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Macro photography ideas to improve your macro shots

Updated on July 30, 2013

Macro photography subjects for close up photography

Before we even think of macro photography ideas we need to define macro photography. In a nutshell, macro photography is taking close up and detailed photographs of a subject. So, you have just gone and bought a macro lens but can't find any inspiration and don't know what to use it for. Macro photography is diverse and there are a million and one things you can take images of. Some people try to think outside the box when they want to take macro photographs, which is simply pointless. If you want to do a bit of macro photography but have hit the creative wall then carry on reading for some great macro photography ideas that will get your creative juices flowing.

Macro photography ideas - Insects

Insects are a common and popular subject for macro photography enthusiasts and it is easy to see why. The world of insects and mini beasts is amazing through normal human eyes but once you strap a macro lens on to your camera it gets a whole lot better.

You need to remember that insects are living organisms and are seldom likely to sit dead still and pose for a photograph or two. Even when insects appear stationary they will still be moving a leg, a wing or some other body part therefore in order to get tack sharp shots you are either going to need to shoot with a fast shutter speed or use an external flash gun to "freeze" the insect. An artificial light source is more important in insect photography than many people seem to realize and it is something you need to capture amazing macro images of insects.

You can use an external flash gun to light insects and mini beasts however you will need to use it off camera to make sure the lens doesn't create a shadow. Rather than using a conventional flash gun you will find the job much easier with a ring flash, which is a flash gun you mount on to the end of the lens as opposed to the camera's hot shoe.

You can find insects and mini beasts around the home, in the garden shed, in the garage and in the garden to name just a few locations. The beauty of taking photographs of insects is that you don't have to travel too far to get some good photographs. When you're taking macro photographs of insects you should never dismiss taking a photograph because the subject is a boring ant for example. If you take a photograph and then upload it to your computer you will be amazed at the result.

Insect and mini beast macro photography is fun and crawling around on your hands and knees trying to find some mini beasts is nostalgic and child like, but it is so worth doing.

When taking macro images of insects you need to be mobile and travel light. You can use a tripod if you want however more often than not you will find the insect has run off, flown away or scarpered before you have even set up the tripod. You may find some insects and mini beasts that will remain in place but these are going to be few and far between.

When taking images of insects you need to keep as far away as possible, which requires a lens with the largest focal length, which will be around 105mm. Anything less than this and the working distance will be too close and you are likely to miss several shots.

Macro equipment for insect photography

If you want to take macro and close up photographs of insects you have to make sure you can keep mobile, i.e. you have to go and find the insect and not wait for the insect to come to you. The equipment needed for photographing insects and mini beasts is small and the only things you need is a long focal length macro lens, i.e. anything over 100mm and a ring flash. You may wish to use extension tubes to increase the magnification even more.

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Macro photography ideas - Food

food photography tips
food photography tips

A macro lens is a great tool for taking images of all things to do with food. It doesn't matter whether you are taking a macro photo of a single spice seed, a single ingredient, lots of ingredients or a complete meal a macro lens will help you get some creative shots.

We all eat and food is something that interests many of us. There are many keen cooks out there who like nothing more than buying some fresh ingredients and then spending a few hours in the kitchen rustling up a decent meal. The number of food photography opportunities is endless and even those everyday boring food items can be turned in to a work of art with a macro lens.

Food photography is done in the kitchen and usually where the ambient light levels are low. Because of this you are going to need to use an external flash gun, or two, to artificially light your food subjects. To prevent harsh shadows you need to diffuse the light. You can use a light tent for food photography but if you spill anything on the white nylon you are not going to get the stain out, which will ruin the nice clean photographic background.

Rather than using a light tent for food photography it is better to use some white card to produce a clean background. With this method if you spill some food you simply throw the card away and use a nice, new clean piece.

Macro photography ideas - Toys and games

photograph of board games
photograph of board games

Children's toys make excellent macro photography subjects so go rummaging through your children's toy box or your younger sibling's toy box for something suitable to photograph.

One of the most fun toys to photograph are lego men and train set people since you can put these in some interesting situations and use a whole load of props, such as toy cars, kitchen appliances, tools or anything else you can find to create some interesting and unique images.

Glass chess set

There is something about a glass chess set that makes it such a great subject for macro photography. The resultant images can be simply stunning.



Lego men

Lego men are excellent for macro photography of toys and the cheapest way to buy them is in multi packs like this.

Macro photography ideas - Flowers

flower photography
flower photography

With so many different species and varieties of flowers, all of which have their own unique look and colours, it is easy to see why flowers are another popular subject with macro photographers.

Unlike an insect or mini beast, a flower cannot run away and hide from you therefore you have time to set your camera on a sturdy tripod, sort out the lighting and compose your shot when taking photographs of flowers. Because of this, flowers are often seen as a very simple subject in macro photography. Getting a good photograph of a flower is easy however getting a great photograph of a flower is something totally different. Capturing an amazing flower shot that is unique and original takes a lot of time, practice and skill and is always satisfying when you manage to get one of these images.

When taking macro photographs of flowers natural light is best wherever possible. So rather than using a flash gun to add a blast of artificial light you are better off using the available ambient light and modifying or changing it. A reflector is used to bounce the light back on to the subject and fill in the shadows, whereas a diffuser is used to soften any harsh natural light. It is important to have both a reflector and some diffuser material in your kit bag when taking macro images of flowers. Obviously, if the ambient light is not sufficient you will have no use but to use a flash gun to add some additional light. If you are forced to use a flash gun you need to make sure you set a low power and diffuse the light so it doesn't create any harsh shadows.

One of the biggest problems with flower photography is the weather, especially the wind. The slightest bit of wind will result in a blurry photograph therefore it is important to shield the flower from the wind before taking the shot. One of the most useful pieces of kit to shield the flower from the wind is a light reflector, however you can use your body, a strategically placed arm or anything else you can find to serve as a wind break.

The best time to photograph flowers is first thing in the morning when the sun is low in the sky and there is a bit of dew on the flowers. If there is no dew try spraying a small amount of water on to the flower head, stem or leaves in order to create some artificial dew.

Equipment for flower photography

If you want to take macro and close up photographs of flowers you can afford to spend a little time de-cluttering the background and composing the shot. You can use a macro lens of any focal length to take images of flowers. Other equipment you will need includes an external flash gun, a diffuser (to soften the light source), a reflector (to direct the light to the flower and serve as a wind break), a tripod to ensure tack sharp images and a plamp to keep the subject still during the exposure.

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Macro photography ideas - Jewellery

jewellery photography tips
jewellery photography tips

Jewellery is beautiful right, that's why we wear it. It doesn't matter if the jewellery consists of gold wedding bands, silver chains, pearl necklaces, diamond encrusted engagement rings, sapphires, rubies, emeralds or any other type of materials you can think of all jewellery is beautiful. Heck, even costume jewellery has a certain charm and can be used to create some stunning macro photos.

The problem is that jewellery is shiny, sparkles and will scatter the light, which can create some unsightly reflections and glare, which will ruin the photograph. The reflections and glare are exaggerated when using an artificial light source, such as a flash gun, to add a bit of light. In order to soften the light produced by a flash gun you are going to need to use a diffuser of some kind. There are loads of different light diffusers available, all of which do the same thing and scatter the light source to make it less harsh. Rather than buying a diffuser you may wish to make your own using some white nylon, satin or tissue paper.

When taking macro shots of jewellery I have discovered the best thing to use is a light tent, which is simply a box consisting of a wire frame covered with white "shoot through" nylon. The jewellery is put inside the light tent but lit using continuous lighting or strobe lights placed outside the light tent. The white nylon diffuses the light, softens it and makes it more even, hence reducing the glare when it lights the jewellery.

You can make your own light tent however it is a bit of a chore and will take some time. In my opinion, it is far better to buy a light tent since these are inexpensive, good quality and will fold flat making them easy to store. If you want to take macro photographs of jewellery a light tent is an essential piece of kit.

Improve your jewellery photography skills

Jewellery is shiny and any lights are likely to bounce off and cause hot spots and reflections, neither of which makes a good photograph. In order to overcome these problems you can buy a light tent, which is simply a frame around which there is diffusing material. The jewellery is placed in the light tent and the lamps are placed outside the light tent. The result is nicely diffused light, no hot spots and no reflections.

Cowboy Light Tent

The cheapest way to get a light tent and lamps is to buy an all you need kit, such as this one. The Cowboy table top kit includes a 40cm light tent, 2 x 50 watt lamps, a camera stand and four coloured backgrounds. This light tent kit is good quality, affordable and will help improve your jewellery photos.

Macro photogrpahy ideas - The human body

Lips
Lips

The human body is amazing and makes for some very interesting macro shots. Have you ever seen a real close up of the skin or an eyeball or some other body part? Well, grab a macro lens and start snapping away for some inspiring images.

The best thing about this type of macro photography is you don't even need a willing model, although one is very useful, as you can photograph different parts of your own body.

For something different (and something that some people may find a bit gross) try taking some macro images of ailments, such as pimples, boils, razor bumps and bruises, all of which make very interesting images.

Macro photography tips - conclusion

The above are just a few macro photography ideas and, if you take a step back and think for a few minutes, you will find several others besides. If you ever find yourself struggling for inspiration with a macro lens simply go out and start snapping away at random objects. I guarantee that when you upload the images to your computer there will be several that will be awesome, and by awesome I mean images that will make you stop dead in your tracks and actually say to yourself "That's actually really good".

One of the best things about macro photography is the number of potential subjects there are and the dullest of items and products can end up making a fantastic photograph.

Macro photography on the cheap

If you want to experience macro and close up photography but don't want to shell out on a specific macro lens there are some cheaper alternatives you may wish to explore.

The first, and cheapest option is to use a reversing ring. These rings allow you to mount the lens on your camera backwards, i.e. reversing it. Turning the lens around forces the camera to focus closer, hence increasing the magnification. If you use a reversing ring the image quality won't be that great but it does allow you to see if you like macro photography and want to invest in buying a macro lens.

The second option is to use close up filters. These screw in filters are effectively a magnifying glass, which increases the magnification. Close up filters are cheap and the image quality is acceptable but not great. Close up filters are yet another way you can experiment with macro photography to see if you actually like it.

Zeikos Close Up Filter Set

If you are looking to buy some close up filters you won't go far wrong with Zeikos. These close up filters are tough, durable and well made. The image quality is as good as all other top branded close up filters and Zeikos close up filters are also affordable.


The third option is to use extension tubes, which are small pieces of plastic you put between the lens and camera body to change the focal distance. You can but extension tubes with electrical contacts (which maintains autofocus) and without electrical contacts (which means manual focusing only). Extension tubes with the electrical contacts are more expensive but the image quality is no better than extension tubes without electrical contacts.

Zeikos Extension Tube Set with Electrical Contacts

Many people consider Kenko the best extension tubes, however this set made by Zeikos is just as good. The Zeikos extension tubes don't feel as tough as Kenko ones, but they are well made and more than up to the job. The Zeikos extension tubes are a lot cheaper than Kenko extension tubes which makes them much better value for money, especially when you consider the image quality of the photographs taken with a Zeikos extension tube is as good as one taken with a Kenko extension tube.

Improve your macro photography skills

If you want to improve your macro photography skills and take your images to the next level one of the best things you can do is invest in a book on the specific topic you want to focus on. Macro photography books should be used for technical tips and inspiration only. Sure, take other photographers work and use it for inspiration but never copy it. You need to find your own style and stick with it.

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If you have any thoughts, ideas, tips or advice to improve my, and other readers', macro skills then please feel free to note them in my guestbook.

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    • jennabee25 profile image

      Jenn Dixon 3 years ago from PA

      Great lens! I use extension tubes for macro photography.

    • profile image

      SteveKaye 3 years ago

      Beautiful photos. Congratulations.

    • blue22d profile image

      blue22d 4 years ago

      That strawberry got me going. Beautiful pics and great lens.

    • mel-kav profile image

      mel-kav 4 years ago

      Wonderful lens. My favorite to photograph insects and flowers in macro mode.

    • Edwardjames81 profile image
      Author

      Edwardjames81 4 years ago

      @LadyDuck: I hope you will find them useful, and please do post some images on one of your future lenses!

    • profile image

      LadyDuck 4 years ago

      I love macro photography your tips will be of great help.

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 4 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      Great tips and macro ideas. Love your photos.

    • profile image

      purelightphoto 4 years ago

      Great looking Lens! Cool tips this is helpful for photography addicts like me, Thanks!

    • PinkstonePictures profile image

      PinkstonePictures 4 years ago from Miami Beach, FL

      Really love Macro photography. Thanks for the tips

    • sweetstickyrainbo profile image

      sweetstickyrainbo 4 years ago

      very cool

    • ThreeQuarters2Day profile image

      Dawn Romine 4 years ago from Nebraska

      Came here due to the newest Quest what inspires. I just got a set of extension lenses for macro and I needed a good dose of inspiration, you fit the bill. Thanks.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      There are some great ideas here. I don't do a lot of macro photography in my business, but in everyday life I like to take pics of tiny things.

    • Edwardjames81 profile image
      Author

      Edwardjames81 4 years ago

      @getupandgrow: Thanks for stopping by. I am glad you found the article useful.

    • mrknowitall54321 profile image

      mrknowitall54321 4 years ago

      I love my Macro lens, I have a Tamron 90mm and it's fantastic. I'd love to combine the macro lens and some extension tubes together. Would this work to get me really close up to the subject?

    • profile image

      getupandgrow 4 years ago

      Many thanks for this lens....I love to photograph flowers and have learned an enormous amount from this lens. Especially like the "shield the flowers from the wind," tip. Much appreciated.

    • Edwardjames81 profile image
      Author

      Edwardjames81 4 years ago

      @mrknowitall54321: Extension tubes and a macro would work together and get you really close. Just remember that extension tubes will reduce the amount of light reaching the sensor there you will have to compensate by having the shutter open longer. This is fine when taking still life shots with a tripod but may create problems when taking hand held shots of moving subjects, such as insects although you will get some keepers, it's just hit rate is going to be less.

      The key is to get out, experiment and have fun. Oh, and if you buy extension tubes I recommend the electronic ones that keep auto focus, even if you are only taking photos of still subjects.

    • profile image

      cretanmel 4 years ago

      @Edwardjames81: Yes, you are quite right about the 52mm filter thread adapter limitation. On the other hand, at least for Nikon DSLR users, the Nikon 50mm F1.8 Prime lens is one of the cheapest and best quality lenses you can buy (ca £93 on Amazon) so for about £135 including Raynox DCR-250 you actually have a very good quality macro photography setup and the 50mm Prime is an excellent lens to have in the kit bag anyway eg for portrait photos. This is still a lot cheaper than a dedicated Nikon Macro Lens eg Nikon AF-S VR Micro NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED Lens (£609 on Amazon at the time of writing). That was my only point in suggesting the Raynox as a starter approach. I think the next step up for me would be the Tokina AF 100mm F/2.8 Macro AT-X 100AF PRO D which is available for about £375 (it's probably better value for money than the Nikon but doesn't have Vibration Reduction - not that I think that really matters for macro photography if you're using a tripod).

    • Edwardjames81 profile image
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      Edwardjames81 4 years ago

      @cretanmel: I have the Raynox DCR-250 and bought it specifically for my Olympus EPL1 for when I am out and about. One of the problems with the Raynox DCR-250 is that the largest lens you can use it with is one with a 52mm filter thread. This is fine if, like you, it is used on a 50mm prime but most lenses have larger filter threads so it is no good on these lenses hence why I have not included it in my list of of products for cheap macro photography. It is perfect for my EPL1 though.

    • profile image

      cretanmel 4 years ago

      Nice squid lens you have. I thought your readers might be interested in the Raynox DCR-250 Macro Attachment - less than £40 in UK or $70 in USA - which I have used to great effect. It has virtually zero chromatic aberration (colour fringing). I typically use it with my Nikon 50mm f1.8 Prime lens and I get excellent quality close up photos. For those that want to start out in Macro photography without spending a fortune on a dedicated macro lens I thoroughly recommend the Raynox. Don't waste your time with cheap adapters eg off eBay as they don't give good results.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @wattyan: flip any lens backwards! it really works! i wasn't quit sure about it when i heard about it but you have to get close, its hard to focus, and you have to hold the lens yourself or you could get adapters and stuff. im not quite sure if it ruins the camera or lens but i guess ill find out.

    • rooshoo profile image

      rooshoo 4 years ago

      Macro photography is so fun. I just got a new nikkor lens this summer and I've been working with food and flowers. Great lens.

    • Edwardjames81 profile image
      Author

      Edwardjames81 5 years ago

      I don't think it is possible to make your own macro lens but you can capture macro images on the cheap by using extension tubes, close up filters and/or reversing rings.

      The images are not going to be as good or as easy to capture if you were using a proper macro lens - but it is worth a try.

    • profile image

      wattyan 5 years ago

      I love macro. Have any idea to make DIY macro lens?

    • EdTecher profile image

      Heidi Reina 5 years ago from USA

      What an inspiration. I'll try some macro photography for my next lens. Thanks!

    • profile image

      litbern 5 years ago

      Great lens. I really love macro photography. How do you get the flowers in your macro to stay still? Don't they move because of the wind?? they really give me a run around :D

    • vinodkpillai lm profile image

      vinodkpillai lm 5 years ago

      I enjoyed going through this lens as it puts together valuable information, fantastic tutorial and some stunningly beautiful macro shots. Thanks!

    • lclchors profile image

      lclchors 5 years ago

      nice lens I have to do more Micro

    • Wayne Rasku profile image

      Wayne Rasku 5 years ago

      Love macro! Thanks for the inspiration for my next photo shoot.

    • crbphotography profile image

      crbphotography 5 years ago

      Great macro photos. Thanks. I just purchased a macro for my Nikon and needed ideas for subjects.

    • Heidi Vincent profile image

      Heidi Vincent 5 years ago from GRENADA

      Nice macro photographs and useful photography tips. Thanks.