This is a guide covering macro photography.
We’ll be covering the following topics (click on a bullet point to jump to that section):
- What is Macro Photography?
- What is Macro Photography Used For?
- What Makes a Good Macro Photographer?
- How to Learn Macro Photography?
- Macro Photograph with Smartphones
- Macro Photography Tips
- Rounding Off
- And more
Let’s dive in!
What is Macro Photography?
Macrophotography or close-up photography, as it is sometimes referred to, is extreme close-up photography, usually of very small subjects and living organisms like insects.
The size of the subject is life-size or greater than life-size on the negative or image sensor. It refers to a finished photograph of a subject that is life-size or greater than life-size.
We are often mesmerized by images of flowers, insects, and small items that have been somehow shot using extreme magnification.
We often think that these images require very expensive macro photography equipment and or techniques that are beyond our capacity.
You would be surprised to know that macro photography is much closer within your reach than you think.
Yes, special tools will help, and technique is always important but what you need more than anything else is a photographer’s creative brain.
For an image to be considered as a true macro image it should have a magnification of 1:1.
However, most people use the term “macro photography” to refer to any photograph that depicts a closeup and extremely detailed image of a small subject.
What is Macro Photography Used For?
Macro photography allows us to learn about many little things that the naked eye cannot see. You can discover a whole new miniature world with almost limitless possibilities with macro photography.
In general, macro photography is a close-up of a small object that often gets overlooked in real life.
Macro photography is more accessible than ever. To get you started shooting macros, there is gear for every budget.
Additional items like this macro reverse ring can be purchased very cheaply.
This allows you to attach the macro photography lens to the back and achieve true macro magnification.
What Makes a Good Macro Photographer?
Macro photography is no different from other photographic genres, where composition, exposure, and handling of the subject are very important.
Paying attention to these will increase your ability to capture better macro photos.
Careful consideration of these aspects of macro photography will make the image stand out.
Yes, these are difficult skills to pick up and master, but on the bright side the principles and concepts you pick up simply increase your skills of working in larger studios and shooting other genres of photography.
How to Learn Macro Photography?
The best way to learn macro photography is by practice and by inspiration. I believe there is nothing that can teach you better than practice.
Be it with a mentor, at a workshop, or shooting on your own, shooting more and then a review of your images is the best way to go.
If you can grab hold of a mentor, then there is nothing like it. Even if he or she cannot accompany you on a shoot regularly you can get ideas on the best macro photography settings, compositional ideas as well as get your images reviewed from time to time.
A critical review of your best images can help you learn a lot in a short frame of time.
Based on those reviews you can fine-tune your shooting and improve your work.
If you don’t have access to a mentor, I would recommend that you follow some good photography journals or magazines.
These should have tons of macro photos for you to take inspiration from. You can also follow good macro photographers on Instagram.
I am not a particular fan of Facebook when it comes to photography so will not recommend it to anyone.
However, I should warn you that you should not compare your work with that of the professional quality images that you will find in those publications.
It can cause frustration and feelings of inadequacy. I would only suggest you use those images as inspiration to follow and replicate and never to compare your work with them.
In the initial stages, your work will be at its best mediocre. And these professionals have perhaps spent countless hours, months, and years on the job.
Macro Photograph with Smartphones
Can you shoot macro photography with phones? Yes, you can. But there are limitations.
Macro photography has a new tool that you can exploit and that is a smartphone.
Only smartphones that have a multi-camera set-up and that too one that has a smartphone-like close focusing system can be used for shooting macro photography.
In any case, the images shot by a smartphone will be more like close-focusing images rather than true macro images because smartphone lenses don’t always offer a true macro perspective (1:1 magnification).
Macro Photography Tips
Let’s briefly go through a bunch of tips on how to improve your macro photos. There are a bunch of tools that you can use apart from a few tips that we will now learn –
1. Use the Right Lens
The best macro lens is a combination of long focal length and at least a 1:1 magnification ratio. Start with something like the 60mm prime which has both. Be sure to check out our guide on best Canon lenses for macro photography and best Nikon lenses for macro photography.
For cheaper options, you can try the 40mm prime. There is also the 105mm prime macro which is also a good option for advanced shooters.
2. Use Extension Tubes
Extension tubes are designed to adapt your lens for macro photography.
An extension tube is a hollow cylindrical spacer that attaches between the lens and the camera mount to increase the lens’ distance from the sensor and in effect allows a lens to focus closer.
As there are no optics, its effectiveness depends entirely on the lens’ ability to change the minimum focal length or how close it can focus to the subject.
The longer the extension tube, the closer you can get to and focus on the subject, and the closer you are, the higher the magnification of the lens.
So, using an extension tube with a non-macro lens like the 24-105mm or 100-400 can get you closer and make your subject stand out even more.
You can also use this extender with macro lenses and 90mm Tilt-Shift lenses. You can stack two or more subjects together to bring them closer to focus.
To learn more about extension tubes for macro photography, we also recommend this video by Paul Miguel:
3. Use Manual Focus
One thing that can help you take better macro shots is to learn how to manually focus on different parts of the frame and change the focus to get different and interesting perspectives.
Manual focus isn’t an option if you’re using a point-and-shoot camera.
On the other hand, if you’re using a DSLR, you’ll get better macro shots if you focus by yourself rather than rely on your camera’s autofocusing capabilities.
For macro photography, focus manually whenever possible. When shooting close-ups, the depth of field is too shallow for the camera to automatically focus properly or focus on the part you want to focus on.
It would be a better option to choose a larger F-stop (or a smaller aperture) to expand the depth of field as much as possible.
Focus stacking is yet another useful technique that is used in macro photography. However, focus stacking will only work when the subject isn’t moving at all.
It rarely works with creepy crawlies or things like flowers in the outdoors. But the technique is very useful when shooting indoors and with a tripod arrangement.
4. Stabilize Your Camera as Much as Possible
The talk of a tripod brings us to the next tip. Using a tripod and a remote shutter release has a direct impact on the sharpness of your images.
Even the smallest motion blur is exaggerated at high magnifications and very close distances, so keeping your camera as stable as possible is critical to getting the best photos.
You’ll also lose light and depth of field the closer you get to the subject, so you’ll need slow shutter speeds that also is easier to achieve when using a tripod.
When not using the remote shutter release, exhale just before pressing the shutter release to reduce camera shake.
Tuck in your arms close to your belly and support the weight of the camera and lens to reduce shake.
Lying flat on your belly when shooting small flowers is an excellent idea if you don’t have a tripod. It also reduces image shake.
5. Fine-Tune Your Composition
Don't rely on post-processing to create optimal images; try and take your best photos right in the camera.
If you focus on a pattern within an object, move the object until the pattern fills the entire frame with no gaps.
If you are shooting a creepy-crawly, place it so that there is even space around it on all sides.
Experiment with focusing. Sometimes even the smallest changes can give a subject a completely different look and effect.
Photographers need to learn how to fine-tune macrophages to improve camera composition, whether shooting close-ups or other photography styles.
This means framing your subject correctly before clicking the shutter without post-processing to correct the composition.
Cropping is an oft-used technique in macro photography. But I do not agree with this technique unless you are shooting with a high-res camera.
Because cropping reduces the photo’s resolution. Instead of cropping an insect photo to make it appear larger, zoom in on the subject as you shoot to maintain the original resolution.
To further explore the subject of macro photography tips, we also recommend this video by Micael Widell:
Macro photography allows you to capture endless details of nature. As we get closer and closer to our subject, we sometimes see and photograph a new world for the first time.
With these tips in mind, it’s a good idea to shoot close-ups of multiple images.
A good place to start is with flowers because this is something that you can photograph all year round. It could be in the garden, with friends, or in a nearby park.
You can go to kindergarten, florist, winter garden, or the nearest grocery store to shoot.
Gradually expand your horizon to include other subjects. There are tons of macro photography ideas that you can work with year-round.
You can work the whole year-round and in all weather (if you are an indoor photographer).
Rajib is an avid travel photographer and an overall shutterbug. The first time he ever clicked an image was with an Agfa Click IV back in 1984. A medium format film camera. From that auspicious introduction to photography, he has remained hooked to this art form. He loves to test and review new photography gear. Rajib travels quite a lot, loves driving on Indian roads, playing fetch with his Labrador retriever, and loves photography. And yes, he still proudly owns that Agfa Click IV!