The Tiny World and Big Talent of Mike Moats

By Jeff Wignall   Wednesday April 6, 2022

Photographer Mike Moats lives in what might be regarded by many as a lilliputian world: he photographs macro subjects almost exclusively. And while that restriction on subjects might seem a “little” confining to some, in fact it has made Moats an extremely successful photographer and photo/workshop teacher. In fact, he owns an online macro photo club that has more than 2,500 members (each of whom pay a lifetime fee of $99). Plus, his in-person workshops and conferences are exceedingly popular.

Moats’ images and how-to articles have been published in numerous magazines, including Outdoor Photographer, Nature's Best Photography, Shutterbug, PC Photo, Nature Photographer, Photo Life, Whisper in the Woods, and Michigan Fish and Game Finder. His photo work is in many collections, among them the North American Nature Photography Association's (NANPA's) Expressions book and the Pure Michigan tourism companion; as well as in various corporate publications, including on the Tamron USA blog. Moats recently talked to writer Jeff Wignall about his love of all things small and the Tamron lenses that he uses to capture them.

PPD: When you started out shooting you owned a house-painting business. How did you make that transition from painter to photographer?

MM: Being the owner of the business I was able to set my hours so I could go out a shoot as much as I wanted.  In 2005 I started working in the art show circuit and I was making more money with the photography business so I would cut back on the painting business. Eventually I was making enough with the photography to quit the painting business. It took about three years to make the transition from part time to full time.

PPD: Was photography a part of your life prior to that?

MM: Prior to 2001 when I purchased my first equipment, I had never owned an SLR camera and lenses, only a point shoot camera. I had no prior skill or experience as a photographer.

PPD: You are best known as a macro photographer, has this always been your primary photo passion?

MM:  When I started in 2001 I was shooting landscapes, wildlife and macro. After experimenting with the three different styles, I decided on macro in 2004 and dedicated all my time to being the best macro photographer I could be and never shot another landscape or wildlife image again.

PPD: You rose to fame in macro work relatively quickly, how did you get your work out into the world, how did you get it noticed?

MM: In 2004 I searched out every photo group on the internet and started posting my macro images every day, People started to recognize my images and my name and I started to get a following.  That following started buying my e-books and signing up for my workshops which I ran all across the country.  In those early years I was also writing articles for different photo mags.  Even today I post images daily in over 20 flower and macro photo groups on Facebook.  These sites are great places to attract photographers to join my Macro Photo Club and sign up for any workshops or my annual Macro Photo Conference.

PPD: Do you have favorite macro subjects? Has that changed or evolved over the years?

MM:  When I started I was having a blast shooting leaves in all kinds of different environments and there are many different kinds of leaves to shoot, so I had a lot of subject matter. I eventually got tired of the leaves and expanded into plant life, from the northern regions, tropical, and desert locations. I have a wide range of subject matter, so I also shoot a lot of flowers, bugs, seedheads, feathers, ice, mushrooms, spiderwebs, tree trunks, ferns, etc.

PPD: Are your macro photos about the subject themselves, or do they transcend subject into design, colors, textures?

MM: I think the design, lines, textures, contrast, light, colors, are what draws me to a subject. But to the viewer it’s really the subject they see. I see the subject more for the artistic value it has.

PPD: What are your favorite Tamron lenses?’

MM: I would say my favorite Tamron lens is the Tamron 18-400 zoom lens. That lens allows me to shoot wide angle if I want to show my viewers the environment I’m shooting in, and then the 400mm allows me to reach into places where I can’t get close to my subjects—in botanical garden, for example. It also has the ability to shoot in very close to my subjects, so I can use it to do 90 percent of my close-up work.  If I need to get into the 1:1 magnification I can always pull out my Tamron 90mm macro lens.  Also, I have recently added a mirrorless camera to my kit and I’m now working with the Tamron 18-300 lens, and that is working great with its 1:2 macro capability.

PPD: What is it about Tamron lenses that you most appreciate?

MM: I have always found every Tamron lens I have used is very sharp shooting, and I like that they are reasonably priced.

PPD: Do you work primarily by natural light or do you bring supplemental lighting?

MM: All of my images are shot with natural light. On very rare occasions I will use an LED light to add some fill light in a dark area of a subject, but is rare when that happens.

PPD: Your “critter” photos of insects and other tiny life forms are very powerful. What is the toughest part about photographing insects and other life forms?

MM:  They are actually very easy to shoot. I go out at daybreak on cool mornings when the temps are in the upper 40s or low 50s, and the body temperature of the bugs lowers to the point that they cannot move until the temps warm up and their bodies warm.  With the critters in that cold state and unable to move, I can set up my tripod and shoot. The challenge is searching the fields to find them. All of my critter shot were done that way.

PPD: Tell us about your Macro Photo Club. Did you ever expect it to be quite so popular and successful?

MM:  I have written many e-books and a soft cover book about macro photography, but when I started to see photographers learning through videos, I realized that that was the best way to teach photography. So I came up with the idea of producing videos about macro photography, covering me in the field shooting my subjects. I created the Macro Photo Club where members would have access to the videos any time that they wanted to view them. To date I have over 250 videos available to club members. When I started the club, I was hoping to get 100 to 150 members, but to my surprise, after just four years we have over 2500 members from 28 countries.

PPD: You also teach in person workshops. Has the Covid era interrupted your workshop programs?

MM: Covid really hurt all the pro photographers that were teaching in person workshops, especially in the first year. But in the second year I did run a couple workshops last and one in January of this year. I did have to cancel three of my in-person Macro Photo Conferences, but now I have one scheduled for Oct 1st and 2nd in the Cleveland area, and hope that it will run this year.  I also have one workshop that is sold out on Madeline Island in June, but that is it. I am starting to run five-hour online Macro Workshops through Zoom, for those who are still not comfortable going to an in person workshop.

How to Tip:

PPD: What is the best advice that you can give to someone who wants to get started in photographing macro subjects?

MM: My tip would be that new photographers take a workshop/online program from a pro, they’ll learn so much faster than trying to learn on their own. Second would be to spend as much time as you can out in the field shooting.

Pro Photo Daily All Access