When we think about photography, it’s usually the bigger picture that comes to mind. Whether it’s portraits, landscapes, wildlife, or even a selfie, so many of the photos we see every day capture our world on a larger scale. But what happens when we zoom in to see the smallest possible details?
While many people simply think of this as “close-up photography,” there’s a subtle difference between close-up, macro, and micro photos. As a budding photographer, it’s important to understand what makes each of these styles unique and what equipment you’ll need to take each type of photo.
In this post, we’re going to teach you all about micro photography, what it is, and the difference between micro and macro photography, along with some tips for how you can start taking micro photos of your own.
What Is Micro Photography?
Whether you’re an amateur or professional photographer, you’ll probably hear several micro photography definitions thrown around in the industry. “Micro” may mean small, but it’s often used interchangeably to talk about both macro and close-up photography as well.
The true definition of micro photography refers to pictures that have a magnification ratio of more than 20:1. This means the object being photographed appears 20 times (or more) larger on your camera sensor than it is in real life. So we’re talking about things that are really small. In most cases, micro photos are of objects, or parts of an object, that aren’t visible to the naked eye.
The difference between micro and macro photography all comes down to the magnification ratio. Macro photography is also about capturing tiny details, but the ratios range from a 1:1 to a 10:1 magnification. Macro is more commonly used than micro, and hobby photographers find that capturing macro photos of flowers, bugs, plants, and more can be an exciting way to get a closer look at everyday objects.
Close-up photography is anything that has a magnification ratio of less than 1:1, such as 1:2 or 1:10 and might be used to zoom in on a bird or other wildlife.
What Is Micro Photography Used For?
Micro photos can be used for so many purposes. In the scientific community, micro photography is commonly known as photomicrography, where images are taken through a microscope for experimentation and investigation of various living things like bacteria.
Scientists such as archaeologists and forensic specialists use this type of photography to trace evidence from crime scenes, discover new things about the past, examine soil to better understand the impact of climate change, and even help people to expand their families through IVF.
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Micro Photography Equipment
In order to get your best captures, you’ll need a few essential tools. Let’s breakdown your equipment needs from cameras to lenses and more.
Micro Photography Cameras
There’s no room for your basic point-and-shoot digital camera in micro photography! While their zooming may be fine for your family vacation, the maximum level of magnification you can achieve with these cameras will only be that of a close-up.
Instead, invest in a digital single-lens reflex, or DSLR, camera. A DSLR will have many more settings than a standard digital camera, which will allow you to adjust the focus and aperture, along with providing higher resolution images with improved sharpness and clarity.
For beginners, the Canon EOS range or Nikon D3500 are ideal as a first DSLR and cost between $465.99 and $645.99.
Micro Photography Lenses
Unlike macro photography, the magnification level of micro photography is too great for a standard camera lens to pick up the necessary level of detail. A macro lens is a good option to increase your zoom capabilities as much as possible before adding in a magnifying glass or microscope to help you achieve the microscopic images you’re after.
Shopping for a camera lens can be somewhat confusing as different brands will refer to their close-up options using varying terminology. For example, Canon advertises “macro lenses,” whereas Nikon’s are all called “micro lenses.” But really, these lenses are all macros and will only take you up to around a 10:1 ratio.
A Microscope or Microscope Objective
Since there aren’t any lenses built for micro photography, the best piece of equipment to invest in is a microscope, which generally costs around $250 for a basic model. This will greatly increase the level of magnification you can achieve.
Some microscopes do come with a camera built in, but the resolution quality of the image will never be as good as what even a cheap DSLR camera will produce. Look for a microscope with a camera attachment so you have full control over the photography equipment you’re using for your micro photos.
If the subject that you’re photographing is too big to fit under a microscope, you can still take micro photos using a microscope objective. This is a camera-adaptable magnifying glass you can attach right to the end of your lens. Generally listed for around $129.99, they come in various magnifying intensities, depending on how micro you want to get!
A camera bellows may seem incredibly old-fashioned, but it’s one of the best ways to keep your focus in micro photography.
This accordion-looking object helps to extend the focal length of the camera, which means you can get even closer to your subject matter with your microscope objective. You’ll also need to buy a couple of adapter rings to attach your objective to the bellows.
Some photography lends itself well to natural light settings, while others need a helping hand from artificial lighting. For micro photography, it’s important to make sure your object is well-lit in order to capture all of the details.
Attaching a lens-mount LED light allows you to place your light source as close to your subject matter as possible. This will also help your lens to focus and improve the sharpness of your image.
When you’re taking images of such small objects, keeping a steady hand is essential to maintain the focus of your camera. But given how tiny your subject matter may be, even a momentary shake of your hand can throw everything off balance. That’s where a tripod can be helpful.
Buy a tripod that gives you multiple angle options, including a full 90-degree pivot to shoot directly downwards. With your light source attached to your lens, you’ll avoid any overhead shadows you might get from this angle with only natural lighting or studio-sized lights.
How to Take Micro Photographs
Step 1: Set Up Your Camera Equipment
Before you start moving your subject matter in front of the camera, you need to get your gear together. Start by choosing the lens you’re going to use and the microscope objective you need.
Open your tripod, adjust it to the correct height and angle, then attach your light source to the camera body. Test your brightness and the angle of your light with a few test shots. You’ll want to check for any shadows and adjust your light accordingly to prevent these showing up in the final image.
If you’re taking your photos through an actual microscope, attach your camera with adapters that fit the documentation port of your microscope. You likely won’t need any additional lighting around your subject matter, as the light built into the microscope itself should be enough.
Step 2: Place Your Object Under the Lens
Once you’re happy with how your camera equipment has been positioned, you can move your object into view. Take a look at your camera screen to make sure the depth of field is correct for the image you’re about to take.
On a microscope, you can move the plate (where your subject matter sits) up and down and left to right, allowing you to focus on different parts of the object without having to manually move your camera. The microscope zoom will then need to be adjusted to bring the object back into focus.
If you’re using a microscope objective instead of a microscope, all of the focusing will need to take place on the camera itself.
Step 3: Turn Off Autofocus and Switch to Manual
One of the benefits of using a DSLR over a point-and-shoot digital camera is the option to set the focus to manual. Most amateur photographers, and even many professionals, use autofocus as this will do all the focusing work for them and produce great results. But for micro photography, the zoom is so magnified that going out of focus can happen fairly often.
To prevent this from happening, switch your focus setting to manual (look for a switch on the body of the camera or a setting within the screen options). It means a little more work, but will allow you full control over the zoom focus as you take your pictures.
Step 4: Move the Subject, Not the Camera
Once all of your equipment is configured and the object in place, you’re ready to start shooting! It’s best to take as many photos as possible rather than coming to the edit and realizing that you don’t have enough. Remember, photos can be deleted, but you’ll have a big job on your hands if you need to go back for reshoots.
Taking pictures from different angles and of different parts of your subject matter will give you plenty of options to choose from. To make this happen, it’s always best to move the object rather than the camera, whether you’re using a microscope or a microscope objective on the end of your lens.
Moving your camera can change your focus, lighting, and focal depth, which means you’ll be starting the setup process all over again. Shifting the object itself generally requires fewer adjustments to be made during the photography process.
Think Small and Get Snapping
Micro photography is a great way to look at the miniscule details of our world. And with a little practice, you can turn your micro photos into stunning works of art that really challenge you as a photographer.
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