Macro Photography Basics: Get Amazing Closeup Photos

It is hard not to look at a macro photograph and not be in awe. To be able to see the smallest of details in strong sharp contrast is amazing.

This post is going to concentrate on the basics of macro photography. It is important if you are going to do true macro photography to have a macro lens. A true macro lens will have at least a 1:1 magnification ratio. This means that you will get a life size representation. A 1:2 ratio means you will only get half the true life size representation. Just because a lens is labeled macro, doesn’t mean it is a true macro. So it is important to check the magnification ratio.

Equipment:

For Canon, you can go with the Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro, the Canon EF 100mm f2.8 macro USM or the newest the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM 1-to-1 Macro. (there are earlier versions that can save you some money as well)

For Nikon (Nikon brands their macro lenses as micro), you can go with the Nikon 60mm f/2.8G ED AF-S Micro-Nikkor Lens or the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor Lens. (there are earlier versions that can save you some money as well)

Now that you have the lens, something else that will really help you with macro photography is a tripod. If you don’t have a tripod, find something sturdy to set your camera on. You will be dealing with either very narrow apertures, or very slow shutter speeds. A tripod will help your images come out nice and sharp!

Now, a couple tricks about macro’s that tend to be a lot different than when photographing people.

 

Depth of Field {very different than in portrait work}:

First, the shallow depth of field. When you are able to get SO close to a subject, your depth of field appears much more shallow. Here is an example I shot of some bricks. The first is a very modest f/4 and the second a very closed f/13. You will see what a sliver of brick is in focus with the f/4, and even the f/13 has some fantastic shallow depth of field.

Macro Photography

So don’t think you need to open up like you would for portraits. You will get great depth of field with a more closed aperture, plus the added bonus of having a better chance of your subject in focus!

Second, the fixed aperture. It isn’t as fixed as you think. When you open wide at f/2.8, and then get right up close to your subject, your aperture will actually change close down some to the effective aperture. At this magnification, your lens can’t open that wide. So keep in mind, when you get really close, your aperture will change.

Now, I mentioned the tripod. This is important because you will either open wide (to get that sliver into focus) which means even the pressure you put on pressing the shutter will cause some movement and could put your small sliver out of focus. Or you will shoot more closed down to get more into focus, which means you will be using a slower shutter speed. If you don’t have a tripod, find a way to brace your camera on something. Using a remote or the timer on your camera can also help with any camera shake.

Your Subjects:

Now that you have the basics, time to find some subjects! With this post, I will focus on flowers. They don’t get scared of me when I get up really close, they don’t move much (on a non-windy day), and they are bright and colorful. They make perfect subjects!

There are many ways you can frame your flower.

One is to make it the center of attention. Shoot straight down the center.
Flower Macro Photography

Flower Macro Photography

Another way is to come from the side, just skimming the top of the flower.

Flower Macro Photography

Flower Macro Photography

Or capture a portion of a flower and show depth with an out of focus element in the background.

Flower Macro Photography

Flower Macro Photography

 

So go out, enjoy nature and see what you create!

Britt Anderson is a portrait photographer in the Chicagoland area. While she is usually photographing kids and families, she will often channel her inner nature lover and capture living things with her macro lens. Check out more of Britt’s macro photography!

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Comments

  1. 3

    Stephanie R says

    Thank you so much for the info! The Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM 1-to-1 Macro is next on my list of lenses to purchase. I love photographing flowers and nature so I am very excited. This info will be very helpful :)

  2. 5

    says

    Lovely macros! I recently had the opportunity to try a macro lens, and it was a LOT harder than I was expecting! This post is great for giving the “warnings” that a macro may be more work than you think. :)

  3. 7

    says

    Me, too! I was wondering what the heck was wrong with me. Thanks for clearing things up! I can’t wait to get home and slap my macro on.

    I have a question with regards to this statement “…your aperture will actually change close down some to the effective aperture …”. Can you explain that more? I understand what close down means, but if that is the case why open up to 2.8 and how do you know when it becomes something else? Normally when you are closer to the subject doesn’t the plane of focus get narrower?

    Thanks!
    ~ingrid

    • 8

      says

      Hi Ingrid!

      This was something that confused the heck out of me when I first started. I would set it to 2.8, then get in close, take the picture and it would change. Very frustrating until you start looking for it. Keep in mind, as you physically get closer, to be mindful of your aperture. You can see it change in your viewfinder/LCD as you meter.

      But to really be on the safe side, keep your aperture at f/5.6 or higher, and you don’t have to worry about it changing!

      You are correct, the closer you are to the subject, the plane of focus gets narrower.

      • 9

        ingrid says

        Thanks, but does this mean, with my macro lens at f/2.8 and I’m as close to my subject as I can be that my aperture is getting more narrow and as such the plane of focus is broadening? Sorry, I’m if being dense.

        TIA
        ~ingrid

  4. 11

    says

    I love to shoot macro…but haven’t done it since getting my dSLR. A macro lens just wasn’t in the budget. So thank you for reminding me to put it on my wish list and start scrimping my pennies! (I love love love that pasque flower shot!)

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