Macro Photography Concepts and Tips

tips for macro photography

"Purple Rain" captured by Timothy Poulton (Click Image to See More From Timothy Poulton)

Macro Photography can be an art in and of itself. Some of the best photos I’ve seen have been macro photos.

Taking macro photos can be challenging if you’ve never attempted it before. Many times the beginner gets frustrated when they are unable to get their subject fully in focus. Other times the beginner can’t seem to take a macro photo that isn’t blurry. Then there’s the frustration with taking a macro photo that isn’t lit properly.

Macro photography differs from regular photography in that the subject is usually smaller and requires a lens that is capable of close-up or macro photography, usually at a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio. Because of the nature of the close-up image, the plane of focus is much shallower for a given aperture. Basically this means that if you had taken a photo with a normal lens, your subject would likely be entirely in focus from front to back without requiring a very small aperture or f-stop, but when taking a macro photo with a macro lens, you would have require a much smaller apeture or f-stop.

For example, let’s say that you took a photo of a bug with a regular lens. You got a good exposure at f8, and the entire bug is in focus. Now, let’s say you take a photo of the same bug with a macro lens like the Nikon 105 f2.8G VR. The same bug will likely not be entirely in focus from front to back. With a macro lens like the Nikon 105mm macro lens, you may need an f-stop of f20 or higher to get the entire bug in focus.

In short, the macro lens has a narrower plane of focus at a given aperture than a non-macro lens. When taking macro photos, remember to stop down the aperture enough so that your entire subject is in focus.

This can create lighting problems as you stop down. A lens like the Nikon 105mm macro can help compensate with the VR (vibration reduction… Nikon’s brand of image stablization), but adding extra light from an external flash can really help too. Adding a remote flash to the equation can allow you to get the neccessary f-stop you need without having to boost the ISO settings of your digital camera and sacrifice image quality.

macro photo

"Green Drops" captured by Linda L (Click Image to See More From Linda L)

There are a few ways to add a remote flash to the equation. You can control the remote flash with a flash cord via your camera’s hotshoe. You can also control the remote flash with a remote trigger and receiver. If your camera is a Nikon DSLR, you can also control most Nikon flashes with the pop-up flash on your camera. All of these will work well and allow you to add extra light to your macro photos. Experiment with the flash output to see what you need, or just let the camera control the flash automatically if you’re using a flash cord or Nikon’s built-in flash commander system.

The other biggie to getting great macro photography is a good tripod. A good tripod will not only act like an extra pair of hands and hold the camera for you, it will hold it much steadier than you can, allowing you to get much slower shutter speeds than you ever could’ve achieved holding the camera by hand. A good tripod is often indispensable to getting great macro photos.

There are many brands and a huge price range to choose from when picking a tripod. Buying the best you can afford is often the best route, as spending less and buying a cheaper tripod can mean you end up spending a fair bit more when you realize you need to upgrade to a better tripod. There are many good brands, but Manfrotto is one of my favourites for a great combination of quality and price.

If you’re out to get some great macro photos, remember these three things:

  1. Stop down enough so that your subject is fully in focus.
  2. Add light from an external flash to focus the viewer’s attention on your subject and allow you to not have lose image quality by boosting ISO
  3. Use a good tripod to allow you to use lower shutter speeds and keep the camera steady and blur free.

macro photography concepts

Photo captured by alvin lorenzo (Click Image to See More From alvin lorenzo)

Remember these 3 tips, and you’re sure to get better results the next time you take a macro photo!

About the Author
Matt Ballard is a professional photographer and author of the popular photography blog, Art of the Image at

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2 responses to “Macro Photography Concepts and Tips”

  1. Mike says:

    Some good quick tips, thank you!

  2. mark says:

    Doing macro photography is one of the hardest jobs, but it can be rewarding if it is done properly. With such a good informative article i can now do better and take amazing pictures, and why not make a living from selling them. Thank you so much.

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