Macro Photography Lighting: The Ultimate Guide to Macro Light

Do you struggle to capture incredible macro photos–all the time?

One of the key ways to do that…

…is to master macro photography lighting.

In this article, you’ll discover the secrets to macro photo lighting. And you’ll come away with the ability to use light to capture incredible photos.

Let’s dive right in.

1. Photograph During Three Times: Sunny Sunrises, Sunny Sunsets, and Cloudy Days

Not all light is created equal.

(When it comes to macro photography lighting, at least!)

Certain types of light are better for macro photos than others. And they’re what’ll help you create gorgeous macro images.

Specifically, for stunning macro photography, shoot during the golden hours–the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset.

During the golden hours, the light is beautiful and soft. Golden hour light is rarely bad. And the results are almost always good!

Golden hour light also allows for some beautiful colors and effects, because the sun is low in the sky.

(I discuss these more down below.)

But what if you can’t shoot during the golden hours? When can you get out to do macro photography?

Fortunately, there’s another ideal time for a macro photoshoot:

Anytime on a cloudy day!

See, clouds act as a giant diffuser. They take the harsh sunlight, and they soften it. Which leaves the photographer with nice, soft macro photography lighting.

Soft light is especially good for beautiful macro photography.

Why?

Because soft light saturates colors. So photos taken on cloudy days tend to have slightly more saturated, more vivid colors.

Just remember:

Shoot during the golden hours.

And shoot on cloudy days.

2. Capture Sidelight for Incredible Black Backgrounds

In macro photography, it’s essential that the background doesn’t distract from the subject.

That’s why I often recommend using white backgrounds and black backgrounds, if you can. Once you’ve mastered these, you move up to more complex macro backgrounds.

One great way to capture amazing black backgrounds?

Sidelight.

(Sidelight is light that comes from the side of the subject. That is, it comes from the right or left of the photographer.)

Now, sidelight creates clear shadows, because it only illuminates half the subject.

So here’s how you can create a black background:

Find a subject that is in direct sun–but that has a background in the shade.

And take the photo.

(But make sure that the image is bright enough to see the subject clearly.)

If you’re able, you can lighten the subject slightly in post-processing, and you can darken the background.

But this isn’t completely necessary. Because you’ll have already done most of the work!

You should also consider creating a black background that you can use with your macro subjects. I have a small board that I’ve painted black. I occasionally set it up behind my subjects, and shoot away.

(Always using sidelight, of course!)

3. Shoot Backlit During Golden Hour for Amazing Bokeh

It can be a struggle to capture gorgeous bokeh.

(Bokeh is the smooth, creamy backgrounds that you often see in professional photos.)

But one great way to capture incredible bokeh in your macro photography?

Shoot backlit.

Now, backlighting involves photographing into the sun. And this can cause the whole photo to become white and blown out. After all, the sun is quite bright!

So here’s what I suggest:

First, don’t shoot backlit photos until the sun has nearly set (or has only just risen).

Second, either put the sun just out of the frame, or put the sun behind your subject.

That way, the sun won’t overpower the photo.

But why does backlighting create such incredible bokeh?

Let me explain:

When you backlight a subject, the light becomes scattered around the subject. It’s broken up by trees, by the subject itself, by other plants in the background…

And scattered pinpricks of light is perfect for creating bokeh.

So, by shooting backlit, you’re capturing the perfect bokeh light!

4. Find Frontlight on Cloudy Days for Beautiful Macro Photos

You already know that cloudy days are great for macro photography.

But even on cloudy days…

…you have to pay attention to the direction of the light.

You see, the clouds act as a diffuser. But they’re not perfect. The sunlight does still come from a particular direction.

And this causes shadows.

So it’s important that you figure out the direction of the light–and make sure you take frontlit photos.

(That is, make sure that the sunlight is coming from over your shoulder.)

This will get you the most deeply saturated colors. And it’ll prevent unpleasant shadows from ruining your work.

5. Shoot in the Shade (But With Sun in the Background)

I love to shoot during the golden hours.

And I love to capture macro photos that are lit by soft, golden light.

But sometimes, I actually like to find macro subjects that are in the shade.

Here’s why:

If you find a subject that’s in the shade, you can look around–until you find a backdrop that’s lit by the sun.

Now, this backdrop can be anything: grass, trees, or other flowers. But a sunlit backdrop looks incredible in golden hour lighting.

And putting your subject in the shade?

It just enhances the whole photo. It makes the photo slightly more subdued–like a pastel painting. Which is a look that I adore.

That’s what makes this sun/shade combination so potent. It’ll get you original macro images.

Images that nobody’s ever taken before.

6. Shoot Against a Colorful Sunset for a Stunning Backdrop

Here’s a final macro photography lighting trick for you.

(It’s one of my favorites.)

When the sun is setting on a clear day…

…the sky goes orange and yellow.

It’s beautiful–and not too bright. So it makes for the perfect background.

Now, taking this photo does require a bit of effort.

If your subject is medium height, you’ll have to drop onto your knees. Because you have to shoot upward so as to fully render the orange sky.

If your subject is low to the ground, you’ll have to lie flat. So prepare to get a bit dirty!

In these situations, I recommend that you take backlit photos. First, I find that the color tends to be best right around the setting sun.

Second, the backlight from the sky also helps to create a sense of fragility. The fading golden light shines from behind your subject.

And the result is breathtaking.

So take sunset shots whenever you can.

Macro Photography Lighting: Next Steps

Now you know the best macro photography lighting–so that you can consistently capture amazing macro images.

You know when to shoot.

You know all about directional lighting.

And you know a few tricks to get unique, stunning images.

All that’s left to do?

Get out and shoot!

Also…

If you want to keep improving your macro photography skills, then you should sign up for my newsletter! I’ll send you lots of tips, tricks, and secrets, all designed to get you capturing gorgeous photos (as fast as possible!)

(Oh, and you’ll receive a free nature photography eBook!)

Simply enter your email below:

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