How to Design Your Own Home Macro Photography Studio
Macro Photography as an Art
Macro photography has come into its own as an art form. It can be very rewarding to shoot the smaller things in life. There is an abundance of things to shoot. Many macro photographers shoot insects and flowers but macro photography can also be important in technical photography, for instance in a technical manual of any small machine, like a watch. To have some fun with macro photography you can head down to the dollar store and pick up a few things to shoot. For instance marbles, parts of toys paper textures, etc. Raid the garage for some macro fun as well, nuts, bolts, screws, springs. Got a dead power tool? Open it and take a macro shot of the gears, armature and coils.
What is Macro Photography
First let’s define the term macro so we’re all on the same page. Macro photography subjects are things like the date on a coin, an eye of a fly, the pistil of a flower, a half a marble. It is generally accepted that true macro photography has a magnification rate of 1-1 or better hitting the sensor of the camera. That means that for all of us who own APS-C sensor size cameras the largest macro subject will be about 22 mm by 14 mm. We don’t have to limit ourselves to this shooting ratio however but just so you know 1:1 is the generally accepted term for macro photography.
Generally when shooting a macro scene in high key (all white scene background) any shadows should be eliminated. This means having more than one light source, possible a macro tent set up to soften light and may also mean moving your subject away from the background to reduce shadows unless a shadow is wanted to add drama to your shot.
Setting up your home macro photography studio is easier than you think and doesn't take a lot of room. A macro studio can have a permanent spot in your home in as little as a 4’ X 4’ space including room for the tripod. Obviously this can be collapsed into almost nothing so a storage box can contain most of what you need if space is really tight. Some of the same equipment that you use for regular photography can also be used for macro photography as well. This is one form of photography that shouldn’t break the bank
What You’ll Need to Set Up a Macro Studio
- Lighting should all be the same colour temperature unless you are going for an effect. An effect could be a cold light on one side of an object and a warm opposing light.
- Continuous lighting will give you the best preview of how your shot will turn out.
- Flash heads from manufacturers like Elincrom or Bowens with modelling lights will work too. A modeling light approximates what will be seen and then a flash goes off during exposure to provide adequate light.
- 30”X30” soft box (optional) to provide even lighting
- Other diffusing material like a large roll of drafting velum to place between a flash and the subject. A shoot trough or bounce umbrella can also work to defuse and evenly spread light.
- Bounce cards often home made from white foam core and flags which are black foam core to hold back light as needed for your shot. To support your bounce cards and flags small spring clamps are often used
Camera and Lenses
- Any DSLR camera will do. The ability to set a custom white balance, ISO and manual operation is needed for true macro capabilities. A tilting live view screen is a helpful addition as well.
- A true macro lens is ideal as it will provide you with the built in function to enlarge your close up subjects to a 1:1 ratio. The longer focal length will result in a larger subject but the depth of field will become shallower
Backgrounds and Other Accessories
- White box tent for product shots will give you seamless high key photography
- Black Velvet for a background will absorb all light and give you almost perfect low key photography
- Blurry photos of flowers or gardens will give you a garden look
- Smooth clean glass with no scratches will give you a great reflecting surface.
- Alligator clips from the hardware store can hold small objects
- Knitting needles and pins can also be used to fasten material and objects
- Flexible holders with clips at the end, mini tripods, sticky tack and anything else you can think of can fasten or support your subject while being photographed
- Flashlights and mechanics lights can give you extra light when needed.
- Any photo software will do for regular photography. For macro photography my first choice is Photoshop CS6 although CS4 and higher will stack your shots to make them appear to have greater depth of field.
Start with a simple set up for your home macro studio. Grow your studio as you find more subjects to shoot that need different techniques. I would encourage you to get one large soft box and a boom arm early on in your macro work. It will bring your lighting to a new level. It can also be used for other work like portraits and still life. Who knows if macro photography is for you it can be a career all on its own.