Let’s Talk About: Basic Macro Photography

Before we start, I’d just like to say that the photos I’ve put here are -not- necessarily relevant to what I’ve written below, and I’m not sure if any of them are at full 1:1 magnification. Mostly because I took them before I learned what I’ve written in my article below. I’ve put them in because I felt you might prefer not to have to read an unbroken wall of text, and I felt they were worth sharing.

If anyone knows where I can find more of these bugs, let me know.

First off, some of you might be wondering what macro photography actually is. To put it simply, it’s a type of photography where you take a photo that’s very close to your intended subject, often showing off fine details, or enlarging a small subject like an insect to fill the whole frame. For macro photography, you probably will be using/will want to be using a prime lens.

Why use prime lenses for macro?

Performing macro photography with a prime lens simply means doing it with a lens that doesn’t zoom and only has one fixed focal length. It’s usually a better idea to use a prime macro lens if you’re going to do a lot of macro photography. One reason for this is that the image quality of your photos will be better. This is because prime lenses usually have a lot less lens elements in them than their zoom counterparts, so the light doesn’t have to pass through as many pieces of glass before it hits the sensor, and so won’t be disturbed as much. In addition, most (but not necessarily all) macro zooms aren’t capable of 1:1 magnification. In other words, most macro zoom lenses aren’t capable of getting as close to a subject as a prime lens, due to the nature of their construction. Most only manage 1:2 or 1:3 magnification, which means 1/2 and 1/3 life-size respectively. A 1:1 ratio of magnification means that your subject is reproduced life size.

No, it's not macro at all. But it's kinda pretty, so I'm sharing it anyway.

What kind of gear would help me in macro photography?

A tripod, or at least some kind of support is going to help you out a lot. When you’re taking macro photos, unless you’ve used a very small aperture setting (i.e. a very high F number), you’ll find that the depth of field is absolutely miniscule, and the area that you’ll have in focus will be tiny. This where your tripod or other support comes in handy. If you’re using single focus, handheld shooting will probably mean that your photo will drift in and out of focus because of your body movements. By using a support, you get rid of camera shake, reducing motion blur and soft focus in your macro photos.

Another piece of gear that might help is a macro focus rail. It’s basically a rail that you can mount on your tripod that allows your camera to slide back and forth on it. Because your depth of field will often be tiny, it can be helpful for focusing if you can move your camera back and forth to change the point of focus. You’re probably wondering why I’m not telling you to just use the focus ring – that’s explained in the next section.

Also, if you have the money for it, a ring flash would be good too, but if you’ve got a bright day, it might not be necessary. The alternative is to use a ring flash, which would give you more light and thus let you work at a higher shutter speed. This will help reduce motion blur, both from your movements and the movement of your subject. Another advantage of using a flash for this is that you can also afford to use a smaller aperture. This will increase your depth of field and give you more room for error in your focusing.

Finally, if you want to go that bit further, a remote shutter release would help as well. By using a remote shutter, you can completely eliminate any camera shake that might result from you holding the camera yourself, but you’ll almost certainly need to use a tripod, since you’re not holding the camera yourself.


Generally, you won’t want to rely on your camera’s autofocus. Because you’re shooting at a very high magnification, it’s not necessarily going to be very accurate, and if the focus point is wrong, the shallow depth of field leaves little room for error. For macro, you probably want to be focusing manually.

A technique used by many photographers is to set the camera to its closest focus distance, then simply move closer and closer to the subject until it’s in focus. By doing this, you get as close as you can, whilst still having control over focus. If you’ve got a tripod with a rail, all you have to do then is simply slide the camera along the rail until the focus is in the right place. If you’re shooting handheld, the principle is the same – move yourself fractionally backward or forward until the focus is in the right place. Of course, a tripod will be much more stable than shooting handheld.

Because people have been asking, it's a dead plant, and not a nest of bugs.

Some tips for creating your photos

Don’t forget to compose your photos carefully. Composition is obviously highly subjective, and can look good to different people. However, there are a few things you can think about when composing your photos. One of the key elements is simplicity – make the photo as simple as possible. This means trying to eliminate anything that doesn’t add to the photo, such as background clutter and distracting colours.

Also, be very wary of shake – not just camera shake, but subject shake. In the case of camera shake, the fact that you’re so close to your subject means that the effects of any camera shake that goes on is magnified, and motion blur from that becomes more of an issue. As long as you have a good tripod and a remote release, that’s less of a problem (alternatively, use a timer to let the camera settle). However, subject shake could be more annoying, since it’s harder to control. For instance, trying to take a macro photo of an insect on a leaf outdoors could get annoying if it’s windy and the leaf is flying around. If you’re into natural macro, you might find it useful to build yourself a clamp – to hold the leaf in place, for example. Here’s a quick guide from Lancashire Lad that might give you an idea of what to do: http://www.wildaboutbritain.co.uk/forums/photography-techniques/51409-clamps-positioning-macro-subjects.html

Focus is important. This is for two reasons. First, because you’re emphasising very tiny, minute and/or fine details, these details need to be in focus and sharp to make the most impact. Secondly, because the depth of field is tiny, you need to carefully choose exactly what’s going to be in focus and what’s not. Therefore, keep the focus in mind when taking your macro photos.

You could increase the depth of field by making the aperture smaller, but there are then three things you need to take into account. The first is that a smaller aperture means a slower shutter speed, which means that you’ll need to further reduce any kind of movement in your scene to get a sharp image. The second is that you might lose some sharpness due to diffraction. The third is that the increase in depth of field isn’t that big, because you’ll be very close to your subject. As a result, you’ll have to think carefully about whether you want to use a smaller aperture given the circumstances. As a guideline, you might start at F/8, and work up or down from there.

It's a crop, but I felt the quality was good enough to warrant posting it up.

Well, that’s all I have to say for now. It’s just a basic introduction to macro photography, and there are more articles out there that will also help your knowledge. That said, I have to stress that reading articles on the Internet is all well and good, but the best way to improve is to get out there and take photos. Anyway, I hope this has been useful for anyone reading. I’ll do more of this soon.


Yet more from the HD, and a bit of news

So here’s some more random photos I took the other day. And, as the title reads, a bit of news.

Crop from a 90mm photo, since I didn't have my 300mm with me at the time. I think it's not too bad, but I might retake this photo later at some point.

I’m thinking that instead of just dumping a bunch of photos from my HD and leaving you with them, I’d take these opportunities to talk about stuff. I’m going to be posting them under a new category called “Let’s Talk About”. The topics I’ll be talking about will really vary depending on what takes my fancy at the time. However, if anyone reading wants to see some discussion about other things, you’re welcome to leave a comment or write in to vertigo.photoblog@gmail.com and I’ll do my best to accommodate. I’m going to be avoiding discussion of things that I feel that I don’t know enough about, however – sometimes, incorrect information can be worse than no information at all.

The strings of my violin are quite the motley assortment.

Anyway, I might be heading over to a butterfly park in the next week or two, so stay tuned, and I’ll hopefully bring back some colourful macro photos for you guys then. Stay tuned. 🙂