Macro Photography is classified indeed to be one unique form of photography, involving the capture of small objects, animals or insects.
This genre of the art form, can be achieved easily with most of the cameras on the market, from smartphones to DSLR.
There is a difference between close-up and macro photography: there has to be a magnification ratio of at least 1:1
For the sake of this macro photography tutorial, I want to create a glossary of terms I am using:
- Organic – reference to organic macro subjects in nature such as flowers, insects etc.
- Non-organic = reference to any human-made objects or non-living subjects found in nature (rocks, crystals etc)
- LV = Live View
- AF = Autofocus
- MF = Manual Focus
- Magnification ratio (see Q&A at the bottom of the page)
Moving forward, there are 10 main tips I mainly recommend when taking macro pictures (in special with a DSLR / Mirrorless camera)
Ten Macro Photography Tips:
- Always use a tripod, but not any!
- Use live-view mode, with zoom function
- Manual focus, fine focus
- Aperture is king
- Clean Background
- Use some water spray (optional)
- If possible, use natural lights
- Be Patient
- Break the rules!
Macro Photography Tip #1: Always use a tripod, but definitely not any!
You may see a pretty flower or plant, tiny object or any organic macro subject, you want to take a photo but doing it handheld is extremely hard towards the nearly impossible game.
A tripod is a must, and a “flexible tripod” is mostly recommended in this case, as you can bring the lens very close to your subject.
You can improve even more, by having an extension arm attached to your tripod and the camera attached to it.
Why I mean by that?
If you are using a normal tripod, there is no way you could get close enough to your macro subject
Therefore, you MUST have a flexible tripod, and I do recommend to have an extension arm installed.
With those, not only that you will have great flexibility, but it does make your life much easier.
Alternatively, instead of a tripod you can use a monopod for living subjects, so you can freely follow the subject around with a good stability on your camera.
Macro Photography Tip #2: Use live-view mode (with zoom function)
I am pretty much sure that most of the cameras nowadays have a live view mode.
You cannot take any macro shots without the LW mode.
Actually, you can, but is more complicated and the results may not be very accurate.
After you set up your camera on the tripod and you go on your live view, use the ???? to zoom in function and the arrows to navigate to your subject for fine focus.
(Note that the zoom function is not zooming your actual photo, is it just for the live view.)
On the live view mode, think about exposure: what you see on the screen is not the same exposure you will have on the photo.
The same with aperture. The depth of field will be always different in your photographs than the LV mode.
I am not sure about other DSLR / compact or mirrorless cameras, but Nikon works like this.
Therefore I would strongly recommend taking multiple pictures with multiple exposures. Check them every time you take one.
One thing to mention, if you set your live view mode on “recording” with Nikon, your screen will adapt to the actual exposure you set up.
Anyway, I strongly recommend to place the exposure meter on the screen.
3. Macro Photography Tip #3: Manual focus, fine focus.
One important thing I want to mention is the use of the manual focus.
Let’s say theoretically that your subject is non-organic and/or is not moving at all (no wind)
A good practice is to use autofocus on your subject, switch to and use manual focus from your lens to get the sharpest results (most lenses have a manual focus to autofocus switch)
Using the MF in macro mode, even when the camera is placed on the tripod, can induce massive camera shakes, in special with zoom function at maximum
Therefore I recommend a lot patience when doing this.
Macro Photography Tip #4: Aperture is king
In macro photography, you will have to switch your camera to Aperture mode.
On Aperture mode, you will be able to set manually your f-number.
Your depth of field will be very shallow, and in order to have your subject in proper focus, your F-number has to be set up around F16, plus / minus, depending on many factors.
As this is not a guideline, you have to double check your photographs in order to reach the right focal ratio.
As an instance, the second photograph above was taken with F25
Macro Photography Tip #5: Clean Background
You need to have less distraction in your photo. A darker and cleaner background will always give you the best results
Obviously, sometimes we can’t always control that, and we have to work with what we have from the mother nature.
Avoid having a background with much distraction. Simpler = better.
As this is a positive thing in macro photography, the depth of field washes out the background, and therefore the subject will always pop-up in the viewer’s eyes.
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Macro Photography Tip #6: Retouching
Like most of your photographs, it is essential to give a bit of retouching to your macro photographs.
With Lightroom, you can adjust the exposure level, highlights and shadow, do any colour correction and much much more.
And you can always do some advanced techniques in Photoshop, therefore there are endless possibilities of retouching your macro photographs
Macro Photography Tip #7: Use some water spray.
Some organic subjects will always look wonderful with water drops on them.
If you are not taking the photos in the morning or after a rain, you can add some water drops by yourself.
There are many cheap options on the internet, but usually, this should not cost you more than one pound or dollar.
I have one point to make: In the case of macro photography, water drops will actually look huge.
As a result, this tip will work probably better overall in close-up photography, but in “macro” can make miracles if used right.
Macro Photography Tip #8: If possible, use natural lights
In macro photography is not wrong if you are trying to use some artificial lighting, but in nature, everything looks better in their natural light
Use the sun as a direct light provider.
For the macro shots taken indoor, an artificial light provider would be enough. Use some light panels and reflectors if possible.
In that case, I would recommend the Viltrox VL-200B light panel. A very cheap option for the quality it provides.
Macro Photography Tip #9: Be patient
You will notice that even the slightest breeze in nature will rock your tiny flower.
It is in human nature to become impatient when you see that you will probably not get the desired results.
Don’t give up. The results will worth all the effort.
Macro Photography Tip #10: Break the rules
However you feel comfortable, you can totally break the rules of “how to do macro photography”
If you feel completely fine to use the eye finder and get very close to the subject, do it.
After all, there is no exact rule of how you should do it. And you definitely have to improvise
For sure you cannot photograph a butterfly with the camera on a tripod. And myself, I feel more comfortable to do it with my eye on the eye finder than the LCD screen.
But those listed above are the main tips I recommend you for taking macro photographs.
Q: What is the level of magnification?
A: The level of magnification (e.g. 1:1) is where an inch-size object is projected on an inch-size camera sensor.
True macro photography is considered when the magnification ratio is 1:1 or greater.
Q: What macro lens do you recommend?
A: There are many lenses on the market with macro capability.
For living subjects, I recommend lenses with longer focal length, as you don’t have to get too close to your subject.
Sigma 105mm F2.8 Macro lens is a lens I am using for more than two years, and I recommend it for outstanding quality at a reasonable cheap price.
Q: What tripod do you recommend?
A: I recommend any kind of tripods as long as they are flexible and suitable for setting your camera close enough to your subject.
Q: Is it a smartphone or compact camera good for macro photography?
A: Nowadays, you can do macro photography with most of the cameras available on the market, including those from a mobile phone.
But if you want to take shots with outstanding quality, you must invest in a DSLR or Mirrorless with a good macro lens.
Learn first with your mobile phone before investing, if you don’t own any DSLR just yet.
Q: Is this post going to help me take better macro photographs?
A: Yes and No. It is all about you in order to improve your macro photography. This post is only a guideline to help you improve your skill.
Practice and be creative. Those are the main keys in order to be a successful macro photographer.
Ask me a question about macro photography in the comment section, and I will add it above to the Q&A
Wish you all the best and many good shoots.
Take care my friend
If you want, you can check few of my other articles below:
- Sigma 105mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro Lens Review
- The best 7 unique tips for new photographers
- 5 Tips to improve your DSLR photography
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