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Essential Macro Photography tips
Macro photography tips - How to take the best macro photo
Macro photography tips, and getting the best macro photo. Strictly speaking macro photography is where the size of the size of the subject on the photograph is the same size as the subject in real life, i.e. 1:1 reproduction, or even bigger. However, macro photography is also used to describe all close up photographs. The world of macro photography is an amazing place and a macro lens can see things you can't see with the naked eye.
Taking a macro photo is easy and something that anyone can do, however taking a good macro photo is more of a challenge and there are a lot of different things you need to consider. If you want some ideas, tips and advice to improve your macro photos, as well as some information on macro photography equipment, carry on reading this lens.
Macro photography tips - Lighting
The quality of light is important when taking any photographs, however it is more so when taking macro photos. When taking a macro photo the distance between the end of the lens and the subject is very small, which means there will be a loss of light.
If the ambient light levels are very good the loss of light may be insignificant, however in poor light conditions you are going to have to modify the existing light or add some more via a flash gun. In order to modify ambient light you can use a reflector to bounce some light back on to the subject. You can buy specialist reflectors that are white, gold or silver, or you can simply use a piece of white card to bounce the light back on to the subject.
If a reflector isn't going to work you are going to need to add some artificial light using a flash gun. If your digital camera has a built in pop up flash don't bother using it as it is not man enough for macro photography. In order to sufficiently light the subject you are going to have to use an external flash gun.
If you use a standard flash gun in the camera's hot shoe the subject is not going to be correctly lit. Because the lens is so close to the subject there will be a shadow cast and this will appear in the final macro photo. To overcome this you need to position the flash off camera by putting it on a flash bracket or placing it somewhere near the subject. In order to use the flash off camera you are going to need some additional photography equipment, which only adds to the cost. Depending on the subject using the flash off camera is not always practical. For example, if you are taking macro photos of insects you are going to struggle using the flash off camera as the little critter would have scarpered by the time you get the flash in position.
An alternative to using a standard flash gun off camera is to use a ring flash. A ring flash is a circular shaped flash gun that is put on the end of the lens hence there will be no shadow. A ring flash produces an even light, which some consider "flat", however you can change the look of the image by altering the settings of the ring flash. A ring flash is a specialist piece of equipment and, compared to standard flash guns, expensive but if you are serious about your macro photography and like taking photographs of insects a ring flash is well worth buying.
Canon MT-14 EX macro flash
There are many different macro ring flash units available, however if you want the best you need to take a look at the MT14 EX. The MT14 EX macro flash is a Canon made macro flash ring that is a top quality product that will take your macro images to the next level. The Canon MT14 EX is tough, durable and very well made. Unlike other macro ring flash units, the MT14 EX allows total control over two independent lighting tubes that can be set up to get the perfect lighting arrangement. For an unbiased and independent review of the Canon MT14 EX, check out this link
Ring flash on Amazon
Arguably, the best type of flash gun for macro photography is a ring flash. The main ring flash manufacturers include Canon, Nikon, Sigma, Sunpak and Marumi. It makes no difference what brand of camera you shoot, there will be a ring flash available for you to buy. So, if you want to take your macro photography to the next level by adding a ring flash to your list photographic equipment have a look on Amazon for some great prices and great deals to suit all budgets.
Macro photography tips - Composition
We all know the rule of thirds is a good way of composing shots when taking a photograph and the same is true when taking a macro photo, although this is often a challenge. You need to remember that macro photos often contain a part of the subject, as opposed to the whole subject. When composing a macro photo you need to place the part of the subject you want to be in focus at the intersecting points of the grid. With some digital SLR cameras it is possible to super impose a composition grid in the view finder, which makes the process easier. If your digital camera doesn't have this grid you are going to have to do it by eye which is more difficult and takes some trial and error to get right.
When taking macro photos there are times when using the rule of thirds to compose the shot won't always produce the best image so you need to keep this in mind before pressing that shutter button. Macro photography provides the ideal opportunity to break the rule of thirds and still produce some stunning macro photos. The advice here is to use trial and error and experiment to see what works and what doesn't work. If a particular shot doesn't work it is important not to get too hung up on it and just move on. As long as you learn from your mistakes that is all that matters.
Books on composition for sale
Composition is a very subjective matter, although many people agree the rule of thirds is pleasing to the eye. The best way of learning composition is to read up and study it combined with getting out there and experimenting by taking photographs. There are loads of composition books available and a good place to get some cheap ones is Amazon.
Macro photography tips - Depth of field
When taking macro photos the depth of field is greatly reduced. When using middle of the road apertures such as f8 - f11, which produce a good depth of field in normal circumstances, you will find the area of sharpness will be a few millimetres in macro photography.
When taking macro photos you need to use the smallest aperture you can get away with to maximise the depth of field. Using narrow apertures will mean slower shutter speeds which you need to deal with.
Macro photography tips - Getting sharp shots
The reduced depth of field means you will have to use a narrow aperture to get an acceptable depth of field. Using a narrow aperture leads to longer shutter speeds which increases the chances of blurry photographs because of camera shake. In order to ensure you don't get plagued by camera shake you need to use a sturdy camera support, such as a tripod. A tripod takes time to set up, which is fine if you are taking photographs of static subjects, but what if the subject is a living and breathing creature, like an insect? When photographing insects the chances are the insect would have scuttled away long before you get the tripod set up.
In order to photograph insects you are going to need to use a flash to freeze the insect in its tracks. This means you will need an external flash gun or, better still, a ring flash. Even in bright daylight you will need to use a flash so you will have to learn how to balance ambient light and flash light in order to get the best images.
In a nutshell, in order to get sharp shots you need a tripod for stationary subjects and a flash gun for moving subjects.
Tripods for sale on Amazon
One of the most important and useful piece of photographic equipment is a sturdy tripod to ensure you consistently get sharp shots. The tripod will soon become your friend so it is important you spend a decent amount of money and buy a good one. There ar eloads of different types of tripod available and the best one will depend on your specific circumstances. For a good range of tripods check out those below or if you can't find what you are looking for try the search facility.
Macro photography tips - Dealing with the weather
The weather will have a significant impact on a macro photo, especially the wind. Whilst using a tripod or a ring flash will cure blurry images as a result of camera shake, they will not cure blurry images due to subject movement, i.e. being blown around in the wind.
Even the slightest breeze is going to make your macro photo a blurry mess so you need to keep this in mind when photographing subjects outside. Ideally, you should shield your subject with a wind breaker of some description. There are many things you can use to shield your subject, including a reflector or even your body. When looking for items to shield your subject you need to be creative, inventive and versatile.
Obviously, the weather will not have any effect when taking macro photos indoors. In a studio environment the only thing you need to get tack sharp shots is a sturdy tripod.
Light reflectors for sale on Amazon
Light reflectors are a very useful piece of phootgraphic equipment in macro photography. The primary role of the light reflector is to bounce ambient light back on to the subject so it is correctly lit. However, the reflector can also be sued to shield small subjects, such as flowers, from the wind to ensure you don't get blurry shots because of windy weather.
Macro photography tips - Switch to full manual mode
The semi manual modes of digital SLR cameras, i.e. aperture priority and shutter priority, are very useful and will be best in most circumstances. However, when taking macro photos and extreme close up photos the metering system can go a bit haywire.
By switching to full manual mode you get to choose the ISO, aperture and shutter speed you want to use as opposed to the camera picking one for you. Learning how to use your SLR camera in full manual mode will really help improve your macro shots no end.
Macro photogrpahy tips - Switch your lens to manual focus
Almost all modern day digital LSR camera lenses have auto focus and it is a feature many people have come to rely on. When you are taking a macro photograph, you are likely to find the auto focus will start to hunt and struggle to get locked on. In these situations you can't always predict what the auto focus point is going to lock on to, which is even worse since you don't know what part of the image is going to be in sharp focus and what isn't.
In order to make sure the parts of the image you want sharp remain sharp you need to take control, switch off auto focus and use manual focus. Manual focusing is far more accurate and if you zoom in, using the LCD screen on the rear of the camera, you can ensure you get the focus spot on. If your digital SLR camera has a live view feature this will also help with focusing.
Manual focus is more accurate than using auto focus but it is not as quick when chasing moving subjects, such as insects and mini beasts. In these circumstances you are either going to have to practice your manual focusing techniques and get super quick or revert back to auto focusing and dealing with missed shots when the auto focus doesn't lock on to the right spot.
Macro photography tips - Ensure the subject is in perfect condition
Macro photography shows each and every detail therefore it is essential the subject is in tip top and mint condition. Any markings, damage or flaws in the subject will be highlighted and potentially ruin the final photograph.
When choosing a subject for macro photography you have to find the best one you can. Let’s take flowers for example. If the flower is near the end of its life and the colours are starting to fade, or the petals are turning brown, don’t use it. If the petals have signs of being devoured by insects, don’t use it. If there is any bird poop on the flower, don’t use it. If there are any imperfections with the flower you need to seek out an alternative flower to photograph.
When choosing any subject for macro photography you need to carry out the same process and carefully inspect each and every subject before you take time photographing it. Never settle for second best so if the subject is not pristine don’t waste time photographing it.
By choosing subjects in the best condition you will find your macro photography images will greatly improve.
Macro photography tips - Pay attention to the backgrounds
When taking macro and close up photographs you need to pay particular attention to the background. A cluttered and messy background is distracting and the viewer is likely to focus on the background as opposed to the subject.
Before taking the photograph you should look around the subject and make sure the background is clear, tidy and is not going to be distracting. Clean up the background by removing things, pulling up unwanted weeds, moving other plats out of the frame etc. etc. You need to remember not to damage the area though so don't go and destroy anything. If you can't tidy up the background without causing permanent damage move on and find another subject to photograph.
Backgrounds are a useful tool all macro photographers can use. You can use the traditional seamless muslin drops however if you are on a budget a cheaper alternative is paper or card, which you can buy for little money from a variety of different places. Backgrounds not only ensure the subject stands out but can also be used to reflect more light on to the subject making for a more pleasing image.
Macro photography tips - Setting a custom white balance for accurate colors
There's no doubt about it, your camera's auto white balance will do an OK job at setting the correct white balance to ensure the colors in your image are accurate. However, if you want to make sure the colors are accurate each time it is best to set a manual white balance.
Setting a manual white balance is easy and simply involves taking a photograph of a piece of white (or grey) card in the same lighting conditions as your subject. Simply place the card (an A4 size is perfectly fine) as close to the subject as possible. Next, stand where you will be taking the image and take a photograph of the card, making sure it fills the entire frame. When taking the photograph of the card you may need to use manual focus, as the auto focus is likely to hunt and struggle to lock on.
Once you have a photograph of the card delve in to your camera's menu settings and find the "custom white balance" setting. Select this option, scroll to the photograph of the card and select the "set" function. The exact process will depend on the brand of camera you use, but you should find how to do this in your user manual.
Once the custom white balance is selected you simply move the card away from the subject and continue to photograph it in the normal manner.
When setting a custom white balance you need to keep an eye on the ambient light. When the ambient light changes you will need to create a new custom white balance by following the same procedure.
Macro photography tips - Using a clamp for flowers
When taking images of flowers you will find the slightest breeze will make the subject move around, and taking a macro or close up photograph of a subject that moves just a few millimeters will end up a disappointing blur.
When taking photographs of flowers, especially one with long stems, you need to "clamp" them in place so they do not move. In order to do this there are flower photography specific clamps, often referred to as "plamps". One end of the clamp is attached to the tripod and the other is clipped on to the stem of the flower.
The clamp/plamp is a great piece of equipment that keeps the flower still but does not damage it in any way.
Macro photography tips - Using continuous shooting mode
If you are taking macro images handheld, as is likely to be the case when taking macro and close up photographs of insects, it is advisable to use continuous shooting mode and fire off plenty of frames in quick succession.
If you capture multiple frames the chances of capturing one that is pin sharp increases. In addition, insects seldom stay still and taking multiple images will capture the insect in different positions which increases the chances of their being an interesting image.
You need to remember that shooting in continuous mode will use up more memory, and you will have more images to sift through during the processing stage, but it will be worth it in the end.
Macro photography tips – Focus stacking
A limited depth of field is a problem in macro and close up photography and it is very difficult to get tack sharp focus throughout the whole frame, however there is a way to achieve this. For front to back sharpness you are going to need to focus stack the image. Focus stacking involves taking several identical shots but using a different focal point for each shot. This sounds difficult, but it is actually quite easy although you will need a tripod to do this.
All you do is attach the camera to the tripod and compose the shot. Set the exposure, switch the lens to manual focus and then focus on a point near the camera and take a shot. Turn the focus ring and focus on a different part of the subject and take another shot. Repeat the process and take around ten or twelve photographs, each one focusing on a different part of the subject.
Once you have all the images you simply load them on your computer and using appropriate software, such as Photo Shop, follow the instructions to complete the focus stacked image.
Focus stacking is ideal for flower photography, still life subjects and other subjects that don’t move. Unfortunately, focus stacking cannot be used when taking macro and close up images of insects and other moving objects.
Focus stacking demonstration
To fully understand focus stacking you need to see the method in action. If you want to see how to focus stack check out the footage below.
Macro photography tips - Read some books
Experimenting and practicing alone will help improve your macro photography images, but if you want to take your macro photography shots to the next level you need to read some tips and advice from established photographers. There are loads of different books on macro photography, after all it is a very popular genre, so choosing some suitable books is not going to pose too many problems.
There are loads of macro photography books on Amazon, check out the items below or use the search facility, and this is a good port of call for some macro photography books.
If you have any thoughts, comments, advice you want to pass on, or anything you want to get off your chedt please feel free to note them in my guestbook comments.
The best camera for macro photography
All digital cameras, even cheap compact cameras and point and shoot cameras have an automatic macro mode. When the camera is set to this mode it will change its focusing and focus on things that are much closer to the lens. Automatic macro modes typically have a minimum focusing distance of 5cm - 10cm, which in reality isn't that close.
If you want to take proper macro photographs you are going to need a digital camera that accepts a dedicated macro lens, such as a digital SLR camera or even a compact system camera. For the best macro shots you want full control over the exposure and settings, and this can only be achieved with a digital SLR camera.
There are many different digital SLR cameras available and all of them are suitable for true macro photography, providing you have a macro lens of course. Each manufacturer has an entry level digital SLR camera, a mid range digital SLR camera, a pro-sumer level digital SLR camera and a professional level digital SLR camera. The price of the camera will vary on the manufacturer and the level of camera you buy.
If you want to explore the world of macro photography you don't need to go and spend thousands of bucks on a top end digital SLR camera as an entry level camera will be more than adequate. The image quality of entry level digital SLR cameras obviously isn't as good as that of the top end models, but does it really matter? Do you rely on selling photographs to survive and hence need the best camera?
Top cameras for macro photography
If you want a great camera for macro photography the best you can get is a full frame dslr camera. Full frame dslr cameras have a high mega pixel sensor that is capapble of capturing high levels of detail. Macro photography subjects are slow moving so a high burst rate isn't really needed. Check out the products below for some top macro photography cameras by the top manufacturers.
Canon eos 5d mark ii
With a 21.1MP full frame sensor, and a price that is affordable, the Canon eos 5d mark ii is argued to be the best value for money Canon camera. The image quality is simply awesome and it is possible to capture some excellent macro images.
Canon eos 5d mark iii
With a 22.3MP full frams sensor the Canon eos 5d mark iii is an excellent camera for macro and close up photography. This camera has excellent image quality and deals with digital noise very well. It is the replacement to the excellent 5d mark ii, so it is very good.
If you have a big budget the best Nikon dslr camera for macro photography is the awesome Nikon D3x, which is Nikon's flag ship digital slr camera. With a 24MP full frame sensor this is a very powerful camera that is capapble of capturing macro images you can blow up to bill board size and still have sharpness throughout.
How to Choose the Best Macro Lens
Macro lenses are prime lenses, i.e. have a fixed focal length, have a wide maximum aperture, i.e. are fast, and are very sharp. All macro lenses share these qualities, regardless of the manufacturer however some macro lenses give better image quality than others.
Macro lenses are available in focal lengths of 65mm to 105mm. The longer the focal length the more working distance you have, which means you can be further away from your subject. If you are taking macro shots of insects and mini beasts you need to be as far away as possible, to avoid startling the creatures, therefore the longer 105mm macro lens is the best buy. If you are only shooting flowers, still lives and other subjects that don't move you can use any focal length macro lens.
Whatever subjects you shoot the best macro lens is a long one however these do cost more than macro lenses with shorter focal lengths. When choosing a macro lens you need to buy the longest one you can afford.
Some macro lenses, such as the Canon EF100mm f2.8L IS has image stabilisation built in, which makes it the best lens for taking macro shots of insects, critters and mini beasts. These lenses are very expensive and many people argue image stabilisation is not needed at short focal lengths, although I would disagree. If you ever get to use a macro lens with image stabilisation you will not want to revert back to a macro lens without.
Amazon Spotlight Personal Review
If you shoot a Canon digital SLR this is the ultimate macro lens. If you shoot any other brand of digital SLR camera this lens is not an option for you.
This lens is tough, durable and built to a very high standard. The wide maximum aperture allows you to create some lovely blurred out backgrounds and keep the subject pin sharp. The image quality is simply awesome and the colours are bright and vibrant. This lens also has image stabilisation which makes it great for insect photography where you cannot use a tripod and have to rely on hand held shots.
This lens is not cheap and the image stabilisation makes it even more expensive, however the additional cost is well worth it, providing insect photography is your thing of course. Check this out for an honest and unbiased review of this awesome lens.
Canon EF100mm f2.8 USM macro lens
This lens is another lens that is only available to Canon digital SLR owners. This lens is basically the EF100mm f2.8L IS USM macro lens without the image stabilisation. This lens is also tough, durable, and built to last. It also provides excellent image quality and bright vibrant colours, so it is still a high quality lens.
This version doesn’t have image stabilisation, so it is cheaper however it is still not a cheap macro lens. This lens can be used for insect photography however getting those pin sharp shots is not as easy
"Square up" - Example macro image taken with the Canon EF100mm f2.8
I took this image in a local woodland using a Canon EF100mm f2.8 macro lens. As I had to take the shot hand held I used the fastest possible shutter speed, which was 1/160 with my Marumi ring flash. The background is dark because of the high shutter speed, but then I actually think the really dark background works very well and gives the subjects more impact.
One thing that has to be said for the Canon EF100mm f2.8 macro lens is that it is very sharp and the quality is simply awesome.
Nikon AF-S VR f2.8 105 macro lens
If you shoot a Nikon digital SLR camera this is the ultimate macro lens, and is Nikon’s answer to the Canon EF100mm f2.8 IS USM. This lens is tough, durable and built to last. The image quality is excellent and the colours are bright and vibrant.
The VR feature is Nikon’s image stabilisation technology and it works very well. Some Nikon shooters argue image stabilisation is not needed on short focal length lenses however VR is exceptionally useful for insect photography.
Nikon’s flagship macro lens is cheaper than the Canon equivalent, but it is still an expensive lens. However, if you want to take your macro photography to the next level it is worth every penny.
Tokina AF100mm f2.8 AT-X Pro macro lens
This is Tokina’s flagship macro lens and with a 100mm focal length it is ideal for all types of macro photography, including insect photography.
The Tokina is a big, bulky and heavy lens that is tough, durable and very well built and can rival that of Canon and Nikon. The thing that lets this lens down is the image quality, which is not up to the same standards as the Canon, Nikon or even the Sigma macro lenses. This doesn’t mean the image quality of this lens is rubbish though. If you are on a tight budget the Tokina macro lens is a good purchase and will serve you well.
The Tokina macro lens can be bought for all major digital SLR cameras including Canon, Nikon, Olympus and Pentax amongst others.
Sigma 105mm f2.8 EX DG macro lens
This is Sigma’s flagship macro lens. With a focal length of 105mm this lens allows for a greater working distance than both the Canon and the Nikon lenses, which makes it great for insect photography.
This lens isn’t built like the Canon or Nikon lenses, but given it is a fraction of the cost this is not surprising. The Sigma macro lens is capable of producing some very good macro images however it is not as sharp as either the Nikon or the Canon macro lenses.
The Sigma macro lens can be bought to fit a range of different digital SLR cameras, including Canon, Nikon, Sony and Olympus to name but a few. The Sigma macro lens is a lens for those on a budget and it is a worthwhile purchase. Just don’t expect it to give the same image quality as the Nikon or the Canon.
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