Interview for Tamron’s December Newletter, Article By Jennifer Gidman

Posted: December 22, 2011 in Uncategorized
Pint-Sized Photography

Mike Moats offers macro tips and techniques for shooting the tiniest subjects.

Article By Jennifer GidmanImages by Mike Moats

Nature photographer Mike Moats knows his macro. His macro boot camps have sold out for 28 straight sessions, he’s got a series of macro ebooks under his belt, and he recently started tapping into webinars as a new method of sharing his photography expertise. “Webinars are a unique way of teaching people,” he says. “I saw different companies offering webinars and thought it was a great way to teach photography.”

Moats is also the judge for Tamron’s “My Macro Exhibit” photography contest, in which entrants create a 3D virtual exhibit of their best macro shots to be displayed on MyPhotoExhibits. The winner of the contest will be featured on Tamron’s website in February 2012 and will receive his or her choice of one of four Tamron lenses.
In his own macro arsenal, Moats uses the Tamron 60mm, 90mm, and 180mmlenses. “All three are sharp-shooting lenses,” he says. “There are specific subjects I target depending on the time of day and time of year, so which macro lens I use depends on what I’m shooting. The 180, for instance, gives me the reach I require when I need that working distance between me and the subject. The other day, for example, I was out shooting abstracts of newly formed ice on a pond — I wouldn’t have been able to get those macro shots without the 180.”


© Mike Moats


Moats uses the 90mm for stationary subjects such as flowers and leaves on the ground, while the 60mm macro comes in handy when he’s shooting inside during the colder months. “During the winter, when I’m shooting inside in tighter quarters, the shorter working distance of the 60mm works best for me,” he says. “I don’t do a lot of handholding, but that shorter working distance and the fast 2.0 aperture of the 60mm is also ideal for people who want to handhold and use a faster shutter speed.”

© Mike Moats

Modifying for Macro

Moats approaches his macro work using two different styles. “I shoot abstract, soft-focus images, and I also take photos where everything is in focus,” he says. “When I’m creating my softer abstracts, I use all the lower f-stop numbers, such as wide-open at f/2.8 or maybe f/3.5. My everything-in-focus images, though, sell the best for me and win the contests. For those, I shoot at the higher f-stops: f/22 and up.”


© Mike Moats


He almost always uses a tripod and advises other photographers exploring macro to do the same. “It’s important to have a nice, sturdy tripod,” he says. “I see people in my workshops who come in with low-end, inexpensive tripods, and they’re really unstable. In macro photography, when you’re working with such high magnification and shooting subjects that you’re extremely close to, it doesn’t take much to show softness in the details because of camera movement.”

© Mike Moats

While landscape and wildlife photographers are always on the hunt for just the right light — typically, the warm glow of the early morning and late afternoon/early evening — Moats informs his students that time of day is usually a nonfactor for macro photography. “Our subjects are so small, so we can shoot from daybreak till dusk, because we control the light on that subject,” he explains. “If it’s a sunny day, use diffusers, so you can shoot even during harsh, midday sunlight. If you need to throw light into a certain area, use reflectors.”
When setting up your macro shots, Moats advises photographers to pay particular attention to the background, which many beginning macro shooters often neglect to take into account. “It’s a common mistake I see when people are photographing those plants, butterflies, or dragonflies — I’ll see really cluttered backgrounds behind the subjects,” he says. “They get preoccupied with the main subject to the point where they don’t notice what’s going in the background. It’s not only about setting the right f-stop so you get the depth-of-field you want — you also want to find just the right angle. If you can get that angle where the background is as far away as possible, you can go into those higher f-stops and get more depth-of-field on the subject and still maintain that blurred background so it doesn’t get that cluttered look.”


© Mike Moats



Wind can mar a macro shot — even the slightest breeze can blow a flower or leaf out of position. “If it’s not too windy, you can raise the ISO on your camera a little higher,” says Moats. “That speeds up your lens so you can hopefully stop the action. There are also special macro photography clamps you can attach to a flower stem to steady the flower.”

© Mike Moats

Moats took his wind control a step further by building a plexiglass windbox to protect flowers from blowing around during his photo sessions (check out his easy-to-follow YouTube tutorial on building your own macro windbox). “This type of unit works great,” he says. “You can shoot the flower right through the clear plexiglass backside of the box. Sometimes, depending on the sun angle, there might be a reflection, but you can put a diffuser or reflector on top of it and it cuts down on the light hitting the back. You can also add a backdrop to the back of the windbox so you don’t get any reflection.”
To see more of Mike Moats’ photography, go to To enter the Tamron macro photography contest, go to
Tamron $100 rebate on the SP 60mm lens and $50 rebate on the SP 90mm and SP 180mm lens thru 12/31/11.

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