn from composing macro images will definitely help you out here.

Find Beauty In All The Little Details

When macro photographers pick a subject, they really pick a subject. In your own backyard alone, there are probably dozens of insects and dandelions to choose from, but you’ll pick the one that’s the most interesting. In order to produce extraordinary macro photos, you need to have an eye for the small details that can really differentiate a drab flower from something spectacular.


The photographer got every last detail right.
The flowers balance out the lipsticks,
and it’s the perfect exposure level.

Once you master this skill, you’ll see it pop up in your portrait photography too. You’ll start paying attention to the jewelry people are wearing, their eyebrows, the shininess of their lipstick, and the reflections on their sunglasses. It all adds up, and some of it detracts. Great portrait photographers know how to tone down the distractions while emphasizing the interesting details.

If you think about it, that’s the only difference between a highly experienced photographer and someone just starting out. Photographers who have been there know which details matter the most. They can see a photo happening before they’ve even pressed down the shutter. Strengthening your macro photography skills will only get you closer to this goal.

So get out there and photograph your backyard this spring! There’s no reason not to, and once you start, you’ll see the fruits of your labor spilling over into all of your other photography.

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Comments

  1. ronald says:

    i take macro and wide angle pictures found out to take the clearest macro shots is wait till the light stops flashing. then take your shot and zoom in for close up cropping it will be clear.

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Difficulty:
Beginner
Length:
5 minutes
About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.