Maybe you just read Kafka’s Metamorphosis and completely missed the point. Or maybe landscapes are just too vast and expansive for you. Whatever it may be, you want to expand your photography horizons and macro photography is something you’ve been interested in.  

Macro photography, for those not in the know, is “producing photographs of small items larger than life size.” You know, those super close up and detailed photos of little insects or flowers–that’s macro photography.

The good news is that a lot of the same general rules of photography are still going to apply with macro. The bad news is that it is a different category of photography and there is still a learning curve to the process. But don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it.

1. Find The Right Lens

There are other options for macro photography than buying a macro lens but I’ll get to that. For those ready to commit to the craft, however, there are dedicated macro lenses. These aren’t cheap, but will be optimal for getting that detailed, close-up image. And when dealing with skittish subjects that might not be exactly thrilled to see you, a dedicated lens may give you that extra space needed to get the ideal shot.

A smart move might be to find a multi-purpose macro lens. This will allow you to—should you change your mind down the line about macro photography—still use the lens for other pursuits. 

That being said, if you are ready to fully commit, there are macro-only lenses available. Both Canon and Nikon have a wide selection of all-macro lens. Do some research on what is best for you.

2. Extension Tubes & Reversing Ring

Now, if you aren’t quite ready to spend money on a Macro Lens quite yet, there are other options. Particularly, extension tubes or reversing a normal lens. 

Extension tubes are a fitted ring placed between a lens and the camera body that keeps the lens further away from the camera’s body’s sensor which results in larger magnification. Some tubes will have electrical connections that allow you to control your aperture. A non-electric tube, or perhaps an older (and most likely cheaper) tube may restrict manual aperture adjustment. This will restrict your depth-of-field—which is going to be an important factor in macro. Just be sure to make sure the tube works with your camera before you purchase it.

You can also purchase a reversing ring. This allow you to, as it says, attach your standard lens to the camera backwards. The downside is, you will lose electronic connectively, so you will, once again, be doing everything manually.

3. Location & Weather & Subject

Macro photography isn’t limited to insects. You can take pictures of anything that is small and, generally, lacks detail when viewing it with the human eye. So your shooting location will be dependent on your subject–whether that be a controlled studio environment or somewhere around your house or perhaps outside. Wherever it may be, though the basic macro rules will still apply, it is still something that needs to be considered. 

If you are in nature, weather is going to play a factor when it comes to insects—in the dead of winter, it’s going to be a lot harder to find subjects than a bustling day in the wilderness in the spring. You might also wish to capture droplets of dew on a plant or flower (yeah, you can probably get around this with a little spray bottle of water, but hey, you didn’t hear it from me). Direct, harsh sunlight is also something to be avoided. You want an area with high light level but still in open shade where you can find nice, even lighting.

4. Shutter Speed & Focus

When shooting Macro photography, not only will the subjects of the photo by enhanced in detail, but also aspects like the small vibrations from your hand will become a factor (of course, a tripod is a good way to get around the problem, but should usually be reserved for studio work—out in nature, with changing elements and living creatures, you are going to want the freedom to move your camera on a whim). These minute vibrations—along with a moving insect and environmental elements such as the wind—means you are going to need a high shutter speed. For beginners, start with a shutter speed of 1/250 or faster.

Autofocus is, more likely than not, going to be unusable when shooting macro. That’s okay, you want to learn how to achieve focus manually anyway. That being said, with the close focusing distance of macro, you are going to be dealing with an extremely narrow focal plane. It’ll be difficult to keep your subject in focus but be patient, take a lot of photos, and find what works for you.

You will also want to shoot with a small aperture in order to maximize the focus distance. F/16 or smaller will be a good starting point.

5. Flash & Diffusers

A flash is going to be important when dealing with a narrow focal plane, small aperture, and the high shutter speed you’ll be shooting in (again, to counteract the shaky lens and subject). There are dedicated flash units for macro photography, but if you are trying to save money, a cheap flash unit will get the job done, and even the built-in flash on your camera will work better than nothing.

If you are using a flash, a diffusor is usually going to be necessary. This will increase the size of light from the flash, which will create less harsh light and allow the natural colors of the image to be more visible. 

6. Composition and Uncommon Angles

Just like with all fields of photography, you still have to abide by photographic rules. Composition might be even more difficult to achieve since you are already waiting for that perfect moment (when shooting a living thing) but it still must be considered.

Sometimes, you might not have to be as close to the subject as you think. Depending on what you want in the image, the setting and background may be just as important as the subject itself. This, of course, is dependent on the subject and the photographer, but it is something to keep in mind when your photographs aren’t turning out quite like you hoped they would.

Also, find that angle that makes your photo you unique. You want to get intimate with your subject, so taking the picture from the typical human perspective will take away from the experience. 

And finally…

7. Be Patient

Just like any other time you are taking pictures, patience is key. Especially when dealing with living, moving creatures and a shallow depth of field, it’s not going to be easy to achieve that perfect shot. But, just like with all photography, patience and practice will pay off in the end.



Cover Photo by Jill Heyer

Photo 1 by Rob Potter

Photo 2 by Jack Kaminski

Photo 3 by Jack B

Photo 4 by Antonio Lapa

Photo 5 by Krista McPhee