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Macro Photography Technique: Creating the Illusion of Space and Depth

Did you know that the effective use of contrast and bokeh can enhance the sense of space and depth in your macro images? Landscape photographer GOTO AKI shares how. (Reported by: GOTO AKI, Digital Camera Magazine)

Close up shot of water droplet on fern

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM/ FL: 100mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/2.8, 1/250 sec, EV -1.3)/ ISO 1600/ WB: Daylight

The water droplet at the tip of the leaf above was the main subject of the shot above, but I also wanted to convey a sense of space and depth. Here’s how I did it.


Step 1: Include dark areas in the background, and use contrast to guide the eye towards the back

Our attention tends to fall on bright areas first, and then shift to darker areas after that. By taking advantage of that, we can make use of contrast in an image to create a sense of space.

A: Dark area
B: Bright area

For the image above, I placed focus on the water droplet that I wanted to make the main subject, and then framed the composition so that most of the background was dark. This created contrast that guides the eye from the front to the back.

The same effect wouldn’t be possible if the background was completely bright green: there would be nothing to “move” the line of vision, and the image would look much flatter.

Tip: This concept is also why you should pay attention to the shadows when shooting bright subjects.

Find out more about how you can use colours to achieve different effects in:
Understanding Colour Theories: A Photographer-Friendly Guide
How Do I Use Colour Accents to Draw Attention to a Subject?


Step 2: Enhance depth by sandwiching your subject between background and foreground bokeh

Using foreground and background bokeh together stimulates the viewer’s imagination, which can also create the impression of depth.

Use an f-number that’s relatively wide, but just enough to keep your main interest in focus. Usually, anything from maximum aperture to around f/5.6 should do the trick. For this shot, I used f/3.5. Place the focus (and the subject) in the middle ground—the resulting shot should have both foreground and background bokeh that “sandwich” the subject, giving the image more depth.

Also see:
Lens Basics #3: Creating Bokeh
Irresistible Tips from Professionals on Bringing out Depth

Tip: Macro lenses are great for creating this effect because you can shoot close-up with them, and the shallow depth of field that results makes it easy to put things out of focus!

For macro photography tips and tutorials, check out these articles:
Macro Photography in Low Light: Preventing Camera Shake
Tutorial: Flowers Reflected in Water Droplets
Mouth-watering Macro: The Art of Close-up Food Photography

Learn about other ways to control guide a viewer’s attention in:
Effective Composition: Drawing Attention to a Tiny Frog in a Flower
Creating a Captivating Scene with Telephoto Leading Lines


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Born in 1972 in Kanagawa Prefecture and graduated from Sophia University and Tokyo College of Photography. Goto published a photo collection work titled "LAND ESCAPES" and is also actively engaged in works such as “water silence” an installation that merges photographs with videos.


Digital Camera Magazine

Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
Published by Impress Corporation