A Practical Guide to Macro Photography

Cats eye close up, macro

Macro Photography has become a popular genre of photography, thanks to the wide range of cameras in today's market that capture macro shots easily. From smartphones to DSLRs, you can now capture macro shots. However, the results may not always be desirable, which is why you need to learn more.

Before we delve into the tips on how to take the best close-up shots, let’s talk about what macro photography is and several terminologies used in this genre.

What Is Macro Photography?

Macro Photography of Purple Dahlia Flower

Nikon D5200, f8, 1/30

Macro Photography is simply close-up photography of small subjects such as bugs, flowers, raindrops, etc. You can even take macro pictures of small subjects in an outdoor environment or studio as long as you are amplifying the subjects appropriately.

When researching more about this type of photography, you may hear that macro photography only happens when you take shots of subjects with a “life-size” magnification or greater magnification. With this, it means that pictures were taken when your subject is the same size as the camera sensor, and thus fills the frame. Let’s talk about this in greater depth.

Terminologies in Macro Photography


When it comes to macro photography, you need to know how small or large your subject looks on your camera sensor. This enables you to compare your picture to the initial size of the subject in the real world. The value you get is called magnification.

If the ratio is 1:1, then your subject is said to be at ”life-size.” magnification. For instance, when you are photographing a flower that is 1.5cm in length, and it is projected 1.5cm onto your camera sensor, this is life-size magnification, irrespective of the size of your camera sensor.

Good macro lenses allow you to shoot at 1:1 magnification, but there are high-end ones that let you shoot more than that.

Working Distance

Working distance is the distance between the front of your lens and the subject. For some subjects such as insects, you shouldn't maintain a working distance that is too small as you may scare them or even block light. Ideally, you will need to maintain a working distance of 6 inches (15 centimeters). For a stationary object, twice this distance or more will result in better shots.

Lenses with a longer focal length allow for more working distance than lenses with moderate focal length. Remember that the working distance of a lens is smallest at a magnification of 1:1 as you have to be as close to your subject as possible for it to fill the frame.

Therefore, you can look for a lens that allows relatively larger working distance so that you don’t end up scaring most of your subjects or blocking light on them.

With this in mind, we can now discuss 6 tips for capturing the best macro photographs

Get a Dedicated Macro Lens

While most of the cameras today have a macro mode in the menu, most of them do not offer a magnification of 1:1. Therefore, if you want to take your macro photography to another level, and create magazine-quality macro pictures, get yourself a dedicated macro lens for your DSLR camera.

There are many macro lenses on the market offering a magnification of 1:1 and above for your camera. They might look pricey, but they are worth the investment, especially if you want to specialize in macro photography.

However, if you can’t afford a dedicated macro lens, you can still make up for this by using assistive accessories called a diopter. A diopter, popularly known as the ‘poor man’s macro lens,’ is a magnifying glass or close-up filter that is attached to your camera lens to achieve macro magnification. This means you don’t have to get a true macro lens

Know What Entails a Good Macro Subject

Not everything can be termed as a good macro subject. If a subject cannot be discerned by a viewer after a close-up shot, how can they appreciate it?

However, this all boils down to preference and aesthetics as well. If a subject you are photographing is indiscernible in macro, but still aesthetically appealing to the eyes, then it can be termed as a suitable macro subject.

Some of the suitable macro subjects include butterflies, insects, raindrops, and small objects such as jewelry, miniature dolls, and small household items.

It is important to mention that you will find it easier to shoot lifeless objects since they don’t move. However, shooting bugs and insects will be challenging. To make it easier for you, shoot from a safe distance.

Longer Focal Lengths Serves Right for Living Subjects

Macro Photography of Gray Fly

Sony, f8, 1/200

We mentioned above that you should maintain a safe distance when shooting live objects to avoid scaring them. To help with this, you will need to have a lens that offers longer focal lengths. This means you can ‘move in’ closer using your camera settings without leaving your location.

Therefore, get lenses that offer longer focal lengths to avoid disturbing insects or disrupting their natural environment.

Depth of Field Matters

Many photographers prefer to use smaller apertures in macro photography since you get a wider field of view, and thus most parts of your subject will be in sharp focus. However, this may not work in an area with reduced or diffused light.

On the other hand, larger apertures result in a lesser depth of field, which means most parts of your subject will be blurred.

Getting the desired sharpness and depth of field is one of the hardest parts of macro photography. If you find an angle that allows you to take most of the interesting parts of your subject in a sharp manner while maintaining a beautiful background, then you are in for a good shot.

You can still use a smaller aperture and decrease your magnification to ensure all parts of your subject remain sharp, then crop the photo, later on, to make your subject look more magnified.

Good Lighting Is Key

Macro Photography of Fly

Sony, f8, 1/200

Photography is majorly all about mastering light techniques, and in macro photography, good lighting matters a lot. In addition to using it to improve your picture creatively, you can use it to support your exposure settings, especially when your subject is still darker despite using a wide aperture.

If you are shooting a moving object in a dim area, you may need to use a ring flash to enable you to use smaller apertures and faster shutter speeds.

Properly Frame Your Subject

As a macro photographer, you need to learn how to properly frame your subject before you take the shot rather than correcting your composition in post-processing. Framing the subject right while shooting is crucial, as cropping tends to decrease your photo's resolution.

Bottom Line

Practice Until You Perfect It

Macro photography is a rewarding genre of photography, which is why you need to be patient and keep practicing. While you need to consider a lot of things to take a professional macro shot, be patient in learning the skill. With time, it will get easier for you.

Posted in: Photography for beginners