Control the Environment, Create your Picture

Additional flare and pizazz can be added to macro photos by modifying and controlling the environment. Using a monopod or building up the endurance in your arm to shoot photos one handed allows you to have a free hand to adjust the environment to create a better picture. For skittish bugs like butterflies you may not be able to do this, and you will have to rely on composing your photo by adjusting angles and your distance from the subject.

Using your Hand to Rotate your Subject

Flowers are my favorite canvas to use when photographing bugs since it is easy to gently twist the stem to rotate the flower slowly. If you find an insect on a flower, take your free hand and gently grab the flower stem, focus your subject, and then rotate to change the angle and direction of the bug. I really like doing this with bees

Different Perspective

Here is the same exact bug, only slightly rotated. I really like the looking forward perspective for insects, however the side profile is also nice, and also benneficial for identifying bugs.

Video Example

Here is a quick video of a beetle that I found on a plant stem that I recorded a quick video of. This video shows how I rotate the base of the plant that the insect is on to create different photos.

Changing the Background

The tone of a macro photo can be completely changed by simply changing the background. A black background can make an insect look more elegant or isolated and a colorful background like the blue sky can make a bug look fun and energetic or enhance contrasts. The blue sky can also do wonders for flowers, I personally really enjoy the blue sky behind orange and red flowers.

You can carry around small different backgrounds or you can take advantage of your environment and what you have to work with. A tree, for example, makes an awesome background as long as your subject is on something that you can pick up and move. You can also hold a leaf in the background or move the subject closer to flowers or plants that are close by.

Video Using a Tree Background

Here is a quick video of me using a tree to change the background for this banded net winged beetle.

Here are examples with the background

Here are examples without the background

See the difference in tone that I’m talking about? I tend to use a black background a lot because it is pretty easy to achieve when you are using a flash.

Making a Black Background

A black background is easy with a flash, and will most likely be the background you will mostly have when you first start taking macro photos with a flash.

  1. Set your camera to Manual mode
  2. Use a high F-Stop greater than 10, 14-16 is my favorite
  3. Make sure your flash is is on high power, adjust based on your lighting conditions to achieve a proper exposure - for a speedlight I usually do +2 or +3 flash compensation
  4. Set your shutter to 1/200th of a second, or between 1/100th and 1/200th depending on your lighting requirements
  5. Start at ISO 100 and move up as needed, but keep it at or under 400

I like to keep at ISO 100 as much as possible to reduce noise, when adjusting my exposure I change my flash settings first, aperture second, shutter third, and ISO fourth. I adjust settings in that priority order to keep the ISO down and detail up.


If you are not familiar with manual mode, don’t get discouraged, play around with it to get familiar with adjusting the settings on your camera.