Composition Basics in Macro Photography
Diagonal lines and compositional weight
Another important thing to bear in mind is that having the major lines in the image parallel to the edges is often unappealing. Try to give your images diagonals, and they will benefit greatly.
When shooting invertebrates in the classic 'animal standing on a diagonal plant' pose, I avoid having the plant exit the frame at both corners. Why? The subject itself has a compositional weight, reflecting its actual physical weight. Making the plant or twig exit the frame edge closest to the subject at a lower point can enhance the physicality of the shot.
|The branch exits the frame under the corner-to-corner diagonal, to balance the katydid's presence.|
|This orange-tip butterfly adds compositional weight and 'pushes' the leaf on which it’s standing below the diagonal, thus creating a balanced image.|
The degree to which you depart from the corner-to-corner diagonal should depend on the compositional weight of the subject. Notice that even though the plant or twig is not exiting the frame at the corner, a good composition often aligns the subject's body part nearest the frame edge with the corner. See the examples below.
When deciding whether or not to include a subject's entire body, one guideline to remember is to 'cut hard or not at all'. It’s often problematic to include the whole macro subject in a frame. Apart from anything else, some insects have very long antennae, so including the whole body would mean shooting at a relatively small magnification ratio.
This often conflicts with our wish to obtain good detail in the subject’s body, so sometimes a compromise is necessary, whereby we crop just some of our subject's protruding body parts. Yet this can often be a mistake that seriously hurts the balance in the image, leaving us with neither good composition nor good detail.
My advice? If you find long body parts too obstructive, just get as close as you need without regard for cutting them off. You’ll sometimes get a very good, detailed and balanced result even if you leave a large portion of your subject out of the frame.
It’s extremely important to stress that these rules are meant to be broken. Experiment with composition, try unusual methods and feel free to ignore conventions. But, and this is a big but, always do so with conviction and be thoughtful about it. Breaking the rules is fine, even desirable when you are truly committed to the reason for doing so. This is what art is all about.
For further reading on macro photography take a look at Erez's previous articles in this series:
The what and why of wildlife macro photography
What we want in a macro shot - Detail
What we want in a macro shot - Background
What we want in a macro shot - POV and special scenes
Macro photography: Understanding magnification
Depth of Field in Macro Photography
Erez Marom is a professional nature photographer and photography instructor based in Israel.
In July 2012, Erez will lead a macro and nature photography workshop in Costa Rica, where he will explain his photography techniques and methods with which he achieves his unique results. Registration is open for this unique opportunity to learn first hand from one of the world's leading macro artists.
Please click on the link for more details. You can also contact Erez on his website or at erezmarom[at]hotmail.com with any questions you might have about the workshop.
You can see more of Erez' work at www.erezmarom.com and follow him on his Facebook page and
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by dpreview.com or any affiliated companies.