FOCUS: If you are restricted from using a tripod and have to hand hold the camera, first get the magnification of the subject to the size you want. Once that’s set, rather than try to autofocus or even manual focus, rock the camera closer or farther away from the subject. It serves the same purpose as focusing but you can use both hands to support the camera to help ensure you get a stable platform.
FLASH #1: If you use flash as your main light, a black or dark background is often the end result. To record more ambient light, rather than synch the flash at 1/250 of a second, set the metering mode to manual and open the shutter to 1/30 or 1/60. This forces the shutter to stay open longer. The background receives more ambient light exposure. The exposure of the flash will be determined by the f stop at which the camera is set.
FLASH #2: If you use flash to soften the sun’s contrast, use the fill compensation button to dial down the output. Check the LCD on the back of the camera to see if the amount looks good. If there’s still too much contrast, bring some of the output back. If the image looks too flashed, then dial it down even more. Use a hood loupe to block ambient light from hitting the LCD so you can evaluate the amount of fill more precisely.
REFLECTORS: Purchase a small collapsable gold reflector that can be used to bounce warm toned sunlight onto your subject. Not only will it help give the impression the photo was taken toward sunrise or sunset, it will soften the contrast if it has to be made during the off peak hours of mid day.
KNEEPADS: A lot of the photography you do will be from a low level. This puts added strain on your knees - especially if you have to kneel on rocks or sharp pebbles. Padded knee pads absorb the discomfort. This allows you to work the subject longer and stay out in the field. You may also want to bring a plastic garbage bag to lay on if the ground is wet or muddy.
SELECTIVE FOCUS: With a long lens and extreme magnification, getting close and shooting wide open narrows the depth of field to millimeters. This can be used to your advantage having just a single element of the subject sharp while the rest falls into a wash of color.
STOP DOWN: The opposite of selective focus is to get everything in focus. With macro subjects, given the limited depth of field, it’s essential the lens is stopped down to apertures of f16 or 22. This requires a lot of light and translates to slow shutter speeds that allows subject movement or camera jiggle to be recorded. Flash greatly improves your chance to get perfectly sharp images that need to be shot at small apertures.
STUDY THE NATURAL LIGHT: Just because you photograph a macro subject, the principles of front, side and backlight still apply. Study the way the light illuminates the subject. Is it harsh, contrasty, diffused, warm, coming from above etc.? Learn how to augment the light via the use of flash, reflectors, or diffusers if it’s not optimum.
RIGHT ANGLE VIEWFINDER: If the subject is very low to the ground, it’s difficult to look through the viewfinder to create the composition. Some cameras have fold out LCD screens which work wonderfully for this type of circumstance. If the LCD is fixed, then purchase a right angle viewfinder that enables you to look down and through the viewfinder so you don’t have to lay on the ground. Think of it as an inverted periscope.