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.

Note how the diagonal position of the plant gives this image a dynamic feel. The robber fly seems ready to attack! The same subject in a poorly-composed image. The parallel lines and lack of lead room render this image boring and unattractive.
This shot has a very dynamic feel, thanks to the diagonal lines prevalent in its background. This dragonfly’s wings are themselves very strong diagonals. The “X” shape defines the frame, giving it a unique look.

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.

Note how the composition completes the corner-to-corner diagonal by pointing the robber fly’s back side exactly toward the corner. This enabled me to maintain balance while using the visual properties of the subject. This ladybug has little compositional weight, so I allowed myself to place the leaf on which it was standing close to the diagonal.

Tight crops

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. 

When shooting these red eyed tree frog embryos, I left most of the eggs out of the frame and concentrated on just a few of them as the subject. This not only created an interesting and more abstract look - but it allowed me to unravel the fascinating detail visible in the image. Note that I still put a strong emphasis on a balanced composition. This still has to be considered, especially when cropping tightly.
I cropped out much of this spider’s body in order to get good detail in its front section. Still, the image is well balanced and I am at peace with the composition.
To get better detail on this red eyed tree frog’s semi-transparent eyelid, I cropped out most of its body.

Be bold

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 
deviantArt gallery.