Macro photography is close-up photography of small subjects, including things like bugs and flowers. You can take macro pictures in a studio or outdoor environment so long as you magnify your subject sufficiently.
Officially, you may hear that macro photography only happens when you take pictures of small subjects with a magnification of “life-size” or greater.
I will cover more about the meaning of magnification and life-size in a moment, but essentially it means that you must take pictures where your subject is the same size as your camera sensor or smaller, and it fills the frame. (So, if your camera sensor is one inch wide, you would be photographing something 1 inch or smaller.)
That is a rigorous definition, and frequently you will hear photographers call an image “macro” even when it shows a slightly larger subject. The same is true of the photos in this article, many of which do not fit this technical definition, but they are close-up photographs nevertheless.
Macro photography is all about details and being close up with your subject. This means it will be necessary for you to minimize shakiness and use a sturdy tripod. Typically with macro shots, you want to shoot head-on with the subject instead of trying to shoot from an angle.
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It is also helpful to turn off autofocus when shooting macro photography and use manual focus instead. You may want to use aperture f/22 or as close to that number as possible for maximum sharpness. Using a shutter release cable or the self-timer will also reduce shakiness and movement. Lastly, it is optimal to shoot macro indoors to eliminate any wind or lighting issues outside.
What Is Magnification?
It is essential to know how large or small your subject appears on your camera sensor in macro photography. 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, suppose you’re photographing something that is one centimetre in length and projected exactly one centimetre onto your camera sensor. In that case, it is a life-size (regardless of the size of your camera sensor).
Typical sensors in DSLRs and mirrorless cameras range from about 17 millimetres to 36 millimetres 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.
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Macro Photography Tips
Macro photography has become a vast genre of the art form, thanks to the ability of today’s cameras—from smartphones to professional DSLRs—to make capturing macro shots as easy as clicking a button or two. However, the results may not always be what you desired.
Before learning to take your macro photography to the next level, let’s talk about what macro photography is and how it is achieved.
Get a Good Macro Lens
While today’s cameras offer a macro mode in the menu or analog settings, they don’t provide as much as 1:1 magnification. If you want magazine or gallery-quality macro pictures, you’ll need to purchase a dedicated macro lens for your camera. There’s a wide array of Canon macro lenses on the market that offers 1:1 magnification and above for your Canon camera. You might be taken aback by some of their price tags, but they’re definitely worth the investment for more excellent quality macro shots.
Bonus tip: If you plan on shooting flat objects such as coins, stamps, use a “flat-field” macro lens to ensure edge-to-edge sharpness.
Choose a Suitable Subject
Contrary to popular belief, not everything will make for a good macro subject. Certain subjects are indiscernible when viewed close up and without context—and if your viewer can’t understand what they’re looking at when they see your macro shot, how can they appreciate it? But of course, this is all a question of preference and aesthetics.
If the subject you photographed appears confusing in macro but is still aesthetically pleasing to the eyes, it qualifies as a suitable subject.
Typical subjects include small insects, butterflies, raindrops, and small objects such as miniature dolls, jewellery, and household items. Inanimate objects are pretty easy to photograph as they don’t move, but insects and bugs can be a lot more challenging.
One essential tip for photographing them is to shoot from a safe distance to avoid scaring them off. Looking for a Mornington Peninsula wedding photographer? Look no further! Wild Romantic Photography has you covered.
Use a Longer Focal Length for Living Subjects
Speaking of lenses, you may want to go for those that offer longer focal lengths, depending on your subject of choice. This allows you to “digitally” move in closer (without actually having to move closer) when photographing insects and objects close-up without disturbing them or disrupting their natural environment. The best focal length for these types of situations should be anything above 90mm, such as the Tokina AT-X 100mm f/2.8 PRO D Macro Lens ($399).
While Nikon macro lenses don’t offer the same maximum magnification as Canon macro lenses yet, there are available connective lens accessories—such as tubes or bellows—for Nikon and other camera brands that help extend the lens for more reach.
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Incorporate Assistive Accessories
Even without a dedicated macro lens, you can achieve good macro shots with assistive accessories that can be incorporated into your macro kit. There’s what they call a diopter, which is also known as the “poor man’s macro lens.” It’s a close-up filter or magnifying glass that is screwed on to your regular lens or to any bridge or compact camera to achieve macro magnification without purchasing an actual macro lens.
Bellows or tubes are the accordion-like, expandable part of a camera that helps achieve ultra-tight close-ups on your subject. You can also get lens adapters that allow you to reverse your lens and manually control the aperture.
Instead of using a tripod, which can be pretty restrictive for the photographer, you can use “third hand” devices (anything you can create or devise with the available tools you have to make a literal “third hand”) for holding and supporting your subjects steadily and against your desired background.
Customize Your Background
Shooting inanimate objects is pretty easy as you can have complete control over the positioning, lighting, and even your background. Place it against your desired location, depending on your composition, and make sure they don’t clash with each other. Many photographers prefer to keep it simple by positioning their subject in front of a contrasting background located farther away from the issue. It comes off as a beautiful background blur.
If you’re spontaneously shooting outdoors, you may not have that much control over your background. However, you can change your perspective or maybe use that “third hand” support for positioning your object, such as a leaf or flower, to face you from another angle.
Pay Attention to Your Depth of Field
Most people will advise you to use smaller apertures (a more significant f-stop number) as this helps increase your depth of field and ensure that the crucial parts of your subject are in sharp focus. However, using a smaller aperture is that the reduced and diffracted light can significantly affect your image’s sharpness. On the other hand, if you use too large of an aperture, you end up with less depth of field, which means that some parts of your subject may end up blurred out as well.
One of the most complex macro photography parts is achieving the right balance between desired sharpness and depth of field. Suppose you are able to shoot from a perspective or angle that allows you to fit the most important or exciting parts of your subject on a single plane of focus, which ensures that your issue remains sharp while still maintaining beautiful background bokeh.
In that case, it’s all a matter of finding the largest aperture that will allow you to do that without leaving your subject blurred out in certain parts.
Or, if you don’t mind cropping your image, you can also decrease your magnification and use a smaller aperture to ensure that all parts of your subject are sharp, then simply cut the photo to make your subject appear more magnified.
However, a challenge in using smaller apertures is that it restricts more light from coming into the lens, which means you’ll often need slower shutter speeds to be able to properly expose your shot. Depending on the photographer, the solution can be using a tripod for a steadier shot or using flash to add more light to the scene.
Another recommended solution to the problem of balancing depth of field and sharpness is focus stacking, which is a built-in feature in a select number of cameras. If you don’t have this feature, it can also be accomplished in Photoshop. Wild Romantic Photography has the best range of services of wedding photography Yarra Valley. Check them out here.
Create Better Lighting
A key component in photography is light, and macro photographers obviously greatly benefit from having good lighting conditions. Aside from using it to artistically improve your shots, you can add light to support your exposure settings, such as when the subject is still too dark despite having a wide-open aperture.
Many macro photographers would advise beginners to use a ring flash to enable smaller apertures and faster shutter speeds for handheld shooting and moving objects.
Ring flashes or twin flashes offer good 3D lighting that is not as flat as built-in pop-up flashes.
Improve Your In-Camera Composition
Whether you’re shooting macro or any other photography style, a photographer should learn how to improve their composition in-camera. This means appropriately framing your subject before clicking the shutter instead of relying on post-processing to correct your composition. This can be pretty crucial for macro photography, as cropping your shots decreases the photo resolution.
Instead of cropping a photo of an insect to make it look larger, increase your subject magnification while shooting so you get to keep your original resolution.
Plan Your Point of Focus
You have your shot ready, and all you’ll need to do is focus on your subject and click the shutter. But before you do, it helps to realize that your point of focus can significantly improve your macro photography composition.
One thing that can help you take better macro photos is to learn how to focus on different parts of the frame manually and to try to change your focus to provide distinct and exciting perspectives. If you’d like to work with professional photographers for your wedding, book with us at Wild Romantic Photography.
Macro photography can be an advantageous photography style, despite it being somewhat complicated for many beginners. While there are many things to remember to achieve an excellent professional macro shot, practice helps make it a habit. Once you get used to it, it becomes a skill, and you’d be well on your way to improving your shots with every click of the shutter.