Are you ready to get up close and personal?
If you’re getting tired of the same old photography style, it might be time to practice a new skill — like macro photography!
Never heard of macro photography? Not sure what it is or how to capture macro photographs? Keep reading.
In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know to shoot macro photography like a professional.
What Is Macro Photography?
Macro photography involves showcasing a subject so that it appears much larger than it actually is. In other words, a macro photo is an extremely close-up image of something very small.
Do you need an example? Picture a full-frame, 5×7-inch photo of a raspberry. The raspberry in the photo will be much bigger than it is in real life, right?
This form of photography is often used for flowers, small insects, and other objects you wouldn’t usually be able to see up close with your naked eye. It can also be used when photographing jewelry or other inanimate objects to highlight details that might be easy to miss without a close-up shot.
What Gear Do You Need?
Are you intrigued and eager to get started? The good news is that you don’t need a ton of equipment when you’re new to macro photography.
First, you’ll need a camera.A good mirrorless camera is preferred among most macro photographers; however a DSLR can also be used.
A mirrorless camera, as the name suggests, does not have a mirror that reflects images into the viewfinder. This type of camera is more compact than a DSLR because it lacks a mirror box and has the potential to produce superior image quality since the lens is closer to the sensor.
In addition to a mirrorless camera, you’ll need the following tools:
The most important thing (after a camera, of course) is a macro lens. Macro lenses are unique because they have the ability to focus from very close distances. If you’re not sure why this is important, try focusing your regular portrait lens a few inches away from your subject. Macro lenses are also unique because they are made with a 1:1 magnification ratio. Most lenses are 2:1, which means with a macro lens, the image projected on your sensor will be the same size as the object in real life, while a typical lens will not.
Macro lenses come with two primary focal lengths:
- Short (35-60mm)
- Mid-range (90-105mm)
The short macro lens is lightweight and affordable, but it has a short working distance, which isn’t ideal for photographing things like insects. The mid-range lens is light, still relatively inexpensive, and has a more significant working distance. If you’re brand new and still in the experimental stage, consider using a short lens to avoid breaking the bank right out of the gate.
If you’re brand new and still in the experimental stage, consider using a short or mid-range lens to avoid breaking the bank right out of the gate.
Incorporating a flash can make a big difference when shooting macro photography. This is particularly true when it comes to shooting tiny creatures like spiders and insects.
A flash allows you to reduce shutter speeds and ISO, while increasing the aperture, giving you increased depth of field. It also illuminates minuscule details, and naturally, guarantees sufficient light during your shoots.
Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need a special macro flash to produce great results. Any quality camera flash will likely work just fine, especially as you’re just getting started.
A diffuser helps to soften and spread the light from a flash, saving you from overly dark shadows or hotspots. With a diffuser, you won’t have to worry about highly reflective areas, such as an insect or spider’s eyes.
There are tons of options out there for diffusers, including ones that attach directly to your flash. You can also build your own fairly inexpensively if you prefer a more customized option. A diffuser we recommend is made by an Australian macro photographer. You can find him on Instagram
Techniques to Capture Macro Photographs
Once you’ve got your equipment, you’re ready to begin taking stunning macro photographs.Not sure where to begin? Keep these tips and techniques in mind to capture high-quality photos from day one:
Pay Attention to the Depth of Field
Controlling the depth of field (DOF) is one of the greatest challenges that come with macro photography. Insufficient depth of field will result in a lack of sharp details.
Depth of field refers to the distance between the nearest and the farthest objects that are sharply focused in a photo.
Macro lenses offer a very shallow DOF, especially at the closest focusing distances. This shallow depth of field can make it difficult for you to get your macro photography subject in sharp focus.
In some cases, lowering the aperture (the opening through which light passes) settings to f/16 will increase the available depth of field and make it easier for you to focus.
Keep in mind, too, that the magnification effects of your macro lens, coupled with exposure and depth of field, will alter your camera’s effective aperture.
For instance, you might technically be shooting macro photography at an f-stop of f/11. However, when you factor in magnification, exposure, and depth of field, your camera’s functional aperture is actually closer to f/22.
Use Manual Focus
It can be tempting to rely on your camera’s automatic focus feature. However, when it comes to focusing on super-close-ups, it’s better to use the manual setting.
The autofocus feature is most effective when you have a clear area for the lens to focus on. One issue you may have is that when you’re shooting up close with a macro lens, the lens will likely struggle to find a specific point to lock in on.
If you work with a manual focus instead, you get to choose what you focus on and lock into when you’re happy with the picture you see through your lens. While in manual focus, you can even move the camera closer or further away to adjust where your lens is focused on your subject to get that perfect shot.
Be particularly careful when the point of focus is at the center of the image. With a narrow depth of field, everything toward the frame’s edges will be out of focus. A bright, blurred space at the lower edge could affect your composition (more on that in a minute) and pull the viewer’s eye away from the desired focal point.
Here are some tips that can help you compose better photos:
- Apply the rule of thirds.
- Pick one focal point (maybe two). Otherwise, people might be distracted and unsure of where to look.
- Isolate the subject
- Add negative space so the viewer has no choice but to look at your subject.
Be sure to practice your in-camera composition, too. In-camera composition involves framing the subject before you click the shutter rather than waiting to “fix it in post.”
It’s important to note that there’s nothing wrong with making changes in post-production. In fact, we’re going to talk about doing just that in the next section.
However, it’s still a good idea to get comfortable with in-camera composition so you can make the editing process easier for yourself.
Try Photo Stacking
Photo stacking, also known as focus stacking, involves moving the point of focus over a subject in a series of small increments. With each slight movement, you will take a photo, typically starting at the front and working your way to the back. Then, in post-production, you will align and merge these photos.
When you’re first getting started with photo stacking, it’s helpful to begin with small stacks (around 7-10 photos). Later, when you’re more confident, you can experiment with larger stacks.
It’s also best to practice on flowers or inanimate objects. You might notice that the images don’t stack correctly, which is a sign you’ve moved too much when taking your photo series — and it’s easy to do this when you’re trying to keep up with a moving insect or spider.
Be as Stable as Possible
Speaking of moving too much, that brings us to the next tip for better macro photography: Be as stable as possible.
Stability is critical when you’re getting super close to your subject. Even the tiniest movement can alter your shot (and usually not for the better). If you don’t have a steady hand, use a tripod or monopod for extra support.
Adjust Your Angle
You don’t always have to face the subject head-on. Don’t be afraid to change up your angle and experiment with shooting the subject of your photos from the side, front, or underneath.
You’ll be amazed at how strikingly different your photos will look by simply adjusting your angle, even by a small amount.
Experiment with Subjects
Many photographers use macro photography to shoot insects, spiders, and other tiny living creatures up close. However, you can use this technique for different subjects, too, including food and products like jewelry, watches, and electronics.Don’t be afraid to experiment and try your hand at taking pictures of different subjects. You might find that you love photographing something that would have never crossed your path otherwise!
Want to Learn More About Shooting Macro Photography?
Mastering macro photography is an excellent way to level up your skills and diversify your portfolio. Be sure to reference the guidelines shared above as you kick off your macro photography journey.
Do you want to learn more about shooting macro photography? David Molnar, Your Photography Mentor, is here to help! Check out the new online course Macro Photography today!