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What Is Macro Photography?

Updated on April 22, 2018

Macro Photography

Macro photography is the process of capturing images of small subjects and then creating photographs that are at least "life size" and typically are "larger than life size". The minimum magnification ratio for this type of photography is a 1:1 ratio. Macro photography provides for very detailed and sharply focused images that show details that would not typically be noticed by the eye under "normal Conditions". The best macro photography is accomplished using a high quality Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera and a Macro lens. A macro lens is a lens with a magnification ratio of 1:1 and a fixed focal length. There macro lenses that have a fixed focal length fifty mm up to about 200 mm.

Macro of a Rose

This macro photograph of a Rose was taken at a local park named the Common Ground in Lakeland, Florida on March 27, 2018. ©  2018
This macro photograph of a Rose was taken at a local park named the Common Ground in Lakeland, Florida on March 27, 2018. © 2018 | Source

As with most subjects there are debates about what defines the subject being talked about. Macro photography is not really an exception to that rule. The "purists" generally describe macrophotography as extreme close-up photography in which the subject appears larger than life in the photograph. Typically macrophotography is of small to very small subjects such as insects, plants or fungi. Macrophotography generally means that great detail is obtained on most, if not all aspects of the subject.
Those who are not "purists" will accept that a Macrophoto can be less than "greater than lifesize" while still showing great detail in the main subject. Many will also accept a simple closeup of a large item as "macro-photography". As with most art forms, the definition of "Macro" is in the "eye of the beholder". Most purist's would probably accept the image of the rose above as a true macro. Of course, they might just consider it as a "closeup photo" instead.
This Image would almost certainly be considered a "Closeup Photo" due to the size of the subject:

True, good quality Macro-photography really needs a DSLR camera with a true Macro Lens. A true macro lens provides a 1:1 magnification regardles of it's fixed focal length. Probably the most common focal length of a macro lens is 50mm with 200mm being the upper limit currently. You will probably want to research which Macro lens is best for what you want to photograph before spending possibly several hundred dollars for one. Try this link: http://www.whatdigitalcamera.com/roundup/lens-roundup/best-macro-lenses-14638 to begin your research. For those of us who can not afford a DSLR camera and all of the heavenly options of lenses there are less expensive options available.
For those of us who are strapped for the money to get even a used DSLR there are always pawnshops or thrift stores that may well have serviceable cameras available for a very low price.
Point and shoot cameras frequently have "macro" or "Super Macro" settings that can give fair results in capturing a macro photo. One of the tricks that help produce the best possible macro-photo is controlling the lighting on your subject. While I have had some surprisingly good macro-photos using point and shoot camera's, that statement has to be qualified with "for a point and shoot camera. They are very limited in their ability to consistently create great images. If memory serves me correctly I captured this macro or at least Closeup image using a Nikon Coolpix L20 point and shoot camera: https://pixels.com/featured/golden-orb-weaver-spider-chris-mercer.html.
A better option, though it is still not as good an option as a DSLR and Macro lens is what is commonly referred to as a "bridge camera". They have advanced controls that may be comparable to the controls on a lower end DSLR that offer more options in your photography creation. The limiting factor is that the lens is not detatchable or interchangeable. While most are capable of "zoom" photography, most stop "zooming" at about 120mm. Most have have an option for using the zoom feature to create a macro image while staying anywhere from about a foot to several feet away from the subject. The other option is frequently marked as Super Macro and it typically locks the lens in a fixed position that then forces you to keep your lens close to small objects or subjects. Frequently, with the Super Macro Setting selected a tripod or mini-tripod is probably the best option to get great photographs.
I am currently shooting a Canon Powershot SX20IS Bridge Camera that is capable of decent Macro images. We will not discuss how inexpensive it was to purchase at a local pawn shop. It will shoot macro images in full automatic mode that are "okay". I find that I acheive much better images if I switch to one of the manual settings available and then use the macro or super macro settings from there.

A baby Limpkin seen and photographically captured at the Circle B Bar Reserve on April 7, 2018. ©  2018
A baby Limpkin seen and photographically captured at the Circle B Bar Reserve on April 7, 2018. © 2018 | Source

The above image would almost certainly be considered a "Closeup Photo" due to the size of the subject and lack of focus on the baby Limpkin itself. High quality Macro-photography really needs a DSLR camera with a true Macro Lens. A true macro lens provides a 1:1 magnification regardles of it's fixed focal length. Probably the most common focal length of a macro lens is 50mm with 200mm being the upper limit currently. You will probably want to research which Macro lens is best for what you want to photograph before spending possibly several hundred dollars for one. Try this link: http://www.whatdigitalcamera.com/roundup/lens-roundup/best-macro-lenses-14638 to begin your research. For those of us who can not afford a DSLR camera and all of the heavenly options of lenses there are less expensive options available.
For those of us who are strapped for the money to get even a used DSLR there are always pawnshops or thrift stores that may well have serviceable cameras available for a very low price.
Point and shoot cameras frequently have "macro" or "Super Macro" settings that can give fair results in capturing a macro photo. One of the tricks that help produce the best possible macro-photo is controlling the lighting on your subject. While I have had some surprisingly good macro-photos using point and shoot camera's, that statement has to be qualified with "for a point and shoot camera. They are very limited in their ability to consistently create great images. If memory serves me correctly I captured this macro or at least Closeup image using a Nikon Coolpix L20 point and shoot camera: https://pixels.com/featured/golden-orb-weaver-spider-chris-mercer.html.
A better option, though it is still not as good an option as a DSLR and Macro lens is what is commonly referred to as a "bridge camera". They have advanced controls that may be comparable to the controls on a lower end DSLR that offer more options in your photography creation. The limiting factor is that the lens is not detatchable or interchangeable. While most are capable of "zoom" photography, most stop "zooming" at about 120mm. Most have have an option for using the zoom feature to create a macro image while staying anywhere from about a foot to several feet away from the subject. The other option is frequently marked as Super Macro and it typically locks the lens in a fixed position that then forces you to keep your lens close to small objects or subjects. Frequently, with the Super Macro Setting selected a tripod or mini-tripod is probably the best option to get great photographs.
I am currently shooting a Canon Powershot SX20IS Bridge Camera that is capable of decent Macro images. We will not discuss how inexpensive it was to purchase at a local pawn shop. It will shoot macro images in full automatic mode that are "okay". I find that I acheive much better images if I switch to one of the manual settings available and then use the macro or super macro settings from there.

I captured this unedited macro image of a small yellow flower at the Circle B Bar Reserve on foggy December 22, 2017. ©  2017
I captured this unedited macro image of a small yellow flower at the Circle B Bar Reserve on foggy December 22, 2017. © 2017 | Source

Even with a slight breeze moving the small yellow flower my Canon Powershot SX20IS camera can produce and acceptable (to me, at least) macro photo. This image is the unedited original .jpg image downloaded from the camera.

This is the version of the above picture that I edited for levels, sharpness and contrast using Gimp.
This is the version of the above picture that I edited for levels, sharpness and contrast using Gimp. | Source

© 2018 Chris Mercer

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