Today, a lot of photographers are interested in learning how to shoot macro photos since there are so many gorgeous shots of tiny creatures, plants, and insects online. Macro photography is one of the most satisfying types of photography you can perform, but it is not always simple, especially for beginners. Even in your own backyard, with the correct abilities, you’ll be able to take stunning pictures. You should start by reading the advice and instructions in this manual, which were provided by a Smithsonian Museum of Natural History exhibitor and award-winning macro photographer, if you want to master macro photography from scratch. By the conclusion, you will be fully aware of how to put these suggestions into action and take great macro pictures for your own use.
Before continuing, you might want to view the following video we made to introduce macro photography if you learn best visually. Many of the same subjects are covered, albeit some sections have been condensed to fit the length of the video:
What Is Macro Photography?
Macro photography is the close-up capture of tiny objects, such as insects and flowers. In either an indoor or outdoor setting, as long as you are properly enlarging your subject, you can shoot macro photographs.
According to official definitions, macro photography only occurs when you capture images of tiny objects at a magnification of “life size” or higher. Magnification and life-size photography refer to taking images of objects that are as large as your camera sensor or smaller, and that occupy the entire frame. I’ll go into more detail about these terms later. (If your camera’s sensor is an inch broad, you would be taking a picture of something that is an inch or smaller.)
That is a rather precise definition, thus it’s common to hear photographers refer to pictures as “macro” even when they feature slightly larger subjects. The same is true of the images in this article, many of which defy this formal criteria but which yet qualify as close-up shots.
Introducing Macro Photography for Beginners
How do you take close-up pictures? These are the critical actions:
- Recognize the jargon used in macro photography.
- Select the appropriate camera and lens.
- obtain adequate depth of field.
- Set the camera and flash for a well-lit image.
- Concentrate on the most crucial aspect of your subject.
- Discover the typical actions of different insects.
- Create your image and then shoot it.
Some of these are more difficult than you might imagine, including getting enough depth of field and concentrating on your subject’s most crucial aspect. However, the advice in the remaining sections of this macro photography tutorial will give you a solid notion of where to start, and with some practice, you should be able to become an expert in everything.
What Is Magnification?
Knowing how big or small your subject looks on your camera sensor is crucial for macro photography. You can determine your magnification by comparing this number to the actual size of your topic.
Your subject is considered to be magnified to “life size” if the ratio is simply one-to-one. It is at life size, for instance, if you are taking a picture of something that is precisely one centimeter long and is projected exactly one centimeter wide on your camera sensor (regardless of the size of your camera sensor).
The typical sensor size for DSLRs and mirrorless cameras is between 17 and 36 millimeters. Therefore, a 1 cm subject is rather large in comparison, occupying a sizeable section of your photo. That tiny object will seem enormous if you end up printing it large—possibly billboard-sized!
Macro photographers don’t just state “life size” or “half life size,” they utilize an exact ratio to make things simpler to understand and compare. Life size is a 1:1 magnification, specifically. Magnification of 1:2 equals half life size. One may argue that you are no longer taking close-up or macro photos after you are roughly one-tenth of life size.
You can photograph at 1:1 magnification with good macro lenses, and some specialist solutions can go even further. (Canon makes an insanely powerful macro lens that magnifies objects up to 5x, or at a ratio of 5:1). Other “macro” lenses on the market, however, might simply magnify objects by 1:2 or even less. If you want as much versatility as possible, I personally advise getting a lens that can magnify objects by at least 1:2 and ideally 1:1.
What Is Working Distance?
Working distance is simple to define: it is the distance between your subject and the front of your lens. If your working distance is too near, you run the risk of startling your subject or obstructing the light. The ideal working distance is six inches (15 cm), while the ideal situation is twice that amount or more.
At 1:1 magnification, a lens’s minimum working distance is required since, in order to take extreme shots, it is obviously necessary to get as near to your subject as you reasonably can. Additionally, longer focal length lenses have a greater working distance than lenses with a more moderate focal length. Examples of macro photography lenses with considerable working distances include the Canon 180mm f/3.5 and the Nikon 200mm f/4. The operating distance of the Nikon 60mm f/2.8 macro lens is significantly smaller.
To avoid frightening or casting a shadow on your target, it is always advisable to look for a lens with the widest operating distance. However, longer focal length macro lenses, like those with 180mm or 200mm, tend to cost more. Think about a lens between 100mm and 150mm if you want to strike a balance between cost and working distance. I use a 105mm macro lens myself.
Best Cameras for Macro Photography: DSLR vs Mirrorless
Both DSLRs and mirrorless cameras can be quite effective for macro photography. The trick is to choose a camera that allows you to utilize a good macro lens, and ideally one that has the shortest possible delay between when you notice your subject, push the shutter, and when the image is actually captured. Due to mirrorless cameras’ limited native macro lenses and slow electronic viewfinders, DSLRs have historically excelled in both of these categories. These days, the differences are usually insignificant and occasionally favor mirrorless cameras.
Additionally, you may find additional advantages of mirrorless cameras handy, such as focus peaking (an overlay that shows which parts of your subject are in focus – helpful for manual focus macro photography). Additionally, it is useful to be able to evaluate your images without shifting your gaze away from the viewfinder if you need to rapidly assess factors like sharpness and flash exposure.
The only thing I would say is to make sure you choose a mirrorless camera with an electronic viewfinder if you decide to do so. With a rear LCD panel, it is a headache to compose and maintain a steady macro shot, especially at extreme magnifications like 1:1. If you’re on a tight budget, you might choose to buy a DSLR instead of a mirrorless camera with an electronic viewfinder (perhaps a secondhand one), which typically costs more. But everything here is incredibly selective. You will be able to take some fantastic pictures with any camera, and you won’t ever find one that promises a perfect keeper rate for such challenging situations!
Best Cameras for Macro: Full-Frame vs Crop-Sensor
Full-frame cameras are typically overkill for macro photography if your goal is to capture images with the maximum magnification feasible. Simply because the 20 megapixel Nikon D7500 has a slightly higher pixel density than the 46 megapixel Nikon D850, the latter cannot match the D7500’s capability for macro detail.
The amount of detail you can capture in a macro shot depends on the sensor’s highest pixel density (the number of pixels per square millimeter). Despite having more total pixels, the D850’s big sensor has fewer pixels per millimeter than the D7500’s crop-sensor. Larger pixels and more total pixels are preferred in various types of photography. But when it comes to 1:1 macro photography, pixel density is everything. The cause? Cropping a D850 picture to match one from the D7500 results in enough pixel loss that the D7500 wins (though not by much).
Still, macro photography works well with full-frame cameras. You must not hold a contrary opinion. Photos taken at lower magnification nevertheless have all of their typical advantages over smaller sensors. Therefore, a full-frame (FX) camera is still typically superior to a crop-sensor (DX or aps-c) camera for macro photography, albeit by a lower margin than in other photographic genres.
Best DSLR for Macro: Canon vs Nikon
Canon and Nikon, as well as Sony and other manufacturers, virtually always produce images of comparable quality, making comparisons of which is “better” at best incredibly subjective. There are distinctions, for sure, but it is uncommon for any system to have a fault that would be deadly to the majority of users.
This still holds true for macro photography, but there are several additional factors to take into account. Particularly Canon cameras don’t compute aperture the same way other brands of cameras do. Specifically, the Canon cameras will read your aperture value wrongly when you photograph at extreme magnifications like 1:1. It might say f/11 even though the image appears to have been taken at f/22 due to diffraction, depth of field, and exposure.
This is so because at such high magnifications, the aperture of any lens starts to behave unexpectedly. Simply put, your aperture behaves differently depending on its physical size. Canon does not provide the “functionally right” aperture (f/22 in this example), unlike Nikon, Sony, and other manufacturers. You should therefore bear that in mind when using Canon cameras. It’s crucial to be aware of this problem even though it’s not insurmountable. This becomes a problem as you switch magnifications more frequently.
Learn more: Follow These Five Tips to Make Your First Studio Shoot Less Scary