Double Vision Part 1: Making Your Macro Shots Stand Out

Stop for a second and picture a good macro shot in your mind. What does it look like? More importantly, what does it feel like? Seriously, do it, I can wait……

Okay, so you need some inspiration? Here are a couple of images that might help you along.




Now, the answers will be different for different people but the following list of words covers the most common answers I’ve heard from my students over the last 12 years.

Color     Blur     Detail     Softness     Ethereal     Seeing what your eye can’t

Not all of the words may have been on your list because we all place value on different things, but there’s no getting around a simple truth: Many macro shots FEEL a certain way. I attribute these feelings to that fact that in macro, flower petals glow, color stands out and softness and blur create a dreamy feel within a shallow depth of field. Some photographers strive to get maximum depth of field in their shots and even stack multiple images together to achieve something closer to what the eye would see but, for me, a photograph becomes more interesting when it records your subject in a way that you can’t see with your eyes so I shy away from that technique.

The very act of getting extremely close to your subject creates ultra shallow depth of field. Things that don’t fall within your thin plane of focus will become very blurry and lose detail. Color remains but detail is lost. Often, in macro, as objects become out of focus they get larger and more diffuse which makes them seem to glow and feel ethereal. This happens more with subjects that have a good degree of depth since more of the subject will fall out of your depth of field.

Often, I like to exaggerate these qualities slightly through a process that harkens back to the film days; double exposure. Many of today’s digital cameras give you the ability to take multiple exposures in camera. Through this process, you can instruct the camera to lay two (or more with some cameras) consecutive photos over each other to combine them into one image. So if you took one photo of your friend crossing the crosswalk and double exposed it with one of cars rushing down the street, you’d end up with a pretty odd feeling photo, wouldn’t you?

That’s not really the point of my technique. What I try to do is combine two images in which the qualities of one enhance the other. Below are examples of the two shots I would take; one with detail and one with a bloom of color.



If you looked at them before being combined they might appear odd but once together they look like this:



Pretty cool, right? Wanna see more? Well you already have. The first three images included in this article are all double exposures as well.

Now at this point you may have gone through your camera menu and discovered that you can’t do multiple exposure with your specific camera. No biggie, I’ll teach you how to do it with software in my next blog post, but keep reading so you get a sense for the effect we’re after.

Step 1. Put your camera in multiple exposure mode. Some cameras allow you to choose the number of exposures, but for this technique you want to choose two. Different models and brands of cameras give you options for how they blend the exposures together. Ideally you want an outcome that doesn’t look too dark and you want the camera to do the math behind making the final image look properly exposed. Often this is called “Average” or “Auto Gain” in the camera’s menu although manufacturers seem to come up with new words for it with every model introduced.

Step 2. Put your camera on a tripod, set up your composition and focus on your subject.

Step 3. Take your first photo at f16 or f11 to get a reasonable amount of depth of field.

Step 4. For your next shot you want little to no sharpness. If possible, set your camera to a large aperture like f4 and make sure to adjust your exposure if you’re in manual mode. Some cameras don’t allow you to change your aperture and shutter speed between shots in a double exposure. If that’s the case then skip this step.

Step 5. Make it “bloom.” To do this you want your subject to be both out of focus and slightly larger in your viewfinder. To achieve this, put your camera in manual focus mode and, while looking through the viewfinder, rotate your focus so your lens is focusing closer. This will make the subject become out of focus and larger. If your lens was already focused as close as it would get you have two other options.

Option 1. Move your camera closer without changing the composition. There are many reasons I like my Kirk Focusing Rail and this is one of them. It gives you the ability to move the camera closer or farther from your subject in large or tiny amounts without changing your composition. (Kirk’s rail is a game changer and I don’t shoot macro without it!)

Moving your camera closer to the subject will make the subject grow in size, and if you don’t focus after you’ve done this, your subject will become blurry.

Option 2. If you’re using a macro filter or extension tubes on a zoom lens you can defocus your lens and then zoom in slightly to make the subject bigger.

Step 6. Now take the second photo. Your camera will take a moment to overlay the two images but then you’ll see the result on the back of the camera.



Some subjects work better than others and the degree to which you make your second photo out of focus will depend on your preferences, but pretty soon you’ll be taking images that look and feel just a little bit more special.

In my next post I’ll teach you how to get similar effects through post processing…stay tuned!


Want to learn more Macro Photography techniques?
Join Tony Rizzuto at any of the 2015 Photo Weekends he will be teaching, or join him for our Macro Photography workshop.