I have recently discovered macro photography. I checked out a ton of websites to help get me up to speed with the discipline.
I decided to offer my breadcrumbs back to these websites as a sort of guide for knowledge. Learning macro photography is pretty easy but these tutorials and guides will help you understand it better.
I tried to organize this tutorial from questions that an absolute beginner to enthusiast would ask.
1. What is macro photography?
If you aren’t up to speed on what macro photography is then there are plenty explanations to be read. Some are highly technical and others are interesting and readable. I found the Digital Photography School provided just the right amount of technical info and pedestrian explanation to my liking. Their beginner macro photography post is a great place to start.
2. Macro photography ideas
When I started to get interested in macro photography it was after reading a list of things that you can take photos of, besides bugs and flowers. Every photography website discussing macro photography has their list of favorite things to shoot.
Here are some that I found creative and imaginative: 10 Macro Photography Ideas You Can Try Today (Without Leaving the House!)
Expert Photography of course lists bugs and flowers in their list. What stood out to me was ash and rust. The textures of these can be really quite interesting up-close.
Picture Correct agreed with rust but one thing they suggested that was interesting in their list was foil reflections. Everyone has a roll of this in the kitchen. They paired foil with their colored water suggestion. Each of these ideas are pretty cool. And don’t forget to look through the comments. Some additional cool ideas were suggested.
3. What lens do you need for macro photography?
When I decided I was interested in macro photography the first thing I realized after reading a post was that my point and shoot could take decent shots. I have a Lumix LX-7. I went through the menu and changed the setting to macro and was pretty amazed at what it would do.
But I wanted more.
I decided to buy a macro lens for my mirrorless camera. I didn’t really know which lens to buy. There were various focal lengths and opinions about which is best. I found this article from B&H to be the most useful in choosing what lens I wanted.
They explained what a macro lens was:
A macro lens that can reproduce objects at life-size is said to be a 1:1 macro lens.
They explained what focal length was:
A longer focal length lens will have a greater working distance than a shorter focal length lens. The advantage of the larger working distance is the ability to stay farther from your subject…The shorter focal length macro lenses are generally smaller, lighter, and less expensive than their longer counterparts and they can achieve the same level of magnification.
Ultimately the Lumix 30mm (60mm full frame equivalence) f/2.8 suited my needs and, most importantly, budget.
What if you don’t want to buy a macro lens?
There are options if you don’t want to buy a lens. As I mentioned, the point and shoot is a good option. Another option that many photographers enjoy experimenting with is reversing a lens.Digital Camera World has a really good tutorial on using a lens reversal in the studio:
All you need to do is turn the lens around. By reversing the lens on your camera body, your focusing distance suddenly becomes incredibly close, and gives you high-magnification capabilities into the bargain.
Other macro photography without lenses options include extension tubes and close-up filters. I never seriously considered these options but I found Exposure Guide had a fairly good explanation:
(Extension tubes)…their effect depends entirely on their ability to change the lens’ minimum focus distance, or how close you can be to a subject and still focus. The longer the extension tube, the closer you can get to a subject and still focus, and the closer you get, the higher the lens magnification becomes… …Close-up filters are like screw-on magnifiers for your lens. Typically sold in sets of four, they’re simple, straightforward accessories that do one thing only: they shorten your lens’ minimum focusing distance so you can take sharp pictures of very close objects. They work the same way that a standard magnifying glass works, by using a curved glass to alter light so that objects appear bigger.
4. What is the best camera for macro photography?
I had no intention of purchasing a new camera solely for macro photography. Whatever camera you have is likely good enough. Photography Life had an excellent post on mirrorless vs DSLR, NIkon Vs Canon, full frame versus crop sensor, etc., if this is something that interests you.
Personally my mirrorless 4/3 camera does just fine for what I am trying to accomplish. I am sure there are other cameras better suited for macro photography but I bet I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference in the photos.
5. Understanding shutter speed
Trying to get the right settings in the camera has always been a challenge for me. Peta Pixel had a really good explanation of choosing the right shutter speed in their article. Their suggestion for beginners was helpful when I was starting out:
A high shutter speed is therefore recommended especially for beginners. Begin with a shutter speed of 1/250 or faster.
6. Understanding depth of field
Shooting up close and trying to get the right depth of field is something that took me quite a few practices to get right. The closer you are the harder it is to get everything in focus.
One of the hardest parts in doing macro photography is achieving the right balance between desired sharpness and depth of field.
Adorama further explains depth of field in their excellent article.
Amateur Photographer had an explanation that helped with a photo example.
Focus stacking is a way to combine multiple photos of different focus distances into one.This helps solve the problem of balancing depth of field and sharpness. Many cameras have this as a built in feature. They can also be processed in a photo editing program like Photoshop.
7. Backgrounds in macro photography
Shooting up close will inevitably blur the background. You want to compose the photo in such a way the background doesn’t distract from the subject. If you are shooting indoors you can have complete control over the background, lighting and subject positioning. Outdoor shooting may be more limiting. Regardless I’ve found taking care that the background compliments the subject makes for a better photo.
8. Macro photography mistakes
At times my photos just didn’t look great. I found a helpful article that walked through common mistakes that are made in macro photography.
9. Macro photography lighting
As with every other discipline of photography, light and how you use is every bit as important in macro photography. The closer you get to your subject the more light you might be blocking. I like to use natural light when possible but there are times when using external lighting is a must.
Shutterbug has a helpful list of the various tools you can use to light your subject. Ready for Your Close-Up?: Our Favorite Lighting Tools For Macro Photography The best explanation I found on how and when to use lighting in macro photography was from a B&H tutorial.
Lighting is something I am still working on. I could probably write a complete article on what I find as my research is on-going.
10. Helpful macro photography videos
Obviously there are tons of video on macro photography. I didn’t really sit through any that just rehashed the information that I found reading websites. I did find a couple that were worthwhile in helping me take photos of various objects like water and toys. COOPH is always helpful. I liked this video for tips on shooting water drops.
There are a ton of tutorials on YouTube. Hard to say if one is better than the other given the volume. However, after skimming over a dozen I did find this one from DPReviewTV better than most, IMO.