All images on this blog were taken in Northern Ireland by myself unless otherwise stated.
This blog is simply my personal experiences & views on macro photography and isn’t necessarily the views shared by other photographers.
Of all the different styles of photography, macro is probably the one that fascinates me the most.
Macro photography (or photomacrography or macrograph), is extreme close-up photography, usually of very small subjects, in which the size of the subject in the photograph is greater than life size (though macrophotography technically refers to the art of making very large photographs). All around us there is a world that is barely noticeable, but equally important as our own life and extremely interesting to capture on camera.
Ever since I worked as a landscaper I have always been fascinated by the colour and design of flowers. There are many different styles of petals in all shapes and sizes. It was probably my first experience with the world of macro. When I got hold of my first DSLR I was like a child in a sweetie shop. I started exploring every shrub, flower and nook & cranny for something interesting to photograph. My first insect was unsurprisingly a bee on a wild flower as seen below.
Its not the sharpest of shots, but it was the shot that drew my attention to macro photography.
The ratio of the subject size on the sensor plane to the actual subject size is known as the reproduction ratio. Likewise, a macro lens is classically a lens capable of reproduction ratios greater than 1:1, although it often refers to any lens with a large reproduction ratio, despite rarely exceeding 1:1. Due to advances in sensor technology, today’s small-sensor digital cameras can rival the macro capabilities of a DSLR with a “true” macro lens, despite having a lower reproduction ratio, making macro photography more widely accessible at a lower cost In the digital age, a “true” macro photograph can be more practically defined as a photograph with a vertical subject height of 24 mm or less. I personally prefer the versatility of the DSLR camera and its ability to change its lens to suit the subject you are photographing. Ie Landscape, portrait or macro.
All my macro work however was done using the Canon 18-55mm kit lens, which isn’t the most expensive lens out there or the most capable. It does show though what you can achieve with so very little. This is mainly due to the fact that I simply don’t have the funds for a dedicated macro lens, but also I am pushing the camera and kit lens to their limits. I always believe in getting the most out of what I have before I go spending more money.
There are two macro lenses that I am looking to get in the near future. The first isn’t a bank account buster and produces sharp images and has a silky smooth bokeh (the blur, or the aesthetic quality of the blur, in out-of-focus areas of an image). It is the Tamron AF 90mm / 2.8 Di SP A/M 1:1 Macro Lens, which is priced at around £369. This lens has been recommended by many photographers, both amateur and professional alike and after extensive research it will be my first choice of lens for macro work.
Image courtesy of Flicker
The second lens is a very different beast indeed and probably one of the finest macro lenses you can buy for any DSLR camera. This is the Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x macro lens. The images that I have seen are like no other as it’s like looking through a microscope. It is priced at around £810
the lens doesn’t autofocus – you focus manually by moving the camera (lens) forwards and backwards until the image is in sharp focus. You increase magnification by manually extending the barrel.
At x1 it’s ‘relatively’ easy to find a good focus but at x4/x5 takes a bit of practice because there is only 1mm depth of field. It can also become quite dark down the viewfinder
Ideally you need a camera with a bright viewfinder, but any Canon DSLR will be OK. You will need a flash something like the MT-24EX and set the camera to manual: f/11, 1/250s, ISO 100, and approx. -2/3 flash exposure value (FEV) should work well on any crop sensor camera!
Image courtesy of DPReview
Things to do to make your macro experience easier!
I always set my focus to manual when working with macro photography, as auto focus just takes too long and hunts around deciding what part it wants to keep sharp. If you are not accustomed to using manual focus, start practicing. Shooting in Manual teaches you how to effectively use manual focus for your macro shots and other forms of photography as well. Even manual focus may not be fast enough to catch insects that move quickly or scare easily. One technique that many macro photographers use is known as pre-focusing. Basically, you find something that’s of a similar size and position it approximately the same distance away from the lens that you expect your subject to be when it lands.
Get Up Early
This may not seem like a photography tip at first glance, but some macro subjects are less active in the morning. If you are searching for insects, you are much more likely to get a good shot in the early morning hours when the insect is still resting. Early morning dew on flower shots are becoming very popular in the macro photography world, so don’t forget them.
Use a Polarizing Filter
A polarizing filter helps ensure that the colours captured are the same as the real thing. Especially in macro photography, the vibrant colours of flowers and insects are often what make the photos so attractive in the first place. Don’t let your colours get washed out and be sure to fit a filter on your lens before heading out.
It’s worth noting that using a polarizing filter will slow down your shutter speeds. Although you should be using a tripod for just about all macro photography anyway, it’s especially important if you have added a polarizing filter to your setup.
Another reason to get up early is to try backlighting your macro subjects. Mildly translucent objects such as leaves, flower petals, and butterfly wings become really interesting when the low morning sunlight shines through from the back.
The trick to this technique is that backlighting can often fool your camera into underexposing the shot. If this happens, simply use exposure compensation to correct your shots.
No matter how steady your hands may be, when you are taking macro photographs, the slightest movement is noticeable in your images. You should always use a tripod in macro photography. If you have one, you should also use a remote release as even just pressing the shutter button could be enough to blur your subject.
Lighting your subject properly is extremely important in macro photography. Obviously, natural light is always best when possible, but sometimes you will need an additional light source. Whatever you do, do not use the built-in flash on your camera as it creates harsh light that will wash out your macro subject.
Instead, use reflectors to move around existing light or use a ring flash to spread out artificial light more naturally. Proper lighting take some practice in any type of photography, but it is especially
Don’t Shoot on Windy Days
For the same reason that you should be using a tripod and a remote release, macro photography and wind do not play well together. The slightest movement from even a small breeze can completely mess up your macro photographs.
If you are forced to work in these conditions, try to be patient and wait for the wind to die down before taking a shot; also, increase your shutter speed slightly when possible.
Experiment with Distance
Macro photography is taking pictures up close, but how close is up to you. Look at your subject and try to find a specific detail that really interests you. Zoom in as close as you can and fill the frame with just this small subsection of your subject.
You can also back out a little bit to give your subject some breathing room. This little bit of background in the image can help to put your photograph into context and create a sense of scale. Since you’re going to be taking more than once shot of your subject most of the time anyway, take the few extra seconds to play around with distance and see what you come up with.
My Canon DSLR isn’t the only camera that I have used to take my pictures. When walking about I have spotted some interesting subjects that I would like to photograph, but haven’t always had my camera at hand, so my phone camera will be used instead.
Here are two examples below of what I have taken with my phone camera.
So if you’ve never pointed your camera at anything smaller than a family member or your pet then why not start? To get some ideas just start searching on the web. You’ll be amazed at what’s around you and even in your back garden.
Hopefully, these macro photography tips will help you start taking better macro photographs right now.
Go on! Discover a whole new world!