5 rules of macro photography and when to break them

Photography is an art and you need to follow certain rules. While these rules are usually useful for beginners, as you become a more advanced photographer, you will sometimes find that you need to break all the rules of photography. But how do you know when to follow the rules and when to break them? Let’s try to figure out some rules you can break in macro photography. 

1. Use the rule of thirds

This is probably the most talked-about rule in photography, including macro photography. After all, the word “rule” is in its name!

The rule of thirds is simple: divide the viewfinder, screen, or LCD into vertical and horizontal thirds. This will create a grid. The main elements of your composition — the horizon, the guideline, the face, the eyes — should be somewhere along these lines.

So much better if they fall at one of the grid’s “power points”, where lines intersect.

Bees gather nectar from flowers

The rule of thirds has been used for centuries and often produces very pleasing pieces. But sometimes it’s better to break out of that mold and get something edgier and more unique.

When should you break the rules? Let me tell you two situations where I like to break the rule of three.

The first time you should break the rules is when you have an asymmetric theme. Symmetry is very powerful, and it is usually best to emphasize the center of the image by placing the point of symmetry (where the image around it is symmetric) in a dead place.

The second situation you might choose to break the rule of thirds is when you want a more spacious, lopsided image.

2. Keep it simple

Another common macro rule is to keep composition simple.

You should have a focus, no distracting elements, and a clean, direct image. In fact, this is usually wise. Random chaos takes away the main theme and causes the audience to become confused.

However, more controlled clutter may be just what you need to create unique images.


I like to use controlled chaos when I’m dealing with complex scenarios. For example, the many overlapping flowers are great subjects for more chaotic images.

The key is to make sure there is a major theme that stands out and stays focused. At the same time, it’s ok to make the background or foreground a little messy, as long as it complements the subject.

For example, you might have a background with a color that matches the main theme. Alternatively, your background may include some ornate lighting or brightly colored bokeaus.

Just make sure your eyes stay focused. It’s a fine line between having complex but controllable graphics and creating mayhem.

3. Have a focus

Macro photographers are often told to keep a focus in mind when composing. This means something the eye can focus on. This rule is especially important because I recommend you use it on the tip above!

However, although this rule has time and place, there are times when it should be broken.


For example, when faced with an obvious pattern between leaves, flowers, or ferns, it is sometimes best to think less about focus and more about the whole image. Try to emphasize the pattern and let your eyes follow it through the image.

There may not be a focus, but the image will remain pleasing.

4. Have a consistent background

Special emphasis is placed on uniform backgrounds in macro photography. For this reason, macro photographers usually shoot on a completely black or white background.

This rule makes sense — the more uniform the background, the less distracting it is.

However, this is also a rule that photographers often break. Why is that?


Because a uniform with a black or plain white background can be boring, a colorful uniform background is better. I find a uniform gold or orange color to be the most pleasing, but sometimes that’s not enough.

To take your macro photography to the next level, try looking for complementary backgrounds. In other words, provide some context for the substance while enhancing the main theme.

One trick is to place a second theme after the first. Choose an aperture so that the second subject is slightly out of focus but still recognizable.

Another trick is to shoot towards the sun so you can get creative flare effects and beautiful highlights. But be careful: you don’t want to go from uniform to messy. The keyword is “complementary”.

5. Make sure the whole topic is clear

I’ve saved the most interesting rule for last. This is a fairly simple one. Just make sure your topic is completely clear.

When photographing a flower, make sure it is sharp from the tip of the front petal to the edge of the back petal.

If you can’t make the whole topic clear, the rules suggest you should focus as much as possible. This is done by narrowing the aperture.


Of course, I recognize that there is a time and place for sharp images in the overall picture. But it’s a special kind of aesthetic, and you can get other looks by expanding the aperture and shooting in the F/2.8 to F/7.1 range.

This is how macro photographers create a “dreamlike” feeling in their images.

Use a wide aperture. You work at higher magnification and manually focus on the recognizable part of your subject.

Then you shoot and get a barely sharp image, which is very pleasing to some people.

6. Conclusion

Macro photography rules are very useful, especially for beginners. However, rules are made to be broken.

By breaking the rules discussed above, you get more unique images.


What are the 7 elements of photography?

There are seven basic elements of photographic art: line, shape, form, texture, color, size, and depth. As a photographic artist, your knowledge and awareness of these different elements can be vital to the success of your composition and help convey the meaning of your photograph.

Can you do macro photography with a 50mm lens?

50mm lenses work best in capturing typical macro shots. However, these types of macro lenses have their drawbacks. 50mm lenses make subjects appear half “life-size” since they usually feature a 1:2 ratio, and require shooting at a much closer distance. But a 50mm lens is a must if you want a general walk-around lens.

What is the difference between a 50mm and 100mm macro lens?

Your focal length determines your working distance from the subject. The longer your focal length, the further you will be from what you are trying to shoot. A 100mm macro lens will be at twice the working distance of a 50mm macro lens, meaning you have to be twice as far from your subject.

How do you focus on macro photography?

The proper way to focus manually for macro photography isn’t to compose your photo, then spin the focusing ring until the image in your viewfinder appears sharp. Instead, it’s to set your focusing ring at a particular point, and then move forward and backward until the image appears sharp.

Share this post