For many amateurs and professionals, macro photography is one of the most highly prized areas in this profession. Very similar and often mistaken as close-up photography, this essential talent gives you the skills to capture images no matter how close you are to the subject.
Of course, macro photography is much more than just close-up shots of flowers. Read on to learn all the fundamentals of macro shooting to improve your own skills and refine your expertise.
Differences between Macro and Close Up Photography
If your subject is small and you want to make it look big – this gives you a ‘macro’ or ‘micro’ view of the subject. Taken with a dedicated macro lens you can achieve at a minimum 1:1 magnification. This allows the photographer to capture finer details and pinpoint focus on one specific area.
When you photograph a subject in close range to the lens so that is fills the frame that is Close Up Photography. You do not need a dedicated macro lens, in face you can try this out with any lens you own.
Yes, Macro Photography is fundamentally Close Up Photography too, however Close Up Photography is not considered to be true Macro Photography.
Getting to Know the Macro
Traditionally, macro photography is known as 1:1 where your subject is represented on your camera sensor on a 1:1 magnification. What that means is that you can take pictures very close up and your camera sensor will be able to capture the image clearly and in-focus.
When speaking about the lens, a macro-capable lens must be able to reproduce your subject at this 1:1 ratio. Many cameras have this feature available. What this means is that in many cases, you already have a macro-ready camera in use.
- Zoom Lenses: Many zoom lenses possess a feature that allows you to zoom right into a macro mode for close-up shots.
- Telephoto Lenses: In some cases, telephoto lenses can also be utilised for a 1:1 macro setup.
How to Buy the Right Macro Lens
If you’re interested in buying a macro lens, there are a few recommendations you should follow to help you achieve excellent results when shooting. These are especially helpful recommendations if you’re a beginner.
You should first invest in a lens with a shorter focal length. Shorter lengths in your lenses are much easier for beginners to learn with and to fully understand. If you’re starting out with a 180mm macro lens, for instance, you’ll have a lot of trouble successfully using it for your shots!
For best results, you should stick to a focal length size that sits somewhere on the lower end of the middle. A 100mm macro lens is a great starting point that gives you both ease of use and a highly capable macro function.
As you learn and become more familiar, you can further expand your lenses and macro-capable camera equipment.
Setting Up Your Camera for Macro Shots
You can’t just mount your camera on a tripod and expect successful macro photography! You need to set your camera up to take full advantage of the macro lens capabilities.
- Shutter Speed
In general, handheld cameras should follow the simple rule of about 1/focal length for the shutter speed. This rule will typically give you the results you want with such a close-up style of shooting.
For example, a 100mm lens would get results for you at around a 1/125s shutter speed. Larger lenses may require a bit longer speed such as 1/200s for a 180mm lens. Keep in mind this is a general recommendation. Several other factors – including your subject’s movement or wind speed affecting the leaves or flowers – will also play a role in the appropriate shutter speed.
If you’re using a tripod, you can also feel free to slow down the shutter speed if the subject is relatively stationary. Tripod-mounted shutter speeds can often go as quick as 1/60s even with a focal length as long as 180mm, and still yield great results.
Remember, this is an area where you will need to experiment to achieve the best results. Your subjects, the environment, and light requirements will vary. Continue practising to determine which settings are the best for your particular camera setup.
Your specific subject matter will determine the precise aperture settings you should use in your shots. Typically, you’ll want to have an expanded depth of field for insects or other dynamic subjects. For flowers or plants, you may want to have your aperture almost fully open. For example, an F11 setting will typically get you solid results with a 100mm lens.
When it comes to macro photography, your angle plays just as important a role as your aperture settings. For example, a target such as a dragonfly which has a long body will quickly be out of focus if you’re shooting from the front of its head – even at an F16 setting. Your best bet is to crouch down and bring your depth of field point with you for better in-focus results.
Generally, the best strategy for ISO is to start with a lower setting and then to turn it up until your background is visible. This approach helps to prevent your images from becoming too washed out early on – and to capture the richest possible colouring.
A moderate setting to start is typically ISO 400 with an F11 aperture at 1/160s shutter speed. This will keep your background visible without creating an unnatural colour that sometimes comes with too high of an ISO setting. However, on brighter and sunnier days, you can use an F16, 1/160s, ISO 100 configuration and get outstanding results. Much like the other settings, you will need to modify and adjust as is necessary to find the results you’re happiest with.
Quick Start Macro Settings
If you’re ready to get right out there and get started, use these settings as a baseline for achieving the results you want.
- Lens: 100mm
- Aperture: F11
- Shutter Speed: 1/160s
- ISO: ISO 400
- Flash: Diffused
Even if this is not the ideal configuration for your lighting or environmental conditions, start here and adjust until you have the optimal settings.
Understanding Your Focus Plane & Depth of Field
You’ve probably already realized the importance of depth of field (DoF) within your macro photography. You could have an absolutely perfect configuration for macro photography. But if your DoF is wrong, you won’t get the results you demand.
Macro shots are different from other types of photography because of their more limited DoF. Your best bet is to try your best to visualize your area (or plane) of focus like a shape. This shape will change based on the exact positioning of the camera. And the shape itself will directly affect how your subject will look.
In most cases, crouching down to the same level as your subject can help you achieve more consistent results in clear focus. However, you’ll want to try photographing at multiple planes to see how your position influences your DoF (and photographic results).
Perfecting Your Composition
Once you’re nose-to-nose with a flower or insect, you also need to recognize the art of macro composition. Without this skill, you’ll never get the results you want to achieve.
Here are a few tips for better quality image composition:
- Higher Shutter Speed & Smaller Aperture = Darker Backgrounds: Depending on your need, you may want a dark or bright background. Modify these components to get your background at the level you need.
- Higher ISO Brings More Colour: As you increase your ISO number, you’ll notice a much greater amount of colour. Adjust as needed to get the natural colour you want.
- Keep Shutter Speed & Aperture Constant while Adjusting ISO for Natural Brightness: Even just a few moderate ISO adjustments can significantly alter the brightness of a shot.
Beyond the Macro
As you can see, mastering the art of macro photography can bring you a wealth of positive benefits and beautiful shots in your portfolio. Even better, understanding these skills will directly help you in your overall photographic competency and proficiency.
You can use these skills in an assortment of other areas of photography like portraits or close-up action shots. With this type of knowledge at your disposal, your photographic canvas will grow to even greater heights.
Now is the time to get out there, get close up, and start capturing some wonderfully creative macro subjects.