Let's face it: Mother Nature is not always accommodating when it comes to taking photos. Winds blow the subjects around; sunlight and shadow play havoc with exposures; and your animal and insect models are likely to run or fly away at the slightest provocation. Still, with all these obstacles, the astounding photos you can get from macro photography make the few extra precautions you need to take worth it.
Aperture is one of the most important factors in macro photography. On a point and shoot, use aperture priority -- AV on the dial -- to set your camera at its smallest aperture. On a DSLR, unless you're using special macro lenses, you're going to want to consider effective aperture, and adjust for it. Generally, when shooting at a 1:1 ratio, you let in less light than what you would normally would at a particular aperture. For example, an aperture of f/8 would become more like the smaller f/16. In macro photography, you need to know how to compensate for the effects of magnification on the aperture. Once you've focused, look at the lens markings to see what the effective aperture will be.
Using a small aperture means you'll need to use a slower shutter speed. This will result in increased camera shake, so many macro nature photographers rely on tripods to hold the camera steady. A tripod works well when you're photographing stationary objects such as plants and rocks, but not so well when you have your sights on a capricious dragonfly or hummingbird. In that case, the pros advise, just brace yourself as best you can, against the ground or a fence. Placing the camera on a solid surface and setting the camera's self-timer will eliminate camera shake if you don't have a tripod.
Composition is basically the same as for any other portrait. Don't cut off your subject at the knees or the elbows, even if they're bony praying mantis joints. Focusing may be the one of the more difficult techniques to master. Because of the limited depth of field, the area that's in focus is going to be fairly limited. You'll need to decide which area you want to highlight and concentrate on focusing on that.
Lighting is another variable over which you can gain some control. First, if possible, choose a bright day to shoot outdoors. Bright overcast days -- which sounds like an oxymoron, but they do exist -- are best. Also, a handheld flash will provide better results than the camera's built-in flash because you should have more control over it.
If you're ready to take out your camera and try macro nature photography yourself, but still want to learn more, visit some of the links on the next page.