Do you want to capture beautiful soft-focus macro photography?
Because soft-focus macro photography isn’t actually that hard. It just uses a few simple tricks, which leave your photos looking abstract, dreamy and, well, gorgeous.
And in this article, I’m going to share these tricks with you.
Are you ready to start taking stunning soft-focus photos?
Let’s dive right in.
Tip 1: Shoot in Soft Light for the Best Look
If you want to capture beautiful soft-focus macro photos, then you’ve got to start with beautiful light.
Because without beautiful light, your soft-focus photos will just fall flat. They’ll look contrast-heavy and unpleasant.
What counts as beautiful light?
You have two options.
The first is golden-hour light. This is the light of early morning and late evening, when the sun is low in the sky and casts a golden glow over the scene.
Golden-hour lighting is fairly soft, and so it can complement your overall soft look. But golden-hour lighting also tends to be a bit more dramatic–a bit more in-your-face.
Which is why I recommend you use cloudy light whenever you can.
See, cloudy light is nice and diffused. It has no real direction. Instead, it just falls over all of your subject, bringing with it a lovely soft look. And this is exactly what you need.
Another great thing about cloudy light is how much it brings out colors. Because the soft light makes colors far more saturated, giving them a deeper tone, like this:
Now, once you’ve chosen your lighting style, it’s time to look at specific camera techniques for soft-focus macro photography.
There are two big ones, starting with:
Tip 2: Get as Close to Your Subject as Possible
Macro photography is all about getting close.
But it’s easy to forget about the true capabilities of your camera gear. And it’s easy to stop short of getting to true macro magnifications.
When it comes to soft-focus macro photography, you should absolutely push the boundaries of your lenses. Get as close as you can.
The closer you get, the softer your photos will look. This is because high magnifications decrease the area in focus (as discussed more in the next tip). And this enhances the overall soft-focus style.
Plus, the closer you get, the more abstract your photos will look. This simply comes from showing the viewer something new, something they haven’t seen before. Soft-focus macro photos lend themselves really well to this.
Now, the best gear for soft-focus macro photography is a dedicated macro lens and an interchangeable lens camera. But if you don’t have a dedicated macro lens, that’s okay. Just use whichever lens of yours focuses closest!
Tip 3: Use a Wide Aperture for a Soft Glow
If there’s one thing that you absolutely must remember for soft-focus macro photography…
…it’s to use the widest aperture you’ve got.
You see, the aperture is a hole in your lens. And the more you widen the hole (via the aperture setting), the more blurry your photo will be. Note that the aperture is represented as f-numbers: f/2.8, f/4, f/8, etc., where the lower the number, the wider the aperture.
Of course, you don’t want your photo to be completely blurry. But the aperture doesn’t make everything blurry. It simply narrows down the plane of sharpness, so that only a small sliver of the photo is in focus.
This is the bread and butter of soft-focus photography. If you can use a wide enough aperture, most of the shot will be blurred away, leaving you with only a spot of sharpness within the frame.
In general, I recommend using an aperture in the area of f/2.8 to f/4. These apertures are good for achieving a soft-focus effect. You can use slightly narrower apertures as well, but the narrower the aperture, the less of a soft-focus effect you’ll achieve.
Tip 4: Include a Single Point of Focus That Stands Out
Now, even if you create a beautiful soft-focus effect, even if you have beautiful light–it’s still not going to get you an amazing soft-focus photo.
Because there are a couple more things you need to consider. In particular, you want to make sure you compose your soft-focus shot carefully, so that it draws the viewer in and engages them.
How do you do that?
One of the best ways to really grab the viewer’s attention is to rely on simplicity. Make sure that most of your photo is very soft. And only include a single spot of sharpness–a single point of focus that anchors your photo.
To do this, you need to ensure that you choose a ‘main subject’ in your photo. Something that will look good when in focus.
This could be the edge of a petal, the curve of a leaf, or anything else that catches your eye. Once you’ve found your point of focus, I’d suggest switching your lens to manual focus. Then spin the focus ring until you’ve focused only on that nice point of focus.
Before you actually take your shot, make sure that everything else in the frame is blurry. You don’t want any distractions. You don’t want anything that could interfere with your point of focus.
If there are potentially distracting elements, you should change your composition to remove them–you don’t want them causing problems later on.
You need your point of focus to stand out.
And speaking of making your point of focus stand out, let me share my final soft-focus macro tip:
Tip 5: Find a Complementary Background to Enhance Your Photo
It’s easy to forget about the background when you do macro photography.
But it’s really, really important that you don’t.
Because the background helps your main subject pop off the page. It’s what gives your photo the perfect finishing touch.
So here’s what I recommend:
First and foremost, you need to include a background that doesn’t distract from the subject. It shouldn’t have any chaotic elements. It shouldn’t draw the eye.
Uniform backgrounds work well–just a solid wash of color. A wide aperture will help you achieve this (and you should already be using a wide aperture!), but you can’t rely solely on the aperture for a nice background.
Instead, you should carefully choose your background. I like backgrounds made of trees–that way, you get a nice green wash of color. The sky can work as a background, too, for a lovely high-key look.
I used the sky as a background in this photo:
However, whenever you can, I recommend including some color in your background. Nothing too over the top–but I love to incorporate a flower or two into the backdrop, like this:
If you’re shooting during golden hour, you can also try using the broken backlighting technique, which involves positioning your subject in front of a backlit tree of some sort. It’ll give you incredible backgrounds, like this:
Here’s the bottom line:
If you can produce a beautiful background, you’ll be on your way to an amazing soft-focus photo. So don’t forget about the background. And don’t skip over it.
Tips for Soft-Focus Macro Photography: Conclusion
You should now have a sense of how to produce consistently excellent soft-focus macro photos.
Just remember to shoot during the best light.
To use a wide aperture.
And to carefully choose a subject and background.
If you do that…
…you’ll come away with some amazing soft-focus photos, every time you take out the camera.