Using a macro lens with almost any phone camera, such as theor Pixel 4, you can view incredible details and put a side of the nature that you never knew existed. "Macro photography" simply means taking a photo of a subject in extreme close-up, so that they appear life-size or larger in the resulting image.
Macro photography can make even small subjects such as garden insects or petals look huge on the screen or print, and you will be amazed how different such, otherwise everyday things look when viewed so closely.
Best of all, you don't need much equipment or leave your backyard to get started.
Note that while I use ato take the photos that you see in this article, most of these tips apply to any phone, whether you photographs on Android or iPhone.
1. Buy a macro lens for your phone
The only thing you need to add to your phone to take macro shots is a macro lens. I use the macro lens from Moment, which attaches itself to a special Moment phone case. The lenses from Moment are on the pricey side, but they are made of high quality glass and are among the best quality there is. The covers fit on Galaxy S8 ($ 265 with Amazon) phones and newer, and newer, the 6T and and as well.
You can also find clip-on macro lenses from companies such as Olloclip (with the Olloclip clip system you can attach lenses to almost any phone). There are much less available on Amazon, although I cannot speak for the quality.
2. Search for your subject: insects and flowers work best
Crucial for everything is finding a subject that works well in macro. Of course you have to think small. Very small.
The natural world is full of possibilities – just search for "macro photography" in Google and the image results are dominated by photos of insects and plants. The great thing is that trying to find these kinds of animals for photography does not mean that you jump on a plane to a remote nature reserve.
Your garden or a nearby park is probably teeming with the subject. But finding it can be harder. My tip is to pay attention to small pieces of plants or shrubs, looking for any mini-binders that cling to stems or hide under leaves. It can be time consuming, but once you know how to find them and where they are more likely, it becomes easier.
But don't forget that this is their home. So do not break plants or pull off leaves to take better photos. Getting a cool image is not an excuse to destroy a habitat.
If insects are not your thing, scan for interesting flowers, leaves, rocks, loose feathers or other natural items that may look very different up close. Even textures on clothing, food or skin can look interesting if they are enlarged in an image.
3. Photographing in manual mode
I almost always photograph in manual mode on my phone when I take artistic photos, because I have so much more control over what the finished photo looks like. I also ensure that I shoot in unedited format, which gives me more control over white balance and colors after I take a photo and start editing.
In most Android phones – including the latest Galaxy S10 Plus – I find the Pro (manual) mode as an option in the standard camera app. iPhone users need an app such as Moment, with which you can manage the settings manually and photograph in raw format. I also tend to focus manually, which I will come back to later, and I ensure that I have a shutter speed of at least 1/125 to prevent as much blurring of my hands as possible.
4. Use burst shooting
If I do not shoot manually, I sometimes shoot in the camera's standard mode. The main reason is because it allows me to use the burst mode, which takes multiple photos in quick succession by simply holding down the shutter button. If an insect is in an uncomfortable position, or moving, I have found that keeping my finger on the shutter-release button and firing dozens of photos & second per second is the best way to take a good shot.
By doing that, I keep the subject roughly in focus while I move the lens a little in and out. Hopefully one of the approximately 70 images will be beautiful and sharp.
You cannot use the burst mode in most manual modes. As a temporary solution in manual mode, I tap the shutter button as quickly as possible to take more photos, increasing the chance that at least one of them looks good. With that method I can take up to 30 individual photos of each subject, of which perhaps only one is good. It is a hit or miss technique, but the hits are worth it!
5. Make sure the focus is good even without focus stacking
It is the most difficult part of the entire task to ensure that your subject is sharp. Professional macro photographers will often use a technique called focus stacking, combining multiple images at different focal points to achieve a fully focused subject. This is difficult to achieve in the field because it requires the subject to remain completely still while the photos are being taken. That is why some macro photographers unfortunately use dead insects in their work, or insects that have been stored in the refrigerator to slow down their movements and then photograph them in a controlled studio.
The Moment macro lens that I use gives a beautiful close-up of an insect, but it also has an extremely narrow focal plane – meaning that only a thin part of the scene is sharp. For example, if you focus on the eye of an insect, its body is likely to become blurry. Although that means it's a challenge to take a sharp photo, your background is also attractively blurred and you don't have to worry so much about distracting elements behind your subject.
The technique I used most for this piece was shooting in manual mode of the S10 Plus, with manual focus set to the nearest focus point. Afterwards I steadily moved the camera to the subject until only the part that I wanted to look sharp came into focus, and then I took the photo. At that magnification level, even a small shock will blur everything, so a steady hand is needed.
6. Provide some extra lighting
As with any type of photography, macro photography depends on a lot of light falling on your subject. But it is difficult to get the lighting in the right places. I took a lot of macro shots under the afternoon sun, because the bright light brought out the colors of the insects. It also enabled the phone to use the lowest possible ISO speed (resulting in less image noise) and the fastest shutter speed (for sharper images).
But if you try to find small insects in the foliage, you might be hunting under bushes or in wooded areas where natural light can be scarce. Another problem is that you can block the sunlight with your phone, because you have to get extremely close to your subject and the best angle can mean casting a shadow.
The last problem could be helped by simply trying different angles, but I also had great success with bringing in my own lighting. I use the RotoLight Stealth LED ring lamp, which works on batteries and easily fits in a backpack. It is powerful enough to add a good amount of light to your subject and thanks to its handy size you can easily move it to place the light in the most flattering angle. I also use the more recent Rotolight Neo II, which has a much higher light output, making it better suited for illuminating macro subjects in daylight.
7. Editing for impact
Editing your image is a great way to take a simple photo and turn it into a real artistic piece. I use Adobe Lightroom on Android to edit my recordings, but I also work with Snapseed and VSCO.
I usually adjust the white balance to get a natural and accurate representation of the color (and it's even easier if you've shot raw). Then I play with the lighting to ensure that the highlights are not too overwhelming and that detail is not lost in the dark shadows.
I then edit purely on the basis of what I think looks good. I can use an adjustment brush to "paint" more light into the subject to help it stand out, and use a vignette to darken the edges of the frame, drawing the eye more toward the center of the subject. With nature and nature, I want to make sure that I keep the subject as natural as possible – I want to improve the scene but not change it – so I avoid dramatically changing colors or powerful use filters.
There is no right or wrong way to edit, so unwind with a cup of tea and enjoy adjusting those sliders to see what you can achieve with your newly captured set of compelling macro photos.