The Ultimate Guide to Macro Photography

budding stem macro photography shot

What is Macro Photography?

Macro Photography or close-up photography has been popular for many years now. We can explore the world not visible to naked eyes; a world beautiful, intriguing and sometimes even weird.

The variety offered by Macro Photography is exceptional. I mean, you can simply shoot anything close enough to have a great photograph. However, you need proper equipment to carry this out.

Gear you need for Macro Photography

To capture extraordinary macro photos, you might have to spare some bucks for these gear. But if you are just starting out; you can try using point-and-shoot cameras that often come with really good macro modes. Gear you need for macro photography:

1. Macro Lens

Dedicated Macro lenses ranging from 50 mm to 200 mm are available for Macro Photography. They are no doubt expensive; I suggest you to invest in them only if you’re serious about macro.

All photographers recommend lenses of longer focal length, as it means more separation between you and your subject. In macro photography, smaller length lenses can work for nonliving (non-moving, precisely) like a water droplet or something like that. But for insects like a ladybug, you can’t go much closer or it might fly away; in that case you’ll need a lens with longer focal length.

2. Extension Tubes (preferred but expensive)

Extension tubes are a cheaper way to capture macro photos. These hollow tubes help increase separation between you and your subject.

The tubes are generally sold as a set of three different length. Try using them for same setting and compare results, you can combine them to capture exceptionally good images. The set is priced close to $50.

budding stem macro photography shot
A budding leaves/stem macro photography shot

3. Reversing Rings (Cheaper)

Reversing rings can be used for same purpose, but are not preferred because of some limitations. With their help, you can attach your existing lens backwards.

A lens normally converges incoming light right onto the camera sensor. When screwed backwards, the incoming light is increased in size on the sensor, just like a microscope. However, using reversing rings won’t allow electronic pin alignment. Automated features like aperture control are thus no longer available.

This method is much cheaper than extension tubes. You can have them for less than even $10.

also read: How to choose the best Lens for Street Photography

4. Close-up Lens (Filters)

It is a cheap filter which screw onto your existing lens for macro photography. Just like any other filter, they degrade image quality to a noticeable level and I believe reversing rings are much better option.

macro shot of droplet dew on a leaf
Macro shot of droplet on a leaf

5. Zoom Lens

Beginners often try macro photography with zoom lenses. They don’t offer longer focal lengths so you need to go closer to the subjects. It will be difficult to go near insects but non-moving subjects like flowers, bubble, tiny droplets, etc. can be captured easily. The photos won’t be as good as with macro lens, but still, zoom lenses are a fair way to start things up.

Ideas for Macro Photography

Finding a Subject

Finding a suitable subject for macro photography is quite easy. All you need to do is find tiny things around you like insects, flowers, dew on grass, bubbles, mushrooms…anything like that. You can try lying on grass in a garden and see the world from an insects eye-level.

You don’t always need small things, how about intricate details in a piece of jewelry?! Capturing intricate details in jewelery pieces, walls of monuments, or little stones lying roadside, is where your creativity is unveiled.

macro photography shot ladybird climbing mushroom stem
Amazing macro photography shot of a ladybird climbing mushroom stem ©Vyacheslav Mishchenko—source

Lighting Your Subject

Macro Photography works upon a very narrow field of view. It means your camera needs more light from a very small area. So, natural light becomes unreliable and external flash with reflectors are used by most of the photographers. It also allows you to control direction and strength of light. Artificial lighting becomes more requisite when shooting a moving subject.

Also, high shutter speed needs more incident light for proper exposure (discussed below).

also read: Beginner’s Guide: Essential Gear for Night Photography

Stabilize the camera

One major concern that follows macro photography is shaky photos. Longer is the focal length, greater are the chances of having shaky photographs.

Solution is to either use a tripod or shoot at high shutter speed. High shutter speed leaves no time for the camera to move enough. But, high shutter speed means exposure time of sensor decreases, demanding for more light on the scene fulfilled by artificial lighting only.

macro shot of pebbles

Creative Background

Last comes the background. Although the background in most cases are blurred or out of focus, but should not be ignored. The background can make or break a shot. Tips for getting a perfect background in macro photography:

1. Simplicity

Simple background with no distracting shapes or colors is what you need to look for. Nobody wants a clutter in background when the real goal is the subject in foreground.

Simple background does not necessarily mean single color. Circular blurred shapes is my favorite background in macro photography. The background is supposed to complement the subject in foreground, not overpower it.

close photo ladybird on a leaf
2. Separation

It is the separation between your subject and the background what you need in macro photography. Having an ideal separation creates a pleasant blur in background that can complement your subject.

Optimal separation depends upon different factors—

  • If camera is close to subject, the background don’t need to be much distant from it. If you’re a few inches away from subject, the background need to be (a little more) inches away.
  • In case of shallow depth of field (portion of subject in focus), subject can be closer to the background.
Close up shot of sunlight through a frozen bubble
Close up shot of sunlight through a frozen bubble
3. Use Surrounding color

Although some photographers prefer a solid wash of background, I prefer to have a soft pop of color. All you need is some vibrant color in background.

You need to choose carefully the color in background. I am not asking you to match colors like matching outfit accessories, but you need to make sure it enhances the subject.

also read: 7 Tips for Capturing Motion in Food Photography

Wrapping it up

The beauty of macro photography lies in the tiniest of objects the nature has to offer, you just need an eye to look for it. The tiny world is full of surprises. So, grab your camera and make the most out of it.

macro photography shot of a curled leaf
close photograph of a leaf
macro photograph of a symmetrical plant
Beautiful macro photograph of a plant, capturing depth and symmetry

Well, there you go! That’s all I had to share. Don’t forget to drop a comment down below if this post helped you in some way or if you’d like me to write about something or maybe just to say hi!

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