It’s easy to overlook things you see every day. Flowers, insects, tiny plants. Macro photography allows you to see those ordinary things in extraordinary ways.
Macro photography is one of the most fascinating genres of photography—it allows us to showcase otherwise ordinary subjects in a truly mesmerizing way. The best part? Just about anything can be the subject of a macro photo, making this craft accessible, fun, and quite addicting.
If you’re thinking of trying your hand at macro photography, keep reading. We’ll share plenty of breathtaking examples, go over what equipment you’ll need, and share a few important tips that will help you hit the ground running.
Macro photography, also referred to as close-up photography, involves taking close-up photos of small objects and creatures.
According to the technical macro photography definition, subjects are photographed at a 1:1 magnification ratio, meaning that how large they appear on the image sensor is how large they are in real life. This allows the photographer to capture incredible detail and portray small subjects in a way that can’t easily be seen with a naked eye.
Before we get into how to get started with macro photography, let’s take a look at a few examples.
Insects, frogs, lizards, and birds wear vibrant colors and textures that we rarely get to see and appreciate.
Plants and flowers are even more beautiful when we can zoom in on their intricate patterns.
See the beauty in everyday objects around the house—a macro lens can turn just about anything into art!
Focus on the details and textures of your subject by removing all color.
If you’re new to photography and don’t have a dedicated camera, you can try taking macro photos with your phone to get a feel for it. There are plenty of smartphones on the market that have a camera mode specifically designed for macro photography. iPhone 13 Pro is a popular example.
With or without macro mode, you can also purchase inexpensive macro lenses that clip onto your smartphone and act as a magnifying glass.
When you’re ready to take your macro photography to the next level, consider upgrading your equipment with the options below.
Like smartphones, most point-and-shoot cameras also have a macro mode, but if you’re looking to capture professional macro photographs, you’ll need an interchangeable-lens camera like a DSLR or a mirrorless camera.
A dedicated macro lens is optimized to focus at a very close distance to the subject, which makes it perfect for taking close-up photos.
These lenses usually come in different focal lengths—i.e., the amount of magnification. For example, with a 50mm lens, you’d have to hold the camera right up to the subject, while a 200mm lens would allow you to stand about two feet away. A 50mm lens is fine for photographing inanimate objects, but if you’re looking to photograph insects, small animals, or birds, it’s best to stand at a distance to avoid scaring them away.
If you’re not ready to invest in a dedicated macro lens, but have a standard lens on hand, you can still use it to take macro photos. You just need to get a few inexpensive accessories.
An interesting option is to use a standard lens backward, which essentially turns it into a magnifying glass. A reversing ring can help you attach a backward lens directly to your camera, while a coupling ring can attach it to another forward-facing lens.
An extension tube is a hollow tube that can be added in between the camera body and the lens. It moves the lens farther away from the sensor and, therefore, increases its magnification.
A macro filter is a bit like a magnifying glass that you can screw onto the end of a lens. It reduces your lens’ focal length so that you can get very close to your subject. Its downside is that it only works at this close distance, so you probably won’t be able to use it with skittish subjects.
The most breathtaking close-up photographs are detailed and sharp. This means you can’t afford any camera shake, so use a tripod as much as you can. It will also come in handy if you ever try focus stacking, a technique we’ll talk about in a later section.
Capturing well-exposed macro photos can be a challenge, so you may need to rely on additional lighting. You can use your camera’s built-in flash, but a ring flash, which gets mounted onto the end of your lens, will provide a much more even light and prevent any harsh shadows.
The main challenge with macro photography is capturing an image that’s perfectly in-focus and well lit. Let’s take a look at a few things you can do to achieve this.
When your subject is very close to the camera, you’re going to end up with a very shallow depth of field. While this helps create a lovely blurred background effect in other genres of photography, with macro photography it often means that some parts of your subject will be out of focus. To combat this, use a smaller aperture (higher f-stop number like f/8 or f/11) to increase the depth of field.
Be sure to use manual focus, as your camera likely won’t be able to auto-focus at such a close distance.
To capture photos that are nice and crisp, set the shutter speed to at least 1/100 of a second and use a tripod. You can even use a remote shutter release or your camera’s self-timer to avoid any camera shake.
The issue with using a small aperture and a fast shutter speed is that they both reduce the amount of light that enters the lens. This can result in an underexposed photo.
You can shoot in manual mode and let the ISO—the camera’s sensitivity to light—compensate for this, but be aware that higher ISO settings introduce more noise to the photos.
You may need to play around with the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to get the exposure just right. When all else fails, don’t be afraid to use flash as an additional source of light. As discussed in the section on equipment, a ring flash is a popular choice among macro photographers.
There may be times when it seems impossible to find a balance between keeping most of the subject in focus and making sure it’s well exposed. When this happens, you can try focus stacking.
Start by setting an aperture that will allow sufficient light into the lens. Then, with the camera on a tripod, take several photos of your subject, each time adjusting the area that’s in focus. Finally, stitch the photos together in an editing software like Photoshop, so that the final result is completely in focus.
Here are a few more tips on macro photography for beginners.
In order to stay nice and sharp in the photo, your subject needs to be completely still. If you’re shooting outside in nature, try to avoid going out on a windy day, as it can cause subjects like plants to sway. If there’s a light breeze, you can bring along a prop to help block it or use a clamp to hold the plant in place.
Composition isn’t as important in macro photography as it is in other genres, simply because you’ll almost always want to zoom in on your subject as much as possible. That being said, there are still a few choices you can make:
The best part about macro photography is that potential subjects are all around you—you don’t need to leave your backyard or even your house.
Look for small items that have lots of details and texture—you’ll likely find hundreds just in your home! All you need is a bit of creativity and a willingness to see everyday objects in a new light.
The best way to learn about macro photography is to simply start shooting. Take a class to learn the basics and start with the equipment you already have. You’ll quickly find out whether it’s sufficient for what you want to accomplish or if you’re ready to invest in more advanced tools.
Regardless of the equipment you use, macro photography is incredibly fun and rewarding. Just find something you can photograph in your house or on your next nature walk and see for yourself!
Seeing the World Close Up: Three Methods of Close-up and Macro Photography
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