7 Top Tips for Rainforest Macro Photography

rainforest macro photography

Rainforest macro photography can unveil a hidden universe teeming with intricate details, vibrant hues, and captivating behaviors.

rainforest macro photography

This diminutive realm coexists with us on this planet but is seldom seen or photographed. Macro photography can be particularly enticing for use in science and discovery, as it allows us to appreciate species on a scale impossible to view with the naked eye.

Combine this exciting photography genre with one of the most biodiverse environments on earth – the rainforest – and you’ve found a recipe for outstanding images and potentially even scientific discovery!

However, this genre of photography can be a complex pursuit, and venturing into rainforests elevates the challenges to a new level.

rainforest macro photography

In this article, we will explore tips to help you get the best results when attempting macro photography in a rainforest.

Read more: What’s the Best Camera for Macro Photography?

1. Brush up on your general macro skills

One of the most helpful things you can do to prepare yourself for macro rainforest photography is to ensure your ‘basic’ macro skill set is as solid as it can be.

rainforest macro photography

I would not recommend letting the rainforest be the very first time you attempt macro images. It is a complex, challenging environment, both mentally and physically, and macro photography can be a particularly finicky pursuit, requiring great deals of patience and perseverance, with an attention to detail.

The lack of light within the dense jungle, even in broad daylight, coupled with the chaotic and cluttered environment and the unpredictable weather conditions, can transform a photography session into a formidable test of skill and patience.

rainforest macro photography

So, get comfortable with macro photography skills such as understanding depth of field, manual focus, focus stacking, and shooting handheld.

I recommend practicing these techniques in controlled environments, such as gardens, first, and getting comfortable with your macro photography equipment. These skills will come in handy when you are out in the more challenging field environment of a rainforest!

Read more: Introduction to Macro Photography – Technique

2. Get close to your subjects

One of the most difficult factors of macro photography in dense and lush jungles is actually being able to find your subjects.

Small creatures in the rainforest often blend seamlessly into their surroundings, camouflaged not only by their diminutive size but also by employing a variety of biological adaptations to thrive in these richly biodiverse environments.

rainforest macro photography

However, if you know macro photography, you’ll know that getting close to your subjects is an essential practice. You will likely find yourself on a tour with the assistance of a guide, who can help with fieldcraft techniques for spotting and approaching subjects.

Always proceed with caution, approaching slowly to minimize the risk of startling them into hiding, taking flight, leaping, or scurrying away.

With increased time spent in the field, you’ll gradually discern which species are more timid and which are more accustomed to human presence. Pay close attention, and you’ll begin to recognize behavioral patterns over time.

rainforest macro photography

For instance, dragonflies exhibit territorial behavior. If you come across one resting on a branch and approach too quickly, it may take flight. However, observing their habits reveals that they often return to the same spot or a nearby one.

Rather than leaving the area, exercising patience allows you to anticipate their return.

Read more: How to Get Close to a Macro Subject

3. Utilize flash techniques

In such challenging conditions, employing artificial light sources like a flash becomes indispensable, and the use of a diffuser generates a soft and pleasant light in our frame.

The flash not only ensures optimal exposure but also becomes essential given the complexities inherent in this technique.

Factors such as shallow depth of field and the likelihood of blurring caused by subject movement, or our own subtle shifts amidst the foliage, can easily compromise the frame. Utilizing flash enables us to capture crisp and precise shots, mitigating these challenges effectively.

rainforest macro photography

Using the flash and diffuser on-camera can be a comfortable way to capture small subjects in challenging conditions, particularly when working solo in the jungle.

However, to elevate our photography further and craft more imaginative, atmospheric, and engaging shots, we can venture beyond this approach.

By taking our light source off-camera, we unlock the potential to use light as a compositional tool, allowing for greater creativity and mood enhancement in our photographs.

Using a handheld flash off-camera gives you the flexibility to maneuver the light source around your subject, achieving striking sidelights or captivating backlights.

rainforest macro photography

While handheld flash offers the advantage of easily adjusting the light’s direction, it can be less comfortable due to the need to simultaneously manage both camera and flash.

Using a tripod for your external flash is an option, yet in the midst of a dense and untamed environment, placing your tripod to get the right angle can be challenging.

Occasionally, you can leverage the natural light filtering through the forest canopy and blend it seamlessly with your artificial lighting.

rainforest macro photography

During these moments, utilize your flash as a fill light to illuminate your subject, while allowing the ambient light to gracefully accentuate the background.

Read more: How to Balance Flash with Ambient Light in Macro Photography

4. Utilize a flashlight or torch

Flashlights present a wide range of possibilities for macro photography enthusiasts. Not only can you use your flashlight as a focus light, but you can also creatively illuminate your subjects by strategically generating pinpoint light in specific areas of the scene.

rainforest macro photography

If you’re engaging in nighttime macro photography, you likely already have a flashlight in hand for navigating the jungle.

This becomes an excellent alternative in locations where using a flash is prohibited.

Even in the absence of comprehensive studies on the effects of flash on these animals, it’s prudent to prioritize caution and minimize our disruption to their natural environment.

This can be achieved through the use of a diffuser and by limiting the number of shots taken of the same animal. Be deliberate in composing your images, and refrain from capturing the shot until you’re certain it’s well-composed and ready.

rainforest macro photography

In Costa Rica, where I live, there are several National Parks where the use of flash is forbidden in any kind of nature photography. In these scenarios, we can rely on torch and flashlight to illuminate our frame.

5. Consider your background and perspective

Composing with busy surroundings/backgrounds in such a lush environment can be tricky because you will often find distracting elements in your frames. However, you can address this issue by employing shallow depth of field or just moving around to get a better background.

rainforest macro photography

It is relatively easy with the smaller subjects found in rainforests to move around to get different angles and perspectives. It is always worth considering how you can create new and exciting images.

The nature photography market is saturated with content; before heading out on a rainforest macro photography tour, have a look at what is already out there. You can take inspiration from other photographers but try to think of new and interesting ways to compose your own images.

rainforest macro photography

For example, I recommend trying to expand beyond traditional eye-level shots; embrace low angles or experiment with unconventional perspectives to unveil unique viewpoints. Within rainforests lie a wealth of intricate patterns and concealed details, awaiting discovery through varied vantage points!

Read more: How to Use Foregrounds & Backgrounds in Macro Photography

6. Learn about your subjects to get better shots

Spending time in the field and attentively observing nature’s rhythms can impart invaluable knowledge.

However, proactively studying the behaviors, adaptations, and lifestyles of your desired subjects before venturing out can expedite your discoveries and help you be prepared to capture these behaviors on camera.

Something as simple as knowing at what time of the day the subjects you seek are active can significantly impact your outcomes.

rainforest macro photography

It is also worth thinking about how you can tell a story within your work. Nature abounds with tales waiting to unfold, and amidst the lush abundance of the rainforest, you’re bound to encounter many narratives that you can incorporate into your macro images.

The more you know about your subjects’ behavior, lifecycle, and habitat, the more you will be able to inform your compositions to tell a story.

Read more: How to Take Ultra Macro Insect Photographs

7. Be well equipped

There is some essential gear required for capturing stunning images of critters or details in the rainforest.

To start, having a macro lens is crucial, or alternatively, you can utilize accessories like close-up lenses or extension tubes to convert your existing lens into a macro one.

rainforest macro photography

These options enable you to focus closer to your subject and achieve the necessary magnification for photographing these small yet captivating creatures.

As mentioned before, artificial light is also essential in such a naturally dark environment. Have multiple flash options with you, but a speedlight can be a great option, which will allow you to use it on-camera or off-camera as you wish.

rainforest macro photography

You will need radios or a cable to trigger the flash when off-camera – always with a diffuser.

It is worth noting that a speedlight, or dedicated flash, causes less disturbance because it provides a continuous light source.

It is also important that you understand the essential camera settings for rainforest macro photography. Macro photography in any location often involves a shallow depth of field, with narrow apertures being employed to maximize focus.

rainforest macro photography

A suggested starting configuration is typically 1/200s, f/18, ISO 100. However, exploring wider apertures can result in more dynamic compositions, allowing for varied perspectives and creative expressions.

As you navigate the complexities of macro photography, remember that every setting presents an opportunity for creative exploration. While a recommended starting setup provides a solid foundation, don’t hesitate to experiment with different apertures and compositions.

Read more: Introduction to Macro Photography – Equipment

Final top tips

Here are some final tips to keep in mind when you are next photographing rainforest macro subjects.

Exercise patience: Good things come to those who wait in these environments. You can’t expect to walk away with a winning image within the first five minutes, so prepare to slow your pace to synchronize with nature.

rainforest macro photography

Keep your eyes and ears open: Remain attentive to every detail unfolding around you – you never know what you might see! These complex surroundings are rich with life and teeming with patterns, textures, and colors.

Even if you are looking for a specific subject, don’t forget to experiment.

Stay flexible: Things almost never go exactly to plan in any genre of nature photography. You may find yourself at the mercy of the elements, but by embracing a spirit of curiosity and adaptability, you’re capable of unlocking new dimensions of visual storytelling and uncovering the hidden tales of the rainforest.

In conclusion

While macro photography in rainforests presents its challenges, the experience is undeniably gratifying and memorable. Macro photography unveils a hidden realm seldom seen by the naked eye, offering a glimpse into a miniature universe teeming with life.

Within the intricate ecosystems of the rainforest, countless microcosms lie concealed, each waiting to be unearthed and explored. Amidst the challenging conditions, there’s an unparalleled thrill in capturing elusive and enchanting creatures within their natural habitat.

One of the most exciting things I find about photography in this microcosm is that on occasion, you might even discover yourself photographing species previously unknown to science!

Visit Cynthia's website

Cynthia Bandurek is an Argentinian Ecologist, Field-Naturalist, Nature photographer, and wildlife artist, and has participated in conservation projects across Argentina. She is the author of “The World of Small, An approach to the universe of arthropods from an artistic, visual, and evolutionary perspective.” Cynthia is Paws Trails Explorers Magazine’s Contributing Editor for South and Central America and a Nature First Ambassador. She leads Macro Photography Workshops in Costa Rica and Argentina.

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