Macro photography can be defined differently, depending on the perspective of the individual. In essence, macro photography involves capturing an image of a subject that appears at least 1:1 ratio on the camera sensor, meaning that the image is equal to the subject’s size or larger. The technique is a great way of magnifying small objects and showcasing their intricate features that may be hard to notice with the naked eye.
What is the optimal lens for capturing macro photography?
Macro lenses are considered specialised and relatively expensive due to their limited manufacturing. Their optics are designed exclusively for close-up photography, allowing for much closer focusing on subjects than standard lenses. Typically, macro lenses can capture a 1:1 image of the subject when shooting at minimum focus distance, and some can even achieve higher magnifications like the Canon MP-E65mm with a 5x magnification.
I tend to favour telephoto macro lenses, specifically the 100mm or 180mm types. These lenses offer minimal focusing distances with the added benefit of a telephoto aspect, allowing for subject isolation and creating beautiful bokeh when using wide apertures.
Is it possible to utilise a macro lens for capturing regular photographs?
To put it briefly, it is possible to use a macro lens. However, there are advantages and disadvantages to using this type of lens compared to other lenses with the same focal distance.
Macro lenses possess excellent capabilities when it comes to capturing images with incredible detail and sharpness, allowing them to be used for different types of photography, including portraiture. However, they may not be ideal for fast-moving objects due to their relatively slower and less accurate autofocus. Moreover, they tend to produce images that are a stop darker than others, and in some cases, they can be overly sharp and capture too much detail.
Due to the specifically tailored optical design, macro lenses provide a high level of sharpness and detail, and their low f-stops and ability to focus at a close minimum distance make them ideal for macro photography. As a result, I typically reserve macro lenses for this type of work, manually adjusting the focus to create an aesthetically pleasing bokeh.
Tips for capturing macro photography without the need for a macro lens
It is plausible to practise macro photography without using a dedicated macro lens. Recent lens releases are equipped with remarkable capabilities to focus at smaller distances. The Canon 100-400mm II is a recommended lens, with a minimum focusing distance of 0.98 metres.
Moreover, I frequently employ a 300mm prime lens to capture macro photographs, highlighting the subject’s natural surroundings, which is a highly effective technique for a wide range of wildlife subjects.
It’s worth mentioning that you may also want to experiment with using a wide-angle lens, such as a 24-70mm, which can be a highly effective way to showcase a small subject and its surrounding environment. Despite being frequently overlooked, it can be a valuable technique to consider.
To increase the magnification and reduce the minimum focusing distance between the lens and the camera, knowledgeable individuals may want to experiment with extension tubes, also referred to as extension rings. These tubes do not alter the quality of the lens since they do not contain an optical element; however, they do decrease the amount of light and offer a shallower depth of field. Simply put, the further the lens is moved away from the camera sensor, which is achieved by longer extension tubes, the closer the lens can focus. This information may be useful to those looking for ways to improve their photography skills.
Incorporating diverse lenses in your macro photography endeavours can enhance your collection of one subject matter by capturing close-up details and habitat shots. This technique broadens the conventional definition of macro photography and allows for creative experimentation in photographing small subjects. Keeping the camera perfectly steady is essential for macro photography, so investing in tools that eliminate hand contact as much as possible, such as a camera harness, is a good idea.
Creating a macro photography studio
Macro photography can be a gratifying endeavour when utilising your own do-it-yourself studio. By doing so, you have complete authority over the lighting, backgrounds, foregrounds, and camera angles. Additionally, as the ambience is still, your subject won’t be swayed due to a gust of wind.
If you’re interested in building a macro studio, the key details will depend on what you’re planning to photograph. For photographing stationary objects, setting up a macro studio on a table in your home is a simple and convenient option. With this approach, you can create a small studio space without compromising much of your living area.
Consider using white paper or a cardboard material that you can bend against a wall to create a curved background. This technique can be helpful when aiming to create an appealing visual effect. Additionally, you can modify the colour of the card if you want to alter the mood of the images without using a white background or foreground.
When working on my pop-up studio, I often employ glass and acrylic substrates for certain subjects since they produce stunning reflections. However, it is crucial to ensure these surfaces are cleaned thoroughly with an anti-static cloth prior to each shoot to avoid dust particles showing up in post-processing and ruining your macro photography.
It is advisable to consider experimenting with alternative materials, such as crumpled cellophane in the backdrop of your project. Although velvet is an option, it may not be as effective as alternatives such as card, acrylic, or glass.
After establishing your own studio set, it is recommended that you utilise a tripod with your camera, flashlights that have diffusers, and a wireless flash trigger for convenient use.
When photographing small wildlife subjects, it’s important to exercise caution to avoid causing any harm or distress to the creature. Handling such species often requires extensive expertise, experience, or even a licence in some cases. Therefore, I advise against photographing macro wildlife unless you’re working alongside a qualified professional biologist, specialist, or photographer.
Tips for Illuminating Macro Photography
As someone who is familiar with photography, I greatly appreciate the benefits of natural lighting. I find it most effective to capture photos during the low sunlight hours of early morning or late afternoon as this position of the sun helps accentuate the subject and create silhouettes. On days with an overcast sky, I am able to capture photos without harsh shadows or glare. This approach to photography allows for a more authentic and artistic output.
Wildlife macro photography during cooler days is a great option since the lower temperature dissuades creatures from being too active, making them easier to capture on camera. Don’t let adverse weather conditions discourage you, as a rainy or overcast day could very well be the ideal weather for capturing stunning shots.
A reflector, one of the most valuable accessories in my bag, serves to direct beautiful, natural light onto my subjects. These versatile tools come in various sizes and colours and are available at affordable prices. One can also create their own reflector using common items such as cardboard and tin foil or even repurpose reflective surfaces from food packaging.
As a knowledgeable individual, when I require artificial lighting, I tend to utilise a collection of compact LED lights with diffusers. These lights are beneficial as they are small, malleable, and do not overpower smaller subjects. Additionally, I possess a ring flash that I seldom use, but occasionally, it is effective in producing a flat light which facilitates identification shots.
If you have experience with film photography, you may be familiar with the lightbox, a device for viewing film transparencies. While these devices are no longer commonly used in the era of digital photography, they have found a new purpose as lighting tools for macro photography of still-life subjects such as leaves, fruits, and flowers. The technique involves placing the subject on the lightbox and taking a photo from above, resulting in a visually striking high-key image.
Creating a flash diffuser for macro photography
If you purchase a flashgun, you may receive a diffuser, which is essentially a plastic covering that goes over the flash head, often used when taking photos of small subjects up close. The artificial flash can sometimes create unsightly shadows, but with the diffuser, you will be able to achieve a more desirable, softer shadow effect.
If you don’t have a diffuser for your camera’s built-in pop-up flash, you can easily make one using common household items such as tissue paper, opaque plastic from food packaging, or a document wallet. Simply cut the material to size and secure it over the flash with tape. This is a quick and effective solution for temporary use.
Preparing insects for macro photography
I strongly advise against the preparation of insects for macro photography, as it goes against our responsibility to protect and preserve all living beings. Such practices can result in harm, endangerment, and injury to insects and other creatures, which is unacceptable.
As a professional in the field, I am aware that there are some photographers who resort to methods such as cooling their subjects in the refrigerator or administering drugs like chloroform to make them drowsy and unresponsive. However, I would like to clearly state my stance on this matter: I do not condone such practices, as they violate ethical standards and are completely unacceptable.
When photographing insects, and even other larger creatures that rely on external temperature for movement such as reptiles and amphibians, it is recommended for experienced individuals to set an early morning alarm and photograph at dawn when lighting conditions are optimum and the creatures are less active and still perched.
To enhance the outcome of a photo session, it is recommended to adequately prepare by visualising the desired image and organising your equipment in advance.
Ever since I tried macro photography, I have been completely hooked on it. This is a wonderful area of specialisation that you can either pursue exclusively or incorporate into your broader interests in wildlife photography.
If you have the ability, I highly recommend considering investing in a macro lens as it can be a reliable tool for an extended period. Additionally, you have the option of expanding your equipment over time with auxiliary items such as a reflector, flashlight, and extension tubes.
The realm of tiny objects is captivating.
Therefore, I urge you to take pleasure in, explore, and above all, act with morality.