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Macro Photography: The Art of Unraveling Micro Details of Subjects

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One of the many amazing aspects of photography is the ability to get sharp and clear pictures of very small objects. In technical jargon, this aspect is known as macro photography. By definition, the size of the subject in this kind of photography is equal to or greater than the actual size of the subject.

Since this form of photography is performed on very small objects, the most popular macro photography ideas involve photographing insects and flowers, since these subjects have delicate and intricate structures that look amazing when magnified.

A striking aspect of macro photography is that it brings out and highlights the fine structural details that are otherwise unnoticed by the viewer.

For example, jewellery sellers use this type of photography to demonstrate their workmanship and finesse by highlighting intricate patterns on their jewellery designs.

Understanding the Importance of Magnification in Macro Photography

The essence of macro photography lies in the size of the image that is projected on the sensor of your camera. For example, when photographing an object of length 1 inch, a life-size projection on the sensor would be 1 inch. This is known as 1:1 magnification.

Similarly, if this subject extends a projected image of 0.5 inches on the sensor, then the magnification is 1:2. A magnification within this range is the true component of macro photography.

Macro photography in nature
Macro photography in nature

Let us now understand the utility of different types of cameras for shooting in macro:

  • The greatest advantage of using a DSLR is the plethora of lenses that can be attached to it. This means that you have the choice of lenses of different focal lengths, choice of filters and choice of accessories for your DSLR.

  • If you are more comfortable with mirrorless cameras, then you can choose appropriate adapters to attach different lenses to your mirrorless camera as well. In any case, you should use a camera that allows LCD viewing because you should visualize the impact of your movement on the image.

  • If you desire extremely high resolution in your macro photography images, then you should go for a camera that has the maximum density of pixels for one square millimeter, even if it means that you have to compromise on the size of the sensor.

  • Large sensor cameras, on the other hand, offer more controls in focusing.

Also, read about The Hidden Functions of DSLR Camera!

If you are thinking about venturing into this form of photography and exploring it, we have a few helpful tips for you. Read on to know more.

Macro Photography Tips and Tricks

Here is a list of the most important tips and tricks that will make it easier for you to explore macro photography and make your life a bit better.

Learn macro photography
Learn macro photography

Invest in a Good-Quality Lens

It is true that most digital camera offer setting that can be used to shoot macro, but the magnification that special macro photography lenses offer cannot be matched by these camera settings. In addition, when you choose the macro shooting mode of your camera, you cannot alter the f-stop and the shutter speed.

Therefore, you must invest in a macro lens of good quality if you really want to take frame-worthy macro shots.

Let us have a look at some popular lenses that are used for macro photography.

  • Short lenses (focal length 30 – 50 mm):

This type of macro lenses is ideal for cameras that have small sensors. The short focal length of these lenses makes a higher depth of field, and this depth can add a magical touch to your macro shot. However, because these lenses require a real close up of the subject, you have to be careful about not getting stung by the insect while clicking it. At the same time, you have to ensure that you don’t block the light source while taking the picture. Some examples of this type of lenses are Sony E 30mm f/3.5 Macro, Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Macro and Olympus 50mm f/2E-ED digital Macro for E.

Know all about 35mm vs. 50mm: The Battle of the Lenses

  • Regular lenses (focal length 60 – 105 mm): 

These are the most commonly used lenses for macro photography and they are characterized by a more comfortable shooting distance. However, they tend to be costlier than other types of macro lenses. Nevertheless, these lenses are generally the first macro lenses of photography enthusiasts.

Some examples of this category are Tamron SP 60mm f/2 Di II, Sigma 70mm f/2.8 EX DF Macro and Nikon 60 mm f/2.8 D AF Micro-Nikkor.

  • Tele-Macro Lenses (focal length more than 150 mm): 

As the name suggests, these macro lenses allow a greater shooting distance, making them more suitable for instances where the subject is hard to reach, or dangerous. They are much more expensive than the other two kinds of lenses but have the advantage of working with a good distance.

Example of this kind of lenses includes Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM.

Check out the Complete Guide to Choose the Best DSLR Lenses

  • Mirrorless Lenses:

With the recent advances made in mirrorless photography, using these for macro photography has stirred interest in many photographers. The main point to remember when working with these lenses is that you have to multiply their focal lengths by 2 in order to get the real coverage value.

The most popular examples of these lenses are Yasuhara Nanoha Macro 5:1, Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8 for Fujifilm X series and Olympus M-Zuiko digital ED f/2.8

Read on to know How to Find Your Lens's Sweet Spot for Sharper Images.

Essential Macro Photography Accessories

If you are not too keen on purchasing macro lenses, there is the option of buying macro photography equipment that assists you in it with your camera settings. For example, you may consider buying a dioptre that acts like a magnifying glass when attached to any camera lens.

Then there are bellows that can expand like an accordion and let you take close up shots without physically going closer to the subject.

You should also consider buying different lens adapters that let you work with reversed lenses.

Choose Your Subject Wisely

While it is possible to shoot any small object in macro photography, many people end up making a wrong choice of subject. The aim of your macro shot should be to let the viewer understand and marvel at the finer details of your subject.

If you end up clicking a picture that does not clearly bring out these details, the whole purpose of shooting in macro is futile.

The most common macro photography ideas are with small insects, small animals like frogs, flowers, dew drops, butterflies and some non-living objects like jewelry, and embroidered patches etc.

Of course, you are free to add more items to this list, but make sure that the picture is in line with the intent of macro photography.

When you are photographing a living organism in macro, the way you approach them is critical. Try to be slow and steady when you approach the subject, and try not to obstruct the sunlight that falls on them, because they are very sensitive to light and warmth. If you scare the subject, it might move a lot faster, or worse, sting you.

Find an interesting subject
Find an interesting subject

Choose the Right Focal Length for Your Subject

This point is an extension of our previous point about choosing the right subject. When you photograph living organisms like insects, you might want to stay away from them so that they are not scared off.

In such a case, choosing a macro lens with higher focal length will allow you to keep a safe distance without compromising on the quality of your photograph. 

An interesting comparison between Nikon and Canon macro lenses reveals that Canon offers a higher maximum macro magnification but Nikon provides accessories that make up for this difference.

Create A Complementing Background

For photographing objects that allow you to choose their background, never forget to include a background that doesn’t take the focus of the viewer away from the main subject.

You should let out your creativity and think of some effects that will make your subject more striking.

However, with moving objects like insects and butterflies, you don’t have the freedom to change the background. In these cases, you can try to choose an unconventional angle or include a third object in the frame, that compliments the main subject.

Complement your photos with background
Complement your photos with background

You should strive to bring out the best interplay of magnificent colours that are highlighted in macro photography. The usual subjects of macro shooting are brightly coloured. This fact, along with the fact that there is very less air between the camera and the subject, makes the colours stand out even better.

You should aim to capture a photograph that pronounces the intensity of colours in your frame, thereby bringing even the minutest details into the notice of the viewer.

Don’t Underestimate Lighting

Like any other form of photography, ambient lighting is necessary for macro photography. Not only will good lighting result in clear and crisp shots, it will also complement your camera settings to give the best picture quality. The ring flash is a great alternative to pop-up flash setting of your camera, as it lets you use the desired shutter speed and f-stop value without compromising the picture quality.

Light diffusers can have a great positive effect on your macro photography images because it will soften the effect of light that falls on the subject. This, in turn, will make the colours appear brighter and even. You can use many items of daily use as a diffuser for photography, for example, white sheets of paper, filters for vacuum cleaners or any other soft textured material that is white in colour.

Know more about The Inverse Square Law of Light: The Science Behind Perfect Lighting.

Make use of the lighting
Make use of the lighting

Don’t Neglect Composition Elements

The basic elements of composition hold as much importance in macro photography as they do in any other form of photography. Therefore, you should strive to find the best frame before clicking. Play around with magnification so that you don’t have to crop the picture later since cropping leads to a great loss of resolution.

Before clicking the picture, establish the precise focus point in the frame. This simple step can work wonders for your picture composition. Try to focus different parts of the frame manually and see what effect does this have on the picture quality.

The next critical element to be considered here is the depth of field. While using a larger f-stop value will give you a higher depth of field, sometimes this can cause loss of sharpness in your image. Similarly, lower than an optimal depth of field will most likely blur out the image. Therefore, you should find the perfect balance between sharpness and depth.

Know all about Understanding and Shooting with a Shallow Depth of Field.

Sometimes, this can be achieved by introducing Bokeh effect. Another way to achieve this balance is to use the focus stacking feature in your camera or during post-processing.

Understand all about How to Create the Mesmerizing Bokeh Effect.

Don’t Give Up

This point is the last tip in our list, but it is not any less important than the others. When you start macro photography, it is common, and even expected, that you will make mistakes in choosing the focal length, shutter speed, and angles.

That is alright!

The old idiom “practice makes perfect” is applicable to many skills and photography is one of those.

The more you practice clicking with your camera, the more you will understand about the technique.

Keep trying to get the perfect photos
Keep trying to get the perfect photos

Macro photography is considered to be one of the most satisfying forms of photography because it brings about intricate details of the subject to notice. All this is done without any special effects.

However, it is also a form of photography that seems daunting to the beginner. This is where our tips and tricks will come to your rescue. Let us know if there are some more tips or ideas that work for you when you shoot macro.

Cover image source!