From passion to profit: how to make money from macro photography

Tina Eisen, who specialises in fashion and beauty, and Oliver Wright, a nature photographer, reveal how to make a success of a macro photography business.
An extreme close-up of the head of a bee emerging from a hole in a piece of wood, taken on a Canon EOS R5 by macro photographer Oliver Wright.

Nature photographer Oliver Wright uses a Canon EOS R5 to create his signature focus-stacked macros, cleverly combining multiple shots with nuanced focus variations to amplify depth and detail. "I love the EOS R5," he says. "It's a superb piece of equipment and quite a game-changer when it comes to some of the functions. It has really helped me with my particular style – my handheld focus stacked images shot with natural light. You get huge files out of it as well, if you want to print something big." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro Photo lens at 1/125 sec, f/5.6 and ISO 1600. © Oliver Wright

The magic of macro photographs lies in their ability to transport the viewer into another world, showcasing a subject that's larger than life. But turning your passion for the petite into a profitable venture demands more than enthusiasm.

Oliver Wright, a British nature photographer from Leeds, UK, transitioned from project management to photography after a voluntary redundancy. Despite initial doubts about the financial prospects of macro photography, he continued to shoot the genre in his spare time while taking on other paid gigs such as weddings. An unexpected email from Canon, impressed by his macro work, marked a turning point in his career. He was invited to talk at Canon events, which led to collaborations with BBC Wildlife magazine, The New York Times, The Independent and more.

Oliver encourages aspiring photographers to shoot subjects they enjoy while building their business. "I was basically doing anything that was coming along, until I sort of matured as a professional photographer and started to build relationships with big companies. I'd say to anybody who is working through that transition that it's really important to make sure you are still doing photography that you enjoy – and for me that was macro."

Tina Eisen, a German fashion and beauty photographer based in Buckinghamshire, UK, says that her pivot to macro emerged during the Covid-19 lockdown. Unable to collaborate with teams, she explored using her own face as a canvas, which led to a newfound passion for macro and a useful business niche. Her unique storytelling through small details such as lips has attracted the likes of Max Factor, Sephora and Harvey Nichols, plus other international brands and publications. "Macro photography lends itself so well to the make-up industry," she says. "It gives brands an opportunity to showcase their products up close on the skin, capturing textures and composition with much greater detail."

Here, Tina and Oliver share their secrets for macro photography business success.

A close-up of a woman's mouth, holding a piece of dripping honeycomb between her teeth and bottom lip, with several bees crawling over the honey and her skin, by macro photographer Tina Eisen.

"I love contrasting elements," says Tina. "For example the vulnerability and tenderness of a pair of lips merged with the rawness and danger of a shard of glass. Pairings like this are a way of making your audience 'feel' your message. For me an image is a success if it evokes an emotion in its viewer. Don't be scared about not pleasing everyone; just do what makes you happy. Your 'signature' look will follow." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens at 1/160 sec, f/9 and ISO 160. © Tina Eisen

A close-up of a robber fly, which mimics a bumblebee, on the seed head of a tall grass, taken on a Canon EOS R5 by macro photographer Oliver Wright.

Oliver says making macro shots marketable is all about composition. "Even if it's a very interesting subject matter, if you haven't made a strong composition, the final image is never going to have that 'wow' factor. So find a subject that is interesting – it doesn't have to be something rare, but it needs a good composition to be pleasing to the eye." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro Photo lens at 1/100 sec, f/5 and ISO 1600. © Oliver Wright

Effective promotion strategies

Building credibility and showcasing a unique style are key to making your work stand out in a sea of images, but social media is often the key to getting a commission. "Many brands use social media as a recruitment tool and it's certainly served me well," says Tina, who has been approached dozens of times by brands who have seen projects she's created for other companies or personal projects she's shared.

Oliver adds: "You've got to work really hard on getting your photography seen. If I post a blog, I'll add a series of images but there has to be a theme. For my website it has to be the best of the best, and for social media it can just be something I think will elicit a response. So share new pictures online, and try to get as many people to see them as possible."

Tina reveals a trick that has helped her narrow down her selection of what to share – view photos on your phone. "If the image has impact on a small screen it always works at a larger size," she reveals, adding that a good balance of images is also important. "There's the 'safe' pictures – those that have a commercial approach. Then there are those that show the client that their product can be shown in a no-frills fashion without distraction. Then there's the editorial, creative, loud ones. You need those too. In a vast ocean of images you need the showstoppers to grab your client's attention; those that make someone stop scrolling are the ones that pique interest and the 'safe' ones are the ones that seal the deal."

Pitching yourself to clients

Once hooked, the client may invite you to pitch. "I remember my first pitch," recalls Tina. "I knew that after only a year of using a camera, I lacked technical skill, but I went into the interview knowing I made up for that with unique, creative ideas and an unmatched hunger to improve. I ended up getting the job. Ever since then, I've known that every job, no matter how 'impossible' it may seem, is worth a shot. I approach clients without fear of rejection as I know that's a normal part of the industry and that after every 'no' there are so many people who will say 'yes' on the horizon. When you get the job, listen to your client's needs but remember that they booked you because they trust your style."

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An extreme close-up of the head of an insect, taken on a Canon EOS R5 by macro photographer Oliver Wright.

Both pros agree that cultivating a standout macro photography style will help you find your business niche. "I quite often get feedback on social media, saying, 'I knew this was one of your images before I even looked at the name'," says Oliver. "To get yourself noticed, do something different. Many people in the macro community are just copying each other." Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R and a Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro Photo lens at 1/8 sec, f/5 and ISO 1600. © Oliver Wright

Printed products vs digital files

From canvases to cards, NFTs to YouTube tutorials, there are many ways to tout your wares, so aside from pitching to clients, how can you make money from macro photography? Tina, who sells prints directly through her web shop, says the answer is to go big. "The bigger the better when it comes to macro imagery, and the most popular medium has always been large-scale, sleek, acrylic prints with no distracting borders. I toyed with the idea of smaller merchandise but never pursued it, as small-scale prints don't do justice to macro images."

When it comes to the contentious topic of NFTs, the two photographers hold opposing viewpoints: while Oliver was dissuaded by negative feedback, particularly concerning the environmental impact of blockchain's energy usage, Tina has been more positive in exploring the new medium. "I've been an NFT artist since 2021 and sold many pieces to collectors worldwide. It's exciting and incredibly rewarding to be able to connect with a whole new audience of art collectors. I do see the dangers of scams, just like in most online trading mediums and staying well-informed and vigilant is of utmost importance. Security with regards to crypto art and currency trading should be high on anyone's to-learn list before considering entering these industries." Whichever way you lean, the creation of NFTs is a subject photographers will need to educate themselves on in order to make a considered decision.

A close-up of a woman's mouth, lightly covered in purple glitter and with the bottom lip being pushed to one side by a finger, in a macro photograph by Tina Eisen.

Tina advises that a portfolio should have a clear theme, and that theme should be the photographer. "No takes on other styles, no interpretations of things that have already been done. Just you and what drives you. Doing test shoots and building your portfolio is very important; it shows potential clients your style and what you're capable of." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens at 1/200 sec, f/7.1 and ISO 160. © Tina Eisen

A close-up of a pouting pair of lips, with a heart shape drawn on in bright pink gloss and dripping from the point at the bottom, by macro photographer Tina Eisen.

When it comes to image selection, the first thing Tina does is look at the images together as a set, to decide which pictures work well together. "Repetition gets culled," she says. "There are usually some that are 'weaker' than others, but as with most things, it's up to the client. I enjoy giving them options and letting them make the final call." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens at 1/125 sec, f/8 and ISO 160. © Tina Eisen

Monetise your skills

Oliver recommends diversifying beyond a single photography genre or revenue stream. "I don't make all of my income from macro photography. It's a chunk, but my advice is not to look at it in terms of monetising your macro photography; instead monetise your photography skill," he says, explaining that part of his income comes from leading photography workshops around Europe.

Exposure vs money

"Exposure has its place, but it won't pay the bills," Oliver says. Pushing back on such offers can sometimes lead to more favourable outcomes, as he learned when a newspaper requested an image without clarifying the terms upfront. "A few years ago, I posted a kingfisher image on Twitter. A major newspaper asked if they could 'share' it. I firmly declined unless we discussed a commercial agreement, and they quickly clarified that that's what they had meant all along – but why not say that in the first place? It highlights the importance of asserting yourself. Don't be afraid to push back."

A gold metal bee sits on a female model's made-up lips that are dripping with gold paint.

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Networking needs

In the macro photography business, your network is just as crucial as your expertise, and expanding your connections can significantly boost your opportunities. "Most of my lasting, valuable connections were formed during photography trade shows," Tina says. "There is immense value in physically meeting like-minded people and putting faces to names. Having a good network of fellow creatives within the same industry is invaluable. What's more, word-of-mouth recommendations have landed me many jobs and, equally, I've been able to recommend people I know and trust to clients when I haven't been available, or a job was outside of my expertise."

Whether you're capturing the small wonders of nature, the intricate details of beauty products, or something in between, the world of macro photography offers endless possibilities for turning passion into profit.

Natalie Denton

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