Odds on if you live on this planet and have even a passing interest in taking pictures, you have heard of macro photography and even have a vague idea of what it is. This blog is going to start at the very basics for the uninitiated; for those out there who know what macro is already you can just scroll down a little bit to the tips and tricks part of the blog (we won’t hold it against you).
Macro photography is the art of capturing an extremely close, greater-than-life-size picture of a subject (usually a very small subject) in order to photograph details which we may otherwise overlook. A typical example is a shot of an insect where you can see all of the segments of its eye and the hairs on its legs. Believe it or not, macro photography is used for a variety of media, from nature documentaries to advertising, and even just the kind of abstract artwork you find on an office wall (the ones you can stare at for ages while waiting for a meeting, trying to figure out what the hell it’s a picture of, until you realise it’s an extreme close-up of a pack of staples).
How do you take a macro shot? It’s not as simple as bringing your camera close to a small thing and hoping for the best, but with a bit of know-how you can start giving it a go. Firstly, what sort of camera do you have? Most compact cameras will have a macro setting (indicated by a picture of a flower) which you can use to capture a close-up shot. The amount of detail really depends on the camera you are using – don’t necessarily expect fabulous results from a cheap little Point and Shoot, but some may surprise you.
Many DSLR and Mirrorless cameras will have an automatic macro setting however you will get much better results with a dedicated macro lens, such as the Nikon 40mm or the Canon 60mm. Unlike regular lenses these are designed to focus at close distances but can also be used for other shots (these focal lengths are great for portraiture). A longer focal length of around 100mm is brilliant for getting shots of subjects you don’t wish to disturb such as insects. If you can, use manual focus to get the perfect focusing spot rather than relying on the cameras autofocus.
When setting up the shot think carefully about the background. Is it in context with your subject? Would it be better to have just plain white or black rather than colours? Remember that the background will most likely be blurred, so test out different compositions or items to see what provides the best colour, texture and context for the shot.
Most dedicated macro lenses have a fixed focal length and a wide aperture which means that you can get a shallow depth of field. Simply put, the part of the subject you are focusing on will be nice and sharp while the rest of the shot will be blurry; letting you isolate the section you wish to draw attention to without too many distractions in the fore and background. A typical macro lens will have an f2.8 aperture or wider. It is highly recommended that you use a camera tripod when using a shallow depth of field as the slightest movement can disrupt the picture - some tripods actually let you flip the centre column so you can get closer for macro shots.
Tripods are also useful if you are shooting with a smaller aperture and a slower shutter speed is required. If you are shooting in a well-lit area then this generally isn’t an issue and you can use a pretty fast speed. When taking pictures of insects in their natural environment try to do so on a nice day (duh) or better yet an overcast day, when the clouds diffuse and spread the light.