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8 Tips for Using an iPhone Macro Lens

A Guide to Getting Up Close and Personal with the World Around You
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The following article was published in the September/October 2015 issue of iPhone Life magazine. Learn how to get the most from your iPhone by clicking here to subscribe.

Life is brimming with beautiful little details—a colorful insect on the sidewalk, an interesting texture, a drop of dew on the petal of a flower. Unfortunately, tiny details are just that—they’re tiny. If we’re living life in the fast lane, chances are we rush by hidden gems every day without the slightest consideration.

That’s why I love macro photography. There’s something magical and exciting about the little details that often go unnoticed by us. And thanks to external lenses designed for our iPhones, capturing those moments is now incredibly easy. Here’s everything you need to know to begin getting up close and personal with the world around you.


Purchase an External Lens


First thing’s first, you’ll need to purchase a detachable iPhone macro lens. You’ll find that there are a variety of different iPhone macro lenses to choose from, but my personal favorite is the Olloclip Macro Pro Lens ($69.99)—which offers three different levels of magnification. If you’re looking for a lower pricepoint though, the solo Wide/Macro Lens from Photojojo ($20) is a great option as well.

Favorite Apps

ProCamera + HDR
($4.99)
I like having as much control over my images as possible. ProCamera lets me set my own focus, exposure, and color, and even lets me use my Apple Watch as a shutter remote.

Enlight
($3.99)
I came across this app a month ago, and it’s the only editing app I ever use anymore. It has everything I could ask for and more, from basic adjustment tools and filters to more advanced options that allow me to create a collage or a double exposure.

Natural Lighting

Lighting is one of the most crucial aspects of photography—too much light and your subject will lose detail, too little and it will come out dark and blurry. This is especially true with macro photography, where the details tend to be the crux of your image. To get the best results, use natural lighting whenever you can, and avoid direct sunlight. I find that lighting is best early in the morning or early in the evening. Not only do these times lend gorgeous golden light to your photographs, but it’s also the best time to capture shots of insects and other little creatures, as they tend to be a little more sluggish at these hours.

Stay Steady

It’s easy to undervalue the importance of keeping a steady hand, but trust me, it makes a difference. This is where having a tripod comes in handy, but if you don’t have one, you can employ other methods to ensure your shot is crystal clear. When taking a picture, I try to find a sturdy object to prop my phone up against. In the shot above that I captured of a jumping spider on my porch, I rested my phone on the wood and then angled it toward the spider, which produced a surprisingly clear image.

Learn to See

We are programmed to see things in their whole, complete form—a tree is a tree, a cat is a cat, a flower is a flower. What we aren’t accustomed to seeing are the small parts that make those things up. A flower isn’t just a flower; it has petals and a stamen covered in pollen. A tree isn’t just a tree; it has leaves, bark, and seeds, and it harbors hundreds of creatures in its branches. Macro photography is all about paying attention. When you learn how to expand your vision, your images will reveal things otherwise invisible to you.

"When you learn how to expand your vision, your images will reveal things otherwise invisible to you."

Find Interesting Patterns and Textures

Don’t see anything interesting around you? You might be surprised. The world is a treasure-trove of colorful combinations—embroidered fabric, a cluster of tangled moss, a unique design etched into your favorite bracelet. Be aware of spirals, lines, and other patterns. They have a way of bringing life to an otherwise boring subject.

Background Is Important

Take time to consider the background of your image. Originally, the dandelion in the picture above was out in a field. The lighting was harsh and I didn’t want a typical green background. Instead, I brought the dandelion carefully home and then held it against a blue sheet of paper. I then used the diffused lighting of a nearby window to illuminate the seeds. The white of the dandelion stood out against the bright blue backdrop in a way that it never would have outside.

 

“You’ll need to relax and embrace the fact that you have no control over your subjects—and that’s the best part!”

Be Patient

Macro photography isn’t like taking portraits of people. People will (most the time) do what you ask. Wildlife? Not so much. You’ll need to relax and embrace the fact that you have no control over your subjects—and that’s the best part! If you want a picture of a bumblebee collecting pollen, sit by the flowers and wait for one to land beside you. If you want a picture of a daisy on a breezy day, you’ll have to wait for a brief break in the wind. Learn to take your time.

Record a Video

iPhone macro photography is fun, but people forget that you can also record macro videos too. I recorded a high-speed video of a snail eating some algae and it was super entertaining to watch. Shooting a macro video is also handy if you find that your hands are too shaky to get a decent shot of your subject. If this happens, shoot a slo-mo video instead, while trying to maintain a clear focus on your subject. Afterwards, watch the video and take screenshots of the in-focus scenes. Your image won’t be as of high quality, but at least it won’t be blurry!

“You’re going to take a lot of bad pictures in your pursuit of a good one. Guess what? All the best photographers do.”

Have Fun!

Trust me, you’re going to take a lot of bad pictures in your pursuit of a good one. Guess what? All the best photographers do. They’re going to be blurry, dark, or poorly composed. Just keep on taking pictures, even when you feel discouraged. You’ll start seeing yourself improve in no time!