What is macro photography?
Macro photography refers to taking close-up images of, usually, small insects, flowers, animals, water droplets, etc. However, in some cases the subject may be larger with emphasis on a particular feature, such as a close-up shot of a large animal’s eye.
The goal is to fill the frame with small subjects and make them appear life size due to them filling the frame and being the main focus, rather than shooting from a distance and showing their true size.
With the right equipment and a little knowledge on the camera settings you should use, you can have fun taking small subjects and capture them in a unique way that gives them detail and character in a way they aren’t generally seen to the naked eye.
What you need
When shooting tiny subjects and a macro lens is your best option. They allow you to shoot from a bit of a distance without scaring away your subject. With still objects, such as flowers, this isn’t an issue and you can get as close as you need. But a tiny insect or animal may run or fly away if you get too close.
With a macro lens, you have more working space between you and your subject and you can be less intrusive. Macro lenses also magnify your subject truly making them appear life size.
Also, the longer the focal distance, the more working space you will have. A 60mm lens would require you to get much closer than a 200mm.
The camera you use is strictly up to you and your budget. Whether you go with Canon or Nikon, full frame or crop sensor, or DSLR or mirrorless, as long as the camera can handle macro lenses you can get some great shots. Each brand and type of camera has it’s pros and cons. Just do your research and find the best fit for your budget.
Depth of field
Depth of field is one of the trickiest aspects of macro photography. This is because shooting at a closer distance to your subjects naturally gives you more depth of field.
If you take an image of a person and are six feet away or more, smaller apertures such as f/11 would give you a larger depth of field leaving more of the image sharp and in focus. However, if you are only inches away from your subject, f/11 will give you a much more shallow depth of field simply because of the short distance between it and your camera.
Another thing you should know about macro photography is that lighting can be different than usual. This is because you will need to be shooting at smaller apertures and faster shutter speeds to freeze motion and capture some things quickly before they flee. These two things alone will allow less light into your camera giving you underexposed images if you aren’t careful.
Not only that, sometimes when you get up close and personal with something you tend to block the lighting and create a shadow which also results in darker images.
Balancing Depth of Field and Exposure
With macro photography you need to learn to find the balance between depth of field that gives your tiny subject nice sharp detail and getting a well exposed image.
If you are shooting a larger subject, such as a frog or lizard, you can get away with shooting natural light with wider apertures (such as f/2.8, 5.6). This typically allows enough light to come through your lens to give you a proper exposure. Shooting larger subjects also allows you to be a little farther way, making it easier to focus.
However, if you are shooting something very small, such as an ant or bee, you will need to get a lot closer. In order to get a good focus with such a natural shallow depth of field, you need to use smaller apertures (f/11, f/22). To make up for the lack of lighting coming through your lens, simply use a flash.
Your settings will vary depending on the size of the subject you are shooting, distance from camera, and lighting you are working with. But with enough practice you will determine when flash is or isn’t necessary, as well as how wide or small your Aperture should be.
What to shoot?
Macro photography doesn’t just have to be about shooting small insects. Here are some other things you can use to create interesting macro images:
- Small flowers
- Petals of a larger flower
- Small objects (silverware, coins, buttons)
- Small details of larger objects
- Lizards, frogs, etc.
- Dragon Flies
Those are just a few examples. The goal with macro photography is to get up close and personal and focus on small details (even of the detail is the insect itself).
Compose your images so the blurred background is flattering to the subject and helps it stand out. Vivid colors really bring macro images to life.
With the right gear and settings, you can begin exploring macro photography and giving your viewers a new way to look at the tiny details in the world around them that they otherwise, may not have ever noticed.