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Macro Photography Techniques, Tips, and Ideas

This content focuses mainly on the DIY and inexpensive techniques, tips, and ideas of macro photography.

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When any macro photographer thinks back to when they first started, one word comes to mind: expensive. I am going to save you the stress and the cash by teaching you how to shoot macro photography without emptying your bank account. The quality of the picture comes from the photographer, not the equipment, but macro photography equipment is essential in making you the best possible photographer that you can be. We will be focusing on macro photography tips for D-SLR’s, but macro photography techniques are also available on smartphones (click here for my guide on macro smartphone photography). Simple macro photography tips can be utilized to make the most basic of equipment into something special. So many things are small, yet a vast amount of  photographers struggle with finding a subject to photograph; some great macro photography ideas can go a long way.

Macro Photography Ideas (the subject)

Choosing a subject in macro is actually more difficult than it sounds. After creating your whole setup, the last thing you want is not knowing what to photograph, so some basic macro photography ideas are key before building your setup. There are so many small things that we don’t notice. From our food to the splash a drop of water makes when it falls, the possibilities are endless. Most people will experiment in all macro photography ideas before they select a niche that they enjoy. The two main macro photography ideas or types of macro photography are studio and nature. This guide is not for the studio photographer, as that route is much more expensive and does not offer much of an adventure. If you go into the nature side of how to shoot macro photography, chances are that you are going to end up photographing insects at one time or another. They make great subjects, are fun to photograph, and you will surprise yourself with the results of the photos. Phiddipus Audax Jumping Spider

Macro Photography Equipment

If you haven’t read the section above, go read it now. It is very important to choose the subject first. You don’t want to end up buying the wrong equipment. Now, macro photography equipment is some of the most expensive photography equipment on the market, and quality lenses will clock in at a price higher than your top tier D-SLR camera. I’m going to show you some of the inexpensive workarounds for macro photography equipment that you can do without compromising quality. First, you want to assess your current equipment (skip this step if you don’t have any). If you have any lenses, they will come in handy. Macro Photography Equipment

Extension Tubes

Extension Tubes are a great way to start, whether you have macro photography equipment or not. Extension tubes are hollow tubes that foot in between you camera body and the lens. The extra distance between the image sensor and lens allows you to be able to focus close to the subject. If you have a lens with a manual aperture ring (you can adjust the aperture on the lens), then you can purchase a set of regular extension tubes for under $10 on ebay or amazon. Just search “[brand of camera] extension tubes.” If you have a lens, but it does not have a manual aperture ring, you will have to find a way to keep the aperture open, or buy auto extension tubes for around $60 on ebay or amazon. The auto extension tubes allow you to keep functions like autofocus and auto aperture control. They are definitely the way to go if you have the money.

Extension Tubes

Extension Tubes

Prime Lens and Reversing Ring

This is what I use, along with the extension tubes (you can see my gallery here). If you don’t know what a prime lens is, it is basically a lens with a fixed zoom (ex. 50mm vs 50-100mm). (add me on google+ to see what my macro photography equipment is capable of) When you reverse a lens, due to optic science, the magnification becomes far greater than the standard orientation of the lens. So basically if you flip the lens around it makes for a better macro photography technique. Now, I do not suggest doing this with a delicate or pricey lens, because the rear element (sensitive part) of the lens will be exposed. Because we are flipping the lens around, the shorter the standard zoom, the greater the magnification. So a 15mm lens would have greater magnification than a 50mm lens when reversed. I use and recommend a 28mm lens, because the magnification is perfect, and if you need more you can always add extension tubes. I use an old minolta 28mm lens that I found on ebay for around $30, and you can find a reversing ring for your camera for $5 or less by searching “[brand of camera] macro reverse ring.” If you buy a lens that is not built for the brand of your camera (ex. nikon vs canon), then you need to: A. Glue the reverse ring the the front of the lens, or B. buy a lens filter adapter.

Reverse 28mm Best Macro Lens

My Minolta 28mm Lens

DIY Macro Flash and Lighting

The last mandatory piece of equipment that we will discuss is the flash. When using reverse lenses and/or extension tubes as macro photography equipment it causes loss of light, so you will need a flash. Old vivitar flashes are the way to go. They are inexpensive, but still produce the quality light needed in order to create quality images. Chances are that you can find one at a local store, but if not possible, turn once again to ebay or amazon. I use a Vivitar Thyristor 2850 and have experienced amazing results. When you put the flash on your camera, it will be above the lens and the light will not be able to reach the subject. This problem is easily solved with things you have at home. There are many DIY macro flash solutions.

DIY Macro Flash

My Vivitar Thyristor 2850


Taking the Picture

At first, this will be difficult, maybe even frustrating, especially if you photograph insects (requires a lot of patience). First, make sure your subject is in focus. You can take as many photos as you want but if the subject is not in focus, it is irrelevant. You can create a better depth of field by raising the aperture on your lens, and making your flash stronger. Do not use the focus ring on your lens, but instead focus on the subject by moving closer and further from the subject until the image is sharp. I suggest purchasing a monopod, as this will help reduce camera shake, increase stability, and make life easier when focusing. You can also try focus stacking, which is combining several pictures to make one picture that is extremely sharp. Focus stacking software is available here. Second is exposure. You will notice that despite the flash that your photos are slightly underexposed. To solve this, you can raise the strength of your flash, raise the ISO sensitivity of your camera, or lower the shutter speed (in order of best to worst). Do not lower your shutter speed if photographing moving subjects. When raising the ISO sensitivity, make sure to use a denoiser, or your photo will look grainy. Last is composition. When photographing insects or animals, try to photograph their faces, and keep the focal point in the center of the frame. Without proper composition, the whole shot can be ruined.