How to take amazing macro photos with your iPhone

There's nothing like getting up close and personal, and that holds true for photography, even iPhoneography. Life is full of small, interesting things -- a flower, an insect, your newborn's tiny toes -- and these things make for great photography.

This week's iPhone photography project is, you guessed it -- macro! Macro simply means close-up photography -- not zoomed, but the lens being physically close to the subject. The keys to good macro photography, even on an iPhone, are becoming familiar with the focus distance of your lens and nailing that focus, light, composition, and making your subject stand out.

Don't get too close

macro iphoneography

Macro photography is, by definition, close-up photography, but that doesn't mean you can get as close as you want. If you get too close, the lens will not be able to achieve a focus. I don't know the exact distance, but somewhere around 4 inches is the minimum focus distance of the iPhone's lens. So if you're struggling with locking a focus, back up.

Use AE/AF lock

macro iphoneography

How many times have you attempted to focus on your subject only to have the the lens tease you by immediately losing focus or losing focus while you're busy perfecting your composition. This is why taking advantage of the somewhat hidden AE/AF lock feature is so helpful with macro photography.

When enabled, AE/AF lock preserves the focus and exposure on the lens so that you can recompose your shot without either of these settings being changed. To enable it, just hold your finger on the screen at the spot you want to be in focus until the blue square pulsates. When you release, "AE/AF Lock" will appear at the bottom of the screen.

I recommend always use AE/AF lock when taking macro photos for composing your shots, but you can also use it as a way to combat those times when your iPhone refuses to focus. When this happens, find something else that your iPhone will focus on (keys usually work and are something I always have with me) and trigger AE/AF focus on this object. Then remove that item from the frame and move closer/further to your subject until it's in focus. Then fine tune your composition and trigger the shutter!

Don't block your light source

macro iphoneography

Light is the most important element to good photography, but since macro photography means you're getting close to your subject, it's very easy to accidentally block your light source. Be aware of this and make it a priority to allow as much light as possible to fall on your subject. Sometimes this means positioning yourself in a very awkward way, but trust me, it's worth it.

Use shallow depth of field to add interest to your photo

macro iphoneography

You may have heard of terms like "bokeh" and "depth of field" thrown around in regards to photography. Bokeh refers to the part of the photograph that is out of focus (more specifically -- the quality of the out-of-focus area) and the range of focus is called "depth of field". A photo with a shallow depth of field means that the range of focus is very small. This is often times a very desirable trait for a photograph to have.

Obtaining a shallow depth of field is a combination of focal length, aperture, and distance to your subject. With an iPhone, the only thing you can control is distance and since the closer you are to the focused area, the shallower the depth of field, macro iPhoneography is your opportunity use the out of focus area to enhance your photograph.

One thing that people commonly forget is that the surroundings and background of your photo have a great impact on the final image. If the out of focus area of your photo is related to the main subject, it ties everything together nicely and makes for a more interesting photo.

Now go out and shoot!

Your assignment for this week is to go out and take some killer macro shots then head over to the Photography Forum, ask questions, share your results, and offer feedback to your fellow iPhoneographers!

How to get more help with iPhone photography

Have something to say about this story? Share your comments below! Need help with something else? Submit your question!

Leanna Lofte

Former app and photography editor at iMore, Leanna has since moved on to other endeavors. Mother, wife, mathamagician, even though she no longer writes for iMore you can still follow her on Twitter @llofte.

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Reader comments

How to take amazing macro photos with your iPhone


Thanks for another great article Leanna! We're massive shallow-depth-of-field fans (due to years of low-available-light photography at maximum aperture.) And the only way to get shallow depth of field with an iPhone is to get close.
By the way, we're going to develop that T-Max 400 we shot of you and Rene at Macworld | iWorld as soon as we get some T-Max developer. The old stuff was 10+ years old. :-(

"When you release, “AE/AF Lock” will appear at the bottom of the screen."
I have iPhone 4 with iOS 5.0.1 I have never seeen ae/af appearing at the bottom!

It should. You need to hold your finger down on the spot you want focused until the blue square pulsates - like 3 seconds or so.

Keep these coming Leanna!!!! Fantastic series. I actually look forward to the next and have been since the first one. Awesome.

Leanna, great article! Another thing you should probably have mentioned is to stabilize your iPhone for taking macro pictures. I use a tripod with an iPhone mount or something else to keep the camera perfectly still when taking macro photos with my iPhone 4S. I've noticed that if I hand hold the camera, the image tends to blur, or the subject might move slightly out of focus when my hand moves just a few millimeters during the focus or shutter activation. Using a tripod or something else to keep the phone stable will ensure a crisp result!

I would also add shoot with the iPhone headset (volume up). This way, you won't shake the iPhone when you press the button or the touchscreen.

Thanks for the tip. I knew AE/AF lock was there but didn't know how to get it.
By the way, I've had great luck using a high quality loupe to photograph small objects. I just hold it against the iPhone and it works fine. I use one with a fold out cover. The fold out cover makes for a convenient handle.
This is the style I use but mine is a different brand. If you google "loupe" you can even find ones with built-in illumination which would help a lot for photography. I'm always fighting the shadows when getting in close.

John, your loupe (hand lens in geologist speak) idea is great. I'm going to give it a try with my 10 and 20 power lenses. But I expect the 20x might be too much magnification.

John, do you have your pics posted anywhere so I could see some of your shots? I'd love to see an example of it...

i'd like to share a tip for super-macro photography:
if you don't feel like buying an add-on macro can use a magnifying glass and it'll give you the same effect.

hey leanna .this is really great..and i wanna thank you for all these tips ...its a great help to iphoneographers like me...Thnx once again.. (forgive my informal language)

Great photos! The color, composition, and lighting worked very well in these shots!

Although to be technical, none of them were truly macro shots but they were awesome close-up shots. To be classed as a macro shot, the subject needs to be a 1:1 ratio to your sensor, so they only way to get macro with an iPhone is to magnify your phones lens with an external optics.

If I can add to your lighting point, not only should one not block it, but it's beneficial to understand how lighting from different directions can have different effects on your end photos. So if the light is coming from behind, in front, the sides, the photo will look different and its worthwhile for people to know how that changes.

Thanks for sharing the great tips.

For anyone who wants to check out a quick video and learn some more on macro photography, feel free to check out my site below.

Thanks for the tips Leanna! I recently acquired both the 4-in1 and 3-in-1 lenses from Olloclip and having a lot of fun experimenting with them! These techniques are very helpful being that I am a novice. Feel free to check out my photos on my blog!

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