Have you ever felt that where you live there’s nothing exciting to photograph?
Your camera just an expensive paperweight?
If you take a magnifying glass to everyday things around you a whole new world opens up with tons of photo opportunities.
The shot below combines a simple pencil, computer keyboard and a water droplet.
It’s safe to say almost every photography hobbyist has tried their hand at macro photography in an effort to capture a moment in a larger, more vivid style than what the human eye can see. However, macro photography is a somewhat tricky style to master. Sure, you can get close up photos with pretty much any camera, even your smartphone, but these images lack the detail that you can get from proper equipment.
If you are a fan of macro photography and wish to improve your skill in taking killer up close photos, you will need to invest in some equipment to help you capture the image you wish to convey. And we’re not necessarily talking about thousands of dollars worth of macro lenses for your DSLR. At the end of the article we’ll show you some non-expensive equipment to turn your current lens into a close up wonder.
The Foundation of Impressive Macro Photography
One of the most important pieces of equipment that will enable you to take high-quality macro photos is your camera. Now, any decent camera should be able to take fairly good up close photos, especially if you invest in quality lenses and other equipment. What makes a great lens for macro photography? It’s all to do with the magical 1:1 ratio and how close your lens can get to that. All lenses are not born equal as far as macro is concerned, so let’s explain the difference.
Getting Closer to Your Subject # 1: Lenses
What is the 1:1 Ratio?
A lens that can represent a 1:1 ratio records an image on the image sensor in its actual size. What does this mean? Let’s say your sensor (the part that records the image) is 36mm by 24mm (the size of a full frame image sensor) and you want to photograph a coin. If the coin is recorded life size or 1:1, then if you print out a 36mm by 24mm image on paper, what is printed out will be life size or the real size of the coin.
Consider This Before Buying a Lens
Some cameras already have super zooming capabilities but generally maxing your base camera’s abilities is not going to give you the best pictures. Lenses are an integral part of photography and necessary for high-quality macro images.
When it comes to lenses avoid “universal” lenses. These so-called universal lenses for macro photos are often fairly cheap and typically sold through overseas wholesalers. Not only are they quite often a waste of money and don’t deliver a clear, detailed picture but they can actually damage your camera while trying to attach them.
Al lenses that say “Macro” on them are not really true Macro lenses. A true Macro lens gives a 1:1 Ratio, and usually costs a significant price. Some 70-300mm lenses for example claim “Macro” in its title, but only gives 1:2 magnification, meaning your coin will be 50% smaller when printed to sensor size. The best macro lens in my opinion is the Tamron 90mm macro lens. It is a true 1:1 ratio lens.
What Does the 90mm Mean in the Line Above?
Does the 90mm give an indication of how much the image will be enlarged? In a word, no. The 90mm is the focal length, the distance from the point in the lens where light rays concentrate to form a sharp image to the sensor where the image is recorded.
How Does the 90mm(Focal Length) Influence my Macro Photography?
The longer the focal length of your lens, the further you can position your camera from the subject you are filming. With a 50mm 1:1 macro lens you need to bring the lens up really close to your subject to get a decent enlargement. This is not such a good thing if you are photographing an insect for example, as it might get spooked and take off. If you had a 300mm 1:1 macro lens, you get to be at least a ruler length or two away to get 1:1 life size images.
Getting Closer to Your Subject # 2: Reverse Rings
Photographers who are on a strict budget when it comes to their gear should look into a reverse ring. This fairly cheap piece of equipment (you can find them for well under $20) allows you to reverse your lens. By reversing your lens you can turn it into a macro lens. While you can find reverse rings for various lenses, they work particularly well for a 50mm lens. This is perfect for most photographer hobbyists or amateurs as the 50mm is typically the first lens they tend to invest in.
Getting Closer to Your Subject #3: Macro Extension Tubes
Another addition to your arsenal of lenses should be macro extension tubes. Since lenses are so expensive and heavy, it isn’t worth it to lug them around with you wherever you go. Macro extension lenses are spacers between the camera body and the actual lens. It contains no glass, but the spacing effect from the camera increases the distance from the sensor, and allows you to focus closer, thereby giving you better magnification. They come in various mm sizes to play around with spacing distances.
Macro extension tubes are also very affordable, varying from $20-$200 depending on what functions you need it to provide. For the beginner, you can except to pay under $50 for one typically. Remember that this tube will be holding the lens onto the camera.
Getting Closer to Your Subject #4: Close Up Lenses
The idea here is quite simple – it is like sticking a magnifying glass to the end of your lens. Of course the quality of the glass added is quite important – better glass always leads to better images. Also be sure the get the right filter size. Filter size is the thread at the front of your lens measured in millimeters to indicate the diameter of the lens. A 52mm thread on your lens has nothing to do with the fact that your lens has 50mm focal length.
Amazon has a nice 3-in-1 kit that gives you a bundled Close Up lens, Extension Tubes and Reverse Ring to experiment with a couple of ways to turn your lens into a macro lens.
The Night and Day Difference Between Good and Bad Photos – Lighting
Lighting can make or break a photo. Although natural lighting often gives the most realistic picture, it’s often just not possible to rely solely on it. Artificial lighting in the form of regular light bulbs in your home tends to distort the color of the photo, perhaps making it too stark or too yellow. These problems can all be avoided and you can properly light up the object you have in mind by using portable lights.
Lights specifically designed for photography will naturally give you the best illumination for macro photos. Umbrella lights and other diffused setups ensure you get the perfect soft light vs a harsh white or yellow light. A bonus of many lighting setups for photography is their portability. If you often shoot outdoors this can be a real lifesaver when natural light just isn’t working.
Many people are shocked that a lighting setup isn’t exactly expensive. Even a full indoor photography setup with lights is still fairly budget friendly.
Indoor Lighting Setup
If you are only a hobby photographer and want lights for macro as well as general photography, a pair of umbrella lights, the 600W Day Light Umbrella Continues Lighting Kit is recommended. These lights are fairly tall so if you tend to shoot only very small objects on a table surface, the StudioPRO 2 Light Photography Table Top Kit may be a better choice. Just keep in mind that these table lights limit how much you can use them in other types of photography, like general or portrait.
Hobby or amateur photographers that really want the best lighting for indoor macro images but also need something for other types of photography will be best served by investing in a studio light setup. The LimoStudio Light Kit even includes a background screen and it’s still under $150.
On Camera Lighting For the Great Outdoors
The best lighting for outdoors (and not a bad idea for indoors as well) is a ring flash. These flashes create an even source of illumination that can lead to well lit photographs. The more expensive models can vary the intensity on left and right sides around the circle to make the images look less flat by casting a slight shadow. A good budget light to recommend here is the Yongnuo YN-14EX.
5 Macro Photography Tips
- Make your subject bigger by using: a macro lens, or failing that, a diopter (close up lenses), reverse ring or extension tubes.
- Lighting! Too little light and your shutter needs to keep open longer to give the sensor enough light to expose properly. For still subjects that is not a problem, but for any form of macro wildlife speed is of essence.
- Keep it steady! Use a tripod to keep your camera steady and a clamp with stand to keep your subject still.
- Composition! Whole articles have been written on composition, or positioning of the main subject in the photo.
- Keep your aperture as small as possible, in other words your Fstop value high to ensure a large depth of field.
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