Today you’ll learn some handy macro photography tips and tricks to take stunning macro photographs like professionals. Macro photography is a popular genre of photography that is of particular interest to both the viewer and the photographer. Most cameras can shoot in macro mode, and we invite our readers to familiarize themselves with the intricacies of this process.
Since childhood, the microcosm attracts us with its mystery, beauty, and fragility. Surely many have watched with interest the flight of a furry bumblebee, viewed the beautiful pattern on the wings of a butterfly, and morning dew on a spider’s web or rose petals. I want to capture such beauty in all colors on canvas and then listen to the admiring reviews of friends. But, unfortunately, very few have the artistic ability necessary for this. A digital camera will come in handy for everyone else, and even a camera in a mobile phone will do – it allows you to take good pictures.
Choosing the Right Camera for Macro Photography
It is generally accepted that the more expensive and more complex the equipment, the better the quality of the images. This statement is true for most genres of photography, but also macro: many professional photographers, who have at their disposal several expensive cameras and various lenses, buy DSLR cameras for macro photography.
The reason for this is related to the design of the lenses and the size of the sensors. In portrait and macro photography, the main parameter is the depth of field: the viewer’s attention is focused on the object itself, which should be in focus, and everything else may look blurry. In a portrait shot taken with a DSLR camera, this effect is easily achieved due to the large focal length of the lens and the size of the matrix, but when using a compact camera, the background is too sharp.
In macro photography, this disadvantage turns out to be an advantage: the photographed miniature object is completely in focus, while the “SLR” transmits only part of it rather sharply. By the way, most modern cameras have a special Macro mode, and focusing from a minimal distance is allowed. And in the case of a Canon PowerShot S2 IS camera, it may not exist at all; that is, if you wish, you can, for example, remove a fly that has sat down in the center of the lens. However, this creates difficulties with proper lighting.
Using DSLR Camera Equipment for Macro Photography
In the case of a DSLR, the focusing distance depends on the lens. There are two solutions for macro photography. The first option is quite expensive – buying a special macro lens. If you are a professional photographer, then these costs are justified. In this case, you can use the autofocus function, which allows you to focus on the subject quickly.
It should be borne in mind that the minimum focusing distance of a macro lens is usually equal to its focal length, so standard accessories, which have it at 50 mm, are unlikely to be suitable for shooting insects: they will be frightened if you bring a giant device with shiny glasses so close to them. Therefore, the most popular are macro lenses with a focal length of about 100 mm.
On the one hand, photographing objects do not start to scatter at such a distance, and on the other hand, this value does not yet apply to the zoom range, in which case, to avoid blurring, you need to set short shutter speeds or use a tripod. The fact that it is perfect for portraits can also justify the purchase of such an accessory.
Most macro lenses have an f/2.8 aperture, which allows the background to be heavily blurred. This effect is called bokeh and is highly prized in portrait photography. Its artistic merit depends on the quality of the optics: macro lenses with focal lengths of 150, 180, and even 200 mm provide a beautiful background image.
The second solution is suitable for thrifty amateurs: for macro photography, you can purchase extension rings to provide the required focal length. True, in this case, you will have to do without automatic focus; that is, you will need to manually aim at a beautiful beetle or flower, thereby reducing efficiency. However, the quality of photographs is practically not affected since the extension rings do not contain optical elements.
The process of photography will be a real pleasure if you bring it to automatism. If you are interested in macro photography, you should start by studying the pictures of other authors since the Internet provides enough opportunities for this. Analyze shots, memorize plots and camera angles, gain visual experience – this will give an impetus to create your works.
Then start shooting and experimenting a lot, and before each shutter release, ask yourself if you’ve found the perfect subject, angle, and background. Then sooner or later, you will no longer be concerned with technical issues – you will solve them automatically. You will be able to pay maximum attention to the creative side of the process.
Choosing Right Lenses for Macro Photography
Sharpness. This is the main quality parameter for macro photography. Having taken a fairly sharp picture, you can always edit it by cutting off the excess if, for example, you could not get close to the subject. For photographic printing, a high resolution is usually not necessary – a high-quality picture can be obtained based on a fifth of the frame taken with an eight-megapixel camera.
Background Drawing (Bokeh). In photographs of the genre, the macro background, as a rule, is very blurred, and smooth transitions from the field of focus to the bokeh are not required. If you have an inexpensive but sharp lens, the beauty of background blur can be sacrificed.
Autofocus. Professionals try to shoot macro in manual mode because the technique is often mistaken and can behave incorrectly when shooting, such as a flower swinging in the wind or a grasshopper on a blade of grass. Autofocus is only useful when working in benign conditions.
Chromatic Aberration. A silvery edging of dark edges on light background usually appears only at the maximum aperture (its value is minimal), which is practically not used in macro photography.
Increasing the Depth of Field
Focus and Aperture. The problem with too shallow a depth of field can be solved by closing the aperture. In some cases, f/5.6 is enough, and sometimes you need to reduce the aperture to f/32 – it’s not for nothing that special macro lenses have the same minimum aperture and not f/16 or f/22, as in standard counterparts.
An equally important component of a clear picture is the focal length of the lens. The smaller it is, the deeper the depth of field is. And if a lens with a focal length of 50 mm allows you to take a fairly sharp photo of a dragonfly at an aperture of f/4, then in the case of a 100 mm one, it will need to be reduced to f/5.6.
The main rule that should be followed to obtain an acceptable depth of field is that the longer the focal length of the lens, the more you need to close the aperture, that is, increase its value.
Short Exposure. Closing the aperture requires a slower shutter speed because less light passes through the small aperture, and the matrix needs to be exposed longer. And with a slow shutter speed, there is always the possibility that the picture will turn out to be blurry due to a handshake. In such cases, it is better to use a tripod. If it is not at hand, you can lean firmly on something immovable to avoid trembling in at least one plane.
If there are no such improvised means, you will still have to open the aperture and decrease the shutter speed. Practice shows that the effect of a handshake when shooting with a focal length of 100 mm can be avoided by setting a shutter speed of 1/125 s or less. The reception of snipers should also help – to press the trigger with a smooth exhalation.
Also, use the timer, so you don’t have to release the shutter yourself. But to create a high-quality macro photo, you still need a tripod. If you do not want to mess with bulky accessories, you can buy a mini tripod because the distance to the subject is expected to be small.
Another problem with macro photography has to do with light. Conventional flashes are not suitable here because of the inevitable parallax: the light is directed past the object, which, moreover, can be obscured by the lens. For macro photography, special impulse devices are made in the form of a ring, which is worn directly on the front edge of the lens. This ring flash illuminates a point located a short distance from the camera. The pulse power is most often selected automatically, but in some cases, correction is required. It would be best if you rarely used flash outdoors, but even there, it can come in handy when shooting in deep shadows.
Sensitivity. When taking flash photography, the ISO must be less than 100. In natural light, to obtain maximum sharpness of small details of the object, the sensor sensitivity shouldn’t be more than 400; otherwise, noise may appear in the image.
Improving Clarity in The Photo Editor
If your photos are not sharp enough, don’t be upset: the special Color Efex plugin for Photoshop will do a good job of sharpening with little or no degradation in photo quality. It allows you to separately adjust the contrast of shadows, highlights, and mid-tones. In addition, the loss of color saturation is corrected if necessary.
Before making any changes to the macro photo, create a duplicate of the main layer and apply various effects to it: to achieve the desired result, adjust the transparency level. The plug-in allows for several other transformations useful for macro photography – for example, it is sometimes appropriate to simulate certain types of film that provide high saturation and contrast. The plugin can be downloaded from the developer’s website and used for free for 15 days.
Macro photography is one of the most accessible types of creativity, and many amateurs eventually become renowned professionals. You can start with the simplest and most inexpensive equipment, and as your skills improve, you can acquire more serious equipment.
But at the same time, one should not forget that photography is an artistic art; therefore, first of all, a special look at the world around you and an understanding of the process or phenomenon that you want to capture is important. Experience and, of course, inspiration will help you in your search for plots.
11 Secret Macro Photography Tips for Beginners
Now I will share with you my secret macro photography tips, the main one of which is respect for nature. You don’t need to travel to distant lands or out of town to get an amazing insect shot. Therefore, the most important thing is the ability to observe and a lot of patience.
Tip 1. Bigger Doesn’t Mean Better
Do not chase magnification as the main attribute of macro photography. Shots with a small scale but with an interesting plot will look much more attractive than shots at high magnification.
Tip 2. Equipment
For a brilliant painting, expensive paints are not always needed. Therefore, do not set the goal of buying expensive equipment, especially if you do not fully understand macro photography. A budget lens, a simple macro ring, or even an ordinary compact camera is enough to get an interesting shot.
Tip 3. Experiment
If you don’t have a macro lens or even a macro lens in your arsenal, use a regular lens, attaching it to the front lens. Bayonet cameras using a reversing ring (a ring that is screwed onto the thread of the filter of one lens and serves to attach it to the camera body or another lens.). This way, you can turn any lens into a macro lens.
Tip 4. Better Lighting
Come early and leave later. The best lighting is morning and evening. The morning will give you an even light without overexposure and dips in the shadows. In the evening, you can get more dramatic and colorful lighting. But if you decide to take pictures during the day, then a cloudy day would be ideal. The clouds will scatter bright sunlight like softbox, eliminating harsh shadows.
Tip 5. Behavior of Insects
Observe the behavior and study the insects. This will help in finding the right approach for shooting different species. Like any animal, insects have their behavioral characteristics. And the point is not even in the fearfulness of some and the calmness of others, but in the knowledge of how they hunt, disguise themselves, where they spend the night, how they behave when illuminated. Understanding these little things will allow you to create truly great pictures. And also, to avoid possible danger if the insect is poisonous.
Tip 6. Macro Flashes
When shooting macro, the lens is brought close to the insect, a fast shutter speed is used, and the aperture is closed above average. All this can greatly reduce the lighting in the picture. To cope with this will help special macro flashes that are worn on the lens.
They will create volumetric lighting, and the ring flash can also give an unusual lighting effect. Macro flashes are expensive, so budget options from little-known manufacturers are also suitable. They give quite acceptable results.
Tip 7. Aperture
To take pictures with a greater depth of field, you have to close the aperture a lot, but you should not set the aperture value higher than f/11 by crop cameras and on a full-frame over f/14 – f/16. If you narrow the aperture more, then the diffraction will increase. It will eat all the small details of the subject, and the picture will become blurry. An aperture value between f/5.6 and f/8 is ideal.
Tip 8. Sharpness
Like no other genre, details are essential in macro photography. Although most macro lenses have a focal length of less than 100mm, any shake will be noticeable and will inevitably affect sharpness. Therefore, use a fast shutter speed, tripod, monopod – anything that will help you avoid camera shake and get a clear picture.
Tip 9. Black and White Macro
The world of insects is beautiful in its natural color, but sometimes a black and white image can give certain artistry. Using the principles of black and white photography, such as geometry, rhythm, luminance difference, or contrast, expressiveness can be conveyed as well as color photography.
Tip 10. Staking
In macro photography, the field of focus is greatly narrowed. It is not so noticeable at low magnification and can give an artistic effect, but at high magnification, it becomes critical. Therefore, use the stacking technique. By combining several images with different focuses into one in a special program or manually, you will expand the field of focus, and details will not suffer from diffraction due to a tightly clamped aperture.
Tip 11. Respect Nature
It may be strange, but I always thank the place where I was able to take my pictures. Therefore, I advise you to treat nature with respect and don’t harm it.
You can see my other macro photos on Pinterest.