Macro photography is one of the most interesting types of photography. This type of photography is all about getting close to your subject and capturing it with great details. If you have ever been to a zoo or a nature park, you have probably seen some amazing macro photos.
In this article, we will give you some great tips that will help you become a better macro photographer.
What Is Macro Photography?
Macro photography is the art and science of making things appear to be bigger than they really are. It is often used to show the details of a subject, such as a flower, insect or small part of a subject, in a way that makes it seem much larger than it actually is. This is done by getting close to the subject, usually as close as possible without actually touching it.
It is the most difficult type of photography to master, yet it is also the most satisfying once you get it. You see, when you photograph something tiny, you force your viewer’s eyes to go back to the photo and realize just how big the subject really is.
What Is Magnification?
Canon EOS 7D – Focal Length 100mm – Aperture ƒ/8 – Shutter Speed 1/640s – ISO 640
In macro photography, it is important to know how large or small your subject appears on your camera sensor. Comparing this number versus your subject’s size in the real world gives you a value known as your magnification.
If that ratio is simply one-to-one, your subject is said to be at “life size” magnification. For example, if you’re photographing something that is one centimeter in length, and it is projected exactly one centimeter onto your camera sensor, it is at life size (regardless of the size of your camera sensor).
Typical sensors in DSLRs and mirrorless cameras range from about about 17 millimeters to 36 millimeters across. So, a 1 cm subject is pretty big by comparison, taking up a significant portion of your photo. If you end up making a large print, that tiny object will appear huge– potentially billboard sized!
To make things easier to understand and compare, macro photographers use an actual ratio rather than always saying “life size” or “half life size.” Specifically, life size is 1:1 magnification. Half life size is 1:2 magnification. Once you get to about one-tenth of life size, you arguably are not doing close-up or macro photography any more.
Good macro lenses let you shoot at 1:1 magnification, and some specialized options do even more than that. (Canon has a macro photography lens that goes all the way to 5:1, or 5x magnification, which is insane!) However, other lenses on the market called “macro” may only go to 1:2 magnification or even less. Personally, my recommendation is to get a lens that can go to at least 1:2 magnification, and ideally 1:1 magnification, if you want as much flexibility as possible.
Best Cameras For Macro: Full-Frame vs Crop-Sensor
If you are serious about macro photography, you should invest in a full-frame camera. They are more expensive, but the quality of the photos you can get from them will amaze you. On a crop-sensor camera, you will be limited to a very small area to work with, which will force you to be even more precise with your technique.
A full-frame (35mm) camera has an image sensor that covers the entire width and length of the frame. This means you get the maximum amount of light gathering ability, and the best possible image quality.
NIKON D300 – Focal Length 105mm – Aperture ƒ/10 – Shutter Speed 1/80s – ISO 200
A macro lens is a very useful addition to any camera kit. It lets you get close to your subject without changing the size of the image. This is important because many times, a close-up will give a more dramatic effect than a wide-angle shot. Also, it is often easier to compose a close-up because you don’t have to worry about distracting elements in the background.
If you are new to macro photography, you should start with a lens that lets you get close to your subject. A 100 f/2.8 mm macro lens will let you get very close to your subject and will give you a reasonable angle.
You can then experiment with different types of macros until you find one that works for you, you might consider a longer focal length 105 mm, 135mm, or even 150 mm.
Macro Photography Settings
1. Carefully Choose Your Aperture For Perfect Depth Of Field
The most important thing you must learn about macro photography is to pay attention to the DOF. It is often very shallow when you are shooting close up, so you need to make sure that your subject is sharply focused. This is especially true with insects and other small creatures. If your subject is not in focus, your photo will appear blurry and your viewer will not be able to see what you are trying to show them.
You should use a small aperture like f/11, f/16 or f/22. This will make sure that your camera is taking in as much of the subject as possible and the subject to come into sharp focus.
On the other hand, if you use a small aperture (narrow opening), you’ll have to use a flash. A flash is the easiest way to get a decent close-up of any subject, and it is virtually essential for macro photography. The light from a flash is more or less parallel to the surface of the subject, and this makes it the perfect light for illuminating tiny details.
2. Use Manual Focusing For The Sharpest Results
Most of the time, automatic (AF) autofocus works great in “normal” shooting situations. However, when you are using it in macro mode, it can cause all kinds of problems. With macro photography, the camera must be able to focus on something very tiny, and it cannot get enough contrast to focus on something that is too light or too dark. This is where manual focusing comes in.
With this technique, you manually focus on the subject by turning the focusing ring on the lens. This allows you to take pictures in low light situations or at night. It will also let you take pictures of subjects that are extremely close to the surface you are focusing on.
Macro Photography Tips
1. Macro Photography Lighting
Canon EOS 1000D – Focal Length 50mm – Aperture ƒ/2.5 – Shutter Speed 1/200s – ISO 200
When it comes to macro photography, the most important element is the light. It is the light that makes your subject come to life and gives it dimension.
The light in this case is the light from your camera’s flash. It is not the light from the sun. The sun does not give off enough light to illuminate anything smaller than an inch in front of it. When you use the light from your camera’s flash, you have complete control over the light. This allows you to create light patterns that are impossible with natural light.
2. Keep Your Eye On The Details
Snail yellow striped shell
Canon EOS 7D Mark II – Focal Length 44mm – Aperture ƒ/5 – Shutter Speed 1/25s – ISO 800
Macros are all about the details. A tiny, seemingly insignificant flaw can be the difference between a great shot and a mediocre one.
Look at the blades of grass on the ground. Do they form a pleasing pattern? Are they all of the same length, or do some appear longer or shorter than others? Do the petals of a flower have a uniform shape and size, or do they vary in size and appearance? Look for these kinds of details and pay close attention to them. The way you arrange them will determine the mood and “look” of your macro image.
3. Plan What You Want To Capture
Macro view of frozen winter ball
OLYMPUS E-M10MarkII – Focal Length 60mm – Aperture ƒ/5.6 – Shutter Speed 1/320s – ISO 200
If you are going to take the time and effort to learn macro photography, then you need to think about what you really want to capture. Take a few minutes to consider the subject and think about what makes it special. Is it the intricate detail of an insect’s exoskeleton? The delicate way a flower opens up to the sun? The unique pattern of a bird’s feathers? The way the dewdrops form on a spider’s web?
Once you have identified your subject, the next step is to find a way to get close enough to it to capture what you want to show off. There are several ways to do this. You could use a long-focus lens or a macro lens. Or, you could get as close to your subject as possible with available equipment.
4. Consider Your Scene
Frog on rose – NIKON D600 – Focal Length 105mm – Aperture ƒ/9 – Shutter Speed 1/320s – ISO 400
The most common mistake of new macro photographers is to forget that what they are photographing is only a small part of the whole picture. Often, the entire scene needs to be considered, especially if it includes other elements that are not so well suited to close scrutiny.
A classic example is flowers: Many people think that the main attraction of flowers is their beauty, and they concentrate almost all their attention on getting the “right” shot. However, that type of approach will often result in a rather boring photograph, because what you are really interested in is the interaction between the flower and its environment.
In other words, you want to see how the flower has adapted to its surroundings, how it is interacting with other plants or even animals. In that case, what you need to do is not just focus on the flower itself, but also pay attention to the rest of the picture. Look at the leaves, the stem, the soil, and everything else that might provide some clue as to what the flower is doing and how it is surviving..
5. Beware Of Movement
A moving subject is much more difficult to capture with any degree of sharpness. Even a slight blur will completely destroy the aesthetics of your photograph.
Movement also tends to “unfocus” your photograph, making it look more like a sketch than a finished product. This is why most macro photographers use a tripod – to get that crucial “stillness” that allows them to create a beautiful, crisp and clear image.
6. Carefully Position Your Subject For Maximum Impact
Canon EOS REBEL T3i – Focal Length 100mm – Aperture ƒ/2.8 – Shutter Speed 1/200s – ISO 200
A big part of macro photography is carefully positioning your subject for maximum impact. This is especially important when photographing flowers, but also true of most other subjects. Look at your subject from all sides and think about how it would look if you were to zoom in on it. What parts of it would be most striking?
Most of us are used to seeing things from a distance, so we tend to overlook how important good close-up photography can be. Think about what would make your subject more interesting if you could see it up close.
7. Increase The Distance Between Your Subject And The Background
Red-eyed Tree Frog – Canon EOS 5D Mark IV – Focal Length 100mm – Aperture ƒ/6.3 –Shutter Speed 1/160s – ISO 1600
The closer the subject, the more important it is to have a clean background. In macro, this is especially true because the subject is so small and the background so large. If your background is cluttered with distracting elements, your photo will just look messy and unorganized. To avoid this, get as close to your subject as you comfortably can without bumping into it, and then adjust your camera settings so the background is as far away from you as possible.
You should use a small aperture like f/7.1, f/8 or f/13. This will give you a crisp, clean image with no distractions. When you use small aperture, you will need to use a tripod and set the camera to a really long exposure.
8. Shoot Your Subjects From Different Angles
Canon EOS 1200D – Focal Length 105mm – Aperture ƒ/4 – Shutter Speed 1/800s – ISO 100
When you are learning macro, your first inclination is to shoot your subject straight on. However, this often makes your image boring, as it focuses on the obvious – the subject itself.
Instead, what you should be focusing on is the background, as this will tell the story of the photo. So, if you are photographing a flower, try shooting it from three or four different angles. This will show the viewer not only the flower, but also the other elements in the picture, like the leaf or the stem. It will make your photo more interesting and give it more “pop”.
9. Creative With Abstract Macro Photography Ideas
NIKON D800 – Focal Length 105mm – Aperture ƒ/11 – Shutter Speed 1/125s – ISO 100
Abstract macro photography ideas are very popular these days and for good reason. They can be done with almost anything and are a great way to get creative your photographic muscles.
The first thing you need to know is that abstract photos are not necessarily more artistic than realistic photos. On the contrary, they can be much less artistic because they do not give the viewer any “anchors” to hang a complete understanding of what is being photographed on. Abstract photography is about stimulating the imagination and provoking thought, not providing answers.
That said, it is important to remember that not every abstract photo is equally valuable. Some are so abstract, they are laughable. These types of photos are often taken by people who have no clue whatsoever as to what makes a photograph truly compelling. On the other hand, some abstract photos are so clever and thought-provoking, they can be used to teach valuable lessons.
So what should you shoot? Well, for one thing, you should definitely not limit yourself to just one or two subjects. Instead, you should try to give your viewer as many “anchors” as possible. That way, the viewer will be able to hang a complete mental picture of what is being photographed.
10. Practice Patience
The first few shots you take with your new macro lens will almost certainly be bad, but that doesn’t mean you should give up. This is part of the process of becoming good at something. If you want to be a great photographer, you must be able to look at photos you’ve taken and see how you could have done it better. If you get frustrated easily, you will never achieve this level of photography skill. Instead, try to develop the ability to look at your own photos objectively, and not get too emotionally involved. This will help you improve faster.
Macro photography is a special type of photography that focuses on the small things. Using macro photography will help you understand the world around you better. You can use these types of photos to create a more beautiful scrapbook or to help you remember the small, but important details in your life.