Magnificent Macro Bokeh: Using Fairy Lights in Macro Photography

If you want to capture some creative macro photography

…then you’re going to love this article.

Because it’s all about using fairy lights–to create stunning, creative macro photos!

Photos like this:

purple flower with fairy light background

So if you want to discover how to do some unique, fairy-light macro photography, read on!

What Are Fairy Lights?

Fairy lights are a useful little item you can buy on Amazon for around ten dollars.

They look like this:

fairy lights suitable for macro photography

To do some fairy-light macro photography, I recommend purchasing battery-operated fairy lights. You can get little packs of them–which you can take with you into the field.

I’d also recommend you pick fairy lights with warmer colors. A gold or a warm white should work just fine.

How Do You Use Fairy Lights for Unique Macro Photography?

First things first:

Bokeh refers to the background blur that photographers really like.

Look at this photo:

macro photo with a good background bokeh

The background is all blurry, right?

That’s bokeh.

Now, you can get nice bokeh just by changing the settings on your camera (I’ll talk about this more in a minute).

But if you want really stunning bokeh, you need something else:

You need pinpricks of light behind your subject.

When these spots of light pass through your lens, they’ll be rendered all blurry and out of focus.

And that will make them look like this:

fairy light macro photography of a daisy

You see? This type of bokeh (which I’ll call light bokeh) is the key to capturing a stunning macro background.

If you can generate some nice light bokeh, it’ll immediately transform your macro images. They’ll go from boring to eye-catching.

Which is what you want.

Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to create truly stunning light bokeh. Subjects rarely have pinpricks of light behind them–and pinpricks of light are necessary for producing light bokeh.

Enter fairy lights. 

You see, fairy lights are perfect for creating light bokeh. They’re light enough that you can carry them with you. And they’re small enough that you can use them in your macro photos.

(If the light is too large, then you’ll no longer be able to create gorgeous light bokeh. Instead, you’ll get something much less pleasing.)

I’ve used fairy lights to capture shots like this:

macro photography with fairy light bokeh

And this:

fairy light macro photography cluster of pink flowers

As you can see, fairy lights create really unique, stunning macro photos.

Here’s how I managed to capture photos like those!

Step 1: Shoot at Dusk (But Not Before!)

Here’s the thing:

Fairy lights are small.

Which makes them ideal for macro photography.

Unfortunately, they’re not very bright.

So if you try to use fairy lights before the light has dimmed, you’re going to end up with a washed-out effect.

This doesn’t look great.

Instead, I recommend you wait until things get somewhat dark.

Not so dark that you can’t see. At that point, things become too dark for good photos.

fairy light macro photography with an artistic effect

You want to start shooting once the sun has fallen below the horizon.

That’ll give you just the right amount of light for gorgeous macro photos.

Step 2: Choose a Wide Aperture to Amplify the Bokeh Effect

The aperture is what controls the depth of field in your photos.

In other words, the aperture affects whether your photo has a very narrow plane of focus (i.e., a shallow depth of field), or whether the photo is sharp from front to back (i.e., a deep depth of field).

And in order to capture stunning light bokeh, you need the photo to be mostly blurry–with a narrow plane of focus.

You get this by using a wide aperture.

black eyed susan fairy light macro photography

Wide apertures are represented by low f-numbers: f/1.4, f/1.8, f/2.8, or thereabouts.

(Narrow apertures are represented by high f-numbers: f/11, f/16, f/22).

Now, aperture is a basic camera setting. So you should be able to dial in a wide aperture fairly easily. For fairy light macro photography, I suggest using the widest aperture your lens allows. Something in the f/1.8 to f/5.6 range.

By choosing a wide aperture, you’ll ensure that the background is as blurry as possible.

And that, in turn, will increase the size of the light bokeh.

Step 3: Perch the Fairy Lights Behind or in Front of Your Subject

In general, you want to place the fairy lights a medium distance behind your subject.

(I tend to use flowers for fairy light photography, but you can choose whatever subject you like.)

Too close, and the fairy lights will be recognizable in the photo.

Too far, and the light bokeh won’t be very strong.

backlit fairy light macro photography subject

I also recommend that you find a place behind your subject to perch the fairy lights. Technically, it’s possible to hold the fairy lights with one hand while shooting with the other. But this is difficult–you’ll struggle with camera shake.

If you like, you can bring a tripod along. String the fairy lights from the top of the tripod, and position it behind your subject.

You can also place the fairy lights on a bush or a plant behind your subject. This is my favorite method of shooting. That way, I don’t have to deal with a cumbersome tripod. And I can still get gorgeous fairy light photos!

That said…

You can also position the fairy lights in front of your subject.

flower with fairy lights

If you do this, you have to put the lights close to the lens. Too close to the subject, and they’ll be recognizable as fairy lights.

Step 4: Carefully Position the Fairy Lights for the Best Composition

One more thing:

You don’t want to capture a haphazard fairy-light photo.

Instead, you have to carefully choose the position of the fairy lights.

I recommend you fill the background with fairy lights, like this:

black eyed susan fairy light macro photography

What’s especially important is that you don’t have an imbalanced background. You need to make sure that the backdrop is nicely covered with fairy lights.

If you’re shooting with fairy lights in the foreground, I recommend you place them so they ring the subject. This will draw attention to the focal point, without distracting the viewer.

That’s what I did for this photo:

beautiful macro photography subject

Just remember:

Carefully position your fairy lights.

That’s how you’ll capture a compelling image.

Step 5: Manually Focus on Your Macro Subject

Once you’ve placed the fairy lights behind your subject, you’re going to need to ensure the photo will be sharp.

And if you want your fairy-light image to be stunning…

…you need it to be tack sharp.

manual focusing with fairy light macro photography

Here’s why:

Autofocus works great in bright light.

But when the light gets low? That’s when lenses really struggle.

And that’s why I recommend you use manual focus. It’ll allow you to quickly set focus on your subject. And you won’t spend too much time waiting for the autofocus to work.

As you focus on your subject, make sure that there’s nothing distracting behind it. If there is, change the composition. You don’t want to draw the eye away from your subject.

And finally?

Take your shot!

fairy light front lit macro photography subject

If you’ve followed these directions, it’ll be gorgeous!

Fairy Light Macro Photography: Conclusion

Now that you’ve finished this post, you should know exactly how to create gorgeous fairy-light macros.

You know how to get the best bokeh.

You know how to position your fairy lights.

And you know how to get focus on your subject.

black and white macro photography

One more thing:

If you want to improve your macro photography even further, subscribe to my newsletter!

I’ll send you all sorts of tips, tricks, and secrets, all designed to get you taking stunning macro photos.

Simply enter your email below:

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