Macro photography may be one of the most fascinating but least understood genres of photography. While it may sound scientific and complicated, macro photography is a term many photographers use for extreme close-up photography.
Technically speaking, it refers to photographs where the subjects are photographed between 1/10 life-size and actual life size. For example, photographing a close-up of a grasshopper so he appears the same size in the image as he does in real-life. Of course, this means these subjects may be many times life size in the finished print, depending on your print size. For most of us, though, we are content with creating extreme close-ups and using it as creative expression.
However you wish to term it, macro photography can be a fun and rewarding method of photography. To help you get started and get successful results here are some tips for making great close-ups.
Get the Right Equipment
If you’re just starting out in macro photography, a point-and-shoot or DSLR camera with a macro setting can be adequate for experimenting. If you really want to become proficient, however, your best choice is a macro lens. Macro lenses are specially designed with very close focusing distances, and generally have a wider aperture. If aperture is a new term for you, you can learn more about depth-of-field here.
I primarily use a dedicated macro lens, the Canon EF 60mm Macro. I also have a set of extension tubes. Extension tubes go between your camera body and lens to allow nearly any lens to be used for macro photography. They are a relatively inexpensive way to learn. The third option is macro filters. Macro filters are essentially screw-on lens filters (they screw on the front of your lens) that are magnifying glasses for your camera. They offer the least flexibility, but if you rarely employ macro photography, they are certainly a less expensive and easy way to go.
Finally, you can use a special adapter and simply reverse your lens. It’s exactly what it sounds like. You use the adapter to attach the lens backwards to the camera body. This is the least expensive method, but it is also the most limiting in that you give up control over aperture and focus.
If you’re really getting into macro photography, I also recommend a tripod and cable release. Whenever you use a tripod, a cable release helps ensure smooth shutter release without moving the camera. Macro photography often involves slower shutter speeds and smaller apertures, so a tripod will help ensure better photos. You won’t always need it, depending on the subjects you’re photographing, but you will often enough to want it. Additionally, tripods are useful in many situations.
You can find all of my photography equipment recommendations at Amazon here.
Pay Attention to Depth of Field
The closer you are to your subject, the shallower your depth of field will be. This means you need to focus carefully so your intended subject is sharp. You may also need to use a smaller aperture, which may result in less light entering the lens, and requiring a longer shutter speed. This is why you may need to consider a tripod when not photographing in bright light. Sharp focus is critical in macro photography. When possible you may also want to consider trying different angles so more of your subject falls in the plane of focus.
Pay Attention to Lighting
Because of the smaller aperture and slower shutter speed, lighting for macro photography can be challenging. When first starting out, try to choose subjects that are in brighter light. As your skill increases, you can try different lighting situations to highlight different aspects of your subject. You can also supplement with a flash. If you are going to use a flash, especially an on-camera flash, you will need a diffuser. You will also need to experiment to see how your flash lights an area so close to your lens.
Built-in camera flashes rarely work well for macro photography because they are not designed to light a subject within inches of the lens. Most built-in flashes are designed to light subjects three to ten feet from the lens. You can see how this isn’t going to work with a subject three inches from your lens.
An on-camera flash with an adjustable flash head can be used to bounce light onto your subject. This type of light is generally preferable. You can use a reflector to aim your light more specifically. Again, don’t be afraid to experiment. That’s the best way to learn.
Be Patient and Experiment
As with any skill, patience is a key in learning macro photography. This is especially true if you are photographing living creatures. Even the smallest movement, on either your part or your subject’s, can ruin focus and composition. It may take you many attempts to capture a bumble bee in the garden or a butterfly resting on a rose. Just remember, with digital photography you can try as many times as you like, and use your “bummers” as learning tools before you delete them.
When I first started creating macro photographs of flowers, I found it easier to photograph cut flowers indoors as they were less likely to be moved by the breeze. As my skills have improved, I regularly photograph flowers in the garden now.
Try different subjects, different lighting, and different angles until you get the image that makes you happy. Even after 30+ years as a professional photographer, I still delete more than I print or share. I find experimenting results in learning and often results in happy surprises when I sit down to edit my photos.
Now that you have the basics, it’s your turn. Get out and start making some close-ups and macro photographs of your own. Remember, it doesn’t have to be scientifically exact. It only has to make you happy. Do you have questions about macro or other types of photography? Comment below, comment on my Facebook page, or message me here to see your questions answered in a future post.
All images in this post were created by Marie Leslie Photography. Some images are available for purchase in Marie’s art gallery by clicking on the image or visiting this link.