Macro Photography Tips For Beginners

Macro photography has the ability to transport the viewer into a miniature world of details not often seen, opening up new photography techniques and interesting subjects. You don’t need a big budget either or expensive lenses to get started with close-up photography, there’s some cheaper options that will give you professional looking results.

Filters

Filters are probably the cheapest and easiest option. The filters attach to the lens and act as magnifiers (much like reading glasses) and allow the camera to focus on objects closer to the lens. These are perfect for beginners, and if you’re just getting started with macro photography they should be your first investment before an expensive macro lens. The negatives of close-up filters are your photos may suffer chromatic and spherical aberration, a chance of some ghosting and the image quality won’t be as good as other macro options. But to get the best image quality, use the widest aperture possible, and this will give the photos a nice blurred background.

Macro Lens

A macro lens is the most expensive option but will also give the best results. Macro lenses can focus on objects much closer to the lens than a non macro lens. They have a magnification of at least 1:1, which is life size, meaning the subject stays the same size that it is in real life when projected onto the camera’s sensor. Macro lenses aren’t just limited to close-up photography either, they can be used for portraits with great results. They usually come with a maximum aperture of f/2.8, which throws the background nicely out of focus, and allows more light through and so faster shutter speeds can be used. The lenses come in varying fixed focal lengths from around 35mm to 200mm, but using a longer focal length doesn’t equate to more magnification. A 35mm macro lens is capable of focusing on details just as small as a 200mm macro lens because both are capable of the same magnification (1:1), the difference being with a 200mm lens you must be further away from the subject to focus, but the results will be the same as with the 35mm lens, with which you must be closer to the subject to focus.

Extension Tubes

Extension tubes are another cheap option, and worth considering over filters. They fit in between the camera and lens and work by extending the distance between them, and so the camera can focus closer to the subject. With this option, your images won’t suffer from quality loss because there’s no optical elements involved, however light will be reduced with each extension tube used, and so the shutter speed will decrease. Extension tubes will give similar high quality results to a macro lens, but at a much cheaper price, and also they are capable of exceeding the 1:1 magnification of macro lenses by stacking them. When using these, you need to set your lens to manual focus, because autofocus won’t work.

Lens Reversing

This method involves turning the lens around and using the reverse side. It is possibly the best option when seeking very high magnifications, because with reverse rings you can go beyond the 1:1 life size magnification of macro lenses and the image quality is comparable to expensive macro lenses. If you are interested in doing this, you will need a reverse ring to attach the opposite side of the lens to the camera. For higher magnification photos you need wider angle lenses (shorter focal length), because now it works in reverse when using the opposite side of the lens. One problem with this method is there’s no control over the aperture, and photos will automatically be taken at the maximum F number. A way around this is using a lens that has the option of setting the aperture manually on the lens, which a lot of old film camera lenses have with an aperture ring. Another issue with this is you need to be very close to the subject to focus, and so you may cast a shadow over the subject, or block the flash if you’re using it.

Macro Photography Tips

  • In macro photography you can use a very wide aperture or small aperture depending on what results you want. A wide aperture will put the background out of focus, and is good for emphasising the details of your subject, but if you need more front to back focus, try increasing the aperture F number.
  • Focusing and camera shake is a problem at high magnifications, and the slightest movement can put your subject out of focus or result in a blurred photo. The best way to avoid this is to use a tripod with a remote shutter or timer, and a fast shutter speed by using a higher ISO.
  • Using flash may be a good choice in some situations, especially if you’re blocking a lot of the light, which is common with close-ups. It may not be an option though if you need to get in close to the subject, because this often blocks part of the flash, creating a dark spot on photos. A way around this is setting up a light source such as a torch or using a remote flash gun that you can position near the subject.
  • Live view is useful to use for fine tuning focus and for digitally zooming into your subject to ensure it is in focus.
  • Using manual focus is recommended for all macro photography, otherwise every time you press down on the shutter button the camera will refocus, and you’ll get a different looking shot each time.
  • Shutter speed is an important part of macro photography, because often you’re shooting moving insects such as a butterfly and you may want to capture a sharp photo of their wings while they’re flying. Also any tiny movements, even a plant moving in the wind can ruin your photo if your shutter speed is too slow. To capture sharp photos you can try using a wider aperture (smaller F number) and increasing the ISO, but using higher ISO settings will decrease the image quality.
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