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Macro Photography Tips for Beginners

Updated on March 21, 2013
This photo of a robber fly, Diogmites neoternatus, was taken with a Sony DSC-W100 8 GB camera, which has a Carl Zeiss lens that allows for close focus.
This photo of a robber fly, Diogmites neoternatus, was taken with a Sony DSC-W100 8 GB camera, which has a Carl Zeiss lens that allows for close focus. | Source
Macro photography allows you to capture the beauty of the small details of life.
Macro photography allows you to capture the beauty of the small details of life. | Source

Macro photography is a specialized area that requires the appropriate gear and these photos are best taken from a type of camera known as an SLR, or single lens reflex. These cameras can be fitted with either lenses, or adapters for lenses, that enable you to focus very close to an object. Adapters, of which there are three different kinds, are an economical approach as compared to dedicated macro lenses. There are also some point and shoot cameras that allow you to get close enough to a subject to make stunning photos of tiny detail. These photos are technically referred to as close ups, as they are not quite as detailed as true macro photos.

Full-bore and economy approaches mentioned above are discussed below to give you a starting point for taking stunning photos of the details of our world, whether it be in out in nature or of man-made objects. I also discuss and show a video on editing digital photos to enhance the details and to increase depth of field, a common problem in this type of photography.

This mantis (not a Praying Mantis, maybe a type of Flower Mantis) was shot with a Minolta 28-135mm macro zoom, which has very little working distance between the lens and the subject - about 1-2 inches - not ideal for insect macro photography.
This mantis (not a Praying Mantis, maybe a type of Flower Mantis) was shot with a Minolta 28-135mm macro zoom, which has very little working distance between the lens and the subject - about 1-2 inches - not ideal for insect macro photography. | Source

Some Highly Recommended Macro Lenses

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM Fixed Lens for Canon SLR Cameras
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM Fixed Lens for Canon SLR Cameras

Macro lenses of around 100 mm provide you with good working distance between you and your subject, especially good for insect photography.

 

Gear for The Best Macro Photography

In SLR photography, which allows you to change lenses on your camera, experts and enthusiasts all agree that having a single focal-length lens is the best for macro photography. The vast majority of macro-zooms do not come close to the image quality produced by a 1:1 lens that has a fixed focal length. If you can find a zoom that is close to that ratio (like the antique Minolta 28-135mm) then it may work for your needs, however.

Choose a lens that provides an adequate working distance between it and the object that you want to shoot. For instance, with insects focal length of 90 mm or more is recommended for shots of insects. This working distance reduces the chance of scaring them away.

A quality, fixed focal length lens can be bought from around $400 and upwards. So, if you have the itch to be a serious macro photographer, buy one. First, check out the reviews by buyers on Amazon and Ebay to see what they have to say about each lens. Many professional photographers contribute their views on lenses on Amazon and Ebay. Also, check out other reviews that compare one brand versus another. Look at the technical data and some examples of shots on the web.

Look at lens brands like Tamron and Sigma, companies that make lenses that are equal or nearly as good as the major camera makers - Nikon, Sony, Pentax and Canon - and sometimes at about half the price.

And, you don't need an expensive digital SLR camera body to use these lenses. Just make sure that the lens has the proper mount that corresponds to the fittings on the camera body. You can find decent DSLR camera bodies with more than adequate capabilities for $500 or less, so outfitting yourself with professional to serious hobbyist macro capability can be done for around $1000 or less.


PLR Optics 4PC LENS-63 52mm +1 +2 +4 +10 Close-Up Macro Filter Set with Pouch
PLR Optics 4PC LENS-63 52mm +1 +2 +4 +10 Close-Up Macro Filter Set with Pouch

An inexpensive set of close-up lenses for many Nikon camera models.

 

Cheap Macro Photography Accessories

Screw-on close-up lenses. If you can't afford or don't want to buy a specialized lens, there are cheap macro photography accessories. Perhaps the simplest way to start is to buy close-up lenses that can be screwed onto the existing lens. These lenses act like magnifying glass and can be purchased singly, or as a set of lenses of varying strength (diopter values). So, these lenses enable you focus closer to your subject. You can adjust the depth of field and how close you can get to the subject by changing the lens diopter strength. Note, however, that if you are doing a moving subject, it may be difficult to focus fast enough as you have to manually focus. They work fine for flowers (as long as the wind isn't blowing).

Some close up lenses are more expensive than others. Ordinary lenses of this type only have one piece of glass, whereas achromatic lenses each consist of two lenses glued together. These give better results, but they are more expensive.

Extension tubes. Another cheap way to take macro photos is to buy extension tubes. These accessories, which come in a set like the lenses, and merely increase the amount of distance between the camera and the lens to obtain magnification. The cost is about the same as a set of close-up lenses.

Reversing the lens. You can buy inexpensive adapters to reverse you existing lens on the camera mount. This is a great technique for indoor work. But, I wouldn't recommend it for shooting outdoors.

Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-W530 14.1 MP Digital Still Camera with Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar 4x Wide-Angle Optical Zoom Lens and 2.7-inch LCD (Blue)
Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-W530 14.1 MP Digital Still Camera with Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar 4x Wide-Angle Optical Zoom Lens and 2.7-inch LCD (Blue)

This is a more recent edition of the Sony pocket camera that I frequently use (see the photo of the robber fly). It has a better sensor (14.1 vs 8.2 MP) and more zoom capability. I highly recommend it.

 

Point-and-Shoot Cameras That Can Take Stunning Close-ups

If you are in the market for a pocket-sized camera that can take close-up photos, go to a store and evaluate the cameras for the ability to focus well on the print of the product information labels or any other print material that is close at hand. (Hopefully, there will be demonstration models available with a workable battery that you can test.) There aren't many cameras that can focus at about an inch or so from the print and give a sharp image. I have found that Sony Cybershot cameras fitted with Zeiss lenses are able to do that, and have used this camera setup extensively for taking close-ups while in the field, particularly of mushrooms, flowers and insects. You may find that there are other brands that can do this as well.

To test the ability to focus up close, just take a display camera and see how well it focuses on the writing on the camera information tags that are usually present next to each mount. Play with focusing very close and back off a little to test the ability to focus when zooming.

The modern smartphones with 8 GB cameras, like the iPhone 4S and up, HTC Droid Incredible II, LG Nexus 4 and Galaxy SIII phones, are also able to do close-up photography with good resolution. Images might not be as sharp as you would see with a larger lens and cameras with better sensors, but the photos can sometimes be exceptional. And, because of the small size of the phones, they are handy to have around when an opportunity presents itself.

Macro Photography Tips: Shooting Tips

Tips, Part II

Post-photo Editing of Macro Photos

If you have a good photo editor, then you can touch up your macro photos and make them really shine. You can crop out peripheral details, increase or decrease brightness, increase contrast and many other things to get the most out of your photo. Most DSLR cameras are capable of taking RAW images, which are much easier to edit because they have much more information to edit, so it is best to take photos in this format for digital editing. You can take each photo in RAW and JPEG also.

One of the big problems of macro photography is that there is a limited depth of field available. That means there is a good portion of the photo that is out of focus, especially when you have an object that is long and you are taking the photo from one end. Below is a method of resolving the depth of field problem. This method requires use of a tripod for taking many photos of the object, with focal points ranging from most forward part to the rear. These images are then merged into a single photo in Adobe Photoshop. Watch the video for the details on how to use Photoshop to create a photo with increased depth of field.


Using Photoshop to Create Depth of Field

Comments

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    • shai77 profile image

      Chen 

      6 years ago

      Excellent lesson, never heard of extension tubes. Now there's something to look into. Great job on this hub for photography amatures. Voted up.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 

      6 years ago from the short journey

      Thanks for an interesting look at macro-photography.

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