Photography is a field that can go in many different directions, depending on the camera equipment and photography accessories you have access to.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to exclusively take photos of sweeping landscapes or always be on the hunt for portrait pictures to be considered a photographer.

There is a lot of middle ground between the two types of photography we just outlined, which cover everything from urban photoshoots to up-close images of insects.

Macro photography is just one of many types of photography that a photographer can engage in.

It’s a fascinating discipline that requires an extraordinary eye for detail and at times a lot of patience.

But before we dive into how you can get started with this form of photography and what photography equipment or photo accessories you need, it’s worth knowing exactly what you’ll be getting yourself into.

macro butterfly
Macro photography is all about making small critters like this one appear lifesize. Unsplash
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What is Macro Photography?

Macro photography refers to a field of photography that has small critters animals, and plants as the subjects.

While this may not sound like the most interesting subject matter, what makes this field so compelling is how the photographers manage to bring the tiny life forms to centre stage and blow them up to seem much bigger than they are in reality.

If you’ve ever browsed through the National Geographic website and seen some of the photography competition winners, you’ll know exactly the type of photos we’re talking about. The ones which capture a lizard holding onto a branch for dear life, or those which focus on a cricket perching precariously on the edge of a leaf.

These photos are mesmerising as they feature life forms we’d usually ignore or not even be able to see and give them the limelight. White balance is an important concept for nailing the colours with these exceptional images.

The way this stunning effect is achieved in macro photography is by having the subject take up the majority of the frame. That way, you don’t feel like you’re looking at a tiny insect, but one which wouldn’t look small next to your pet.

How does this work?

It’s all to do with magnification.

Think about how objects appear when you look at them through a magnifying glass, and you’ll get a good idea of the magic behind macro photography.

Technically, what this means is the subject needs to be a similar size to your camera sensor so that it can fill the entire frame. As an example, a macro photographer would use a 1-inch camera sensor if they wanted to do a photoshoot of an insect that’s roughly 1 inch long.

That’s all well and good, but how on earth do you get started out with this particular form of photography as a beginner?

How to Get Started with Macro Photography

macro mushroom
To get the perfect shots, you need to figure out the right working distance. Unsplash

When first starting out with macro photography, you might be disheartened.

It’s a lot more difficult than you’d think, not least because you’re dealing with tiny subjects that can fly away or scutter out of sight at any moment.

As such, one of the first things you need to know you want to produce high-quality macro photos is that you need to know how to approach live subjects without spooking them.

The secret? 

Working Distance

Working distance is about how much space there is between you and the subject. More specifically, it refers to the distance between the subject and the lens of the camera you are using.

If you don’t know how to establish a good working distance, then you probably won’t have much luck getting the best macro photos.

You can ruin a potential photo either by being too far away so there’s no chance the subject fills the frame or by being too close and either casting a shadow on your subject or spooking it so it leaves in a hurry.

Many macro photographers believe that the ideal working distance should be around six inches, which gives you a great opportunity to take your shot with the right lighting conditions and with the subject fully in frame.

Working distance isn’t just affected by you though, but by the lens you are using.

Some lenses will allow you to get closer to the subject without having to move toward it, for example. In an ideal world, you’d have a lens that allows for the longest working distance since that allows you to be flexible in your approach. Though this will of course set you back a considerable sum.

The Right Camera

On the topic of cameras, this is just as important as how you set up your photos.

Without the right camera, you’ll have a hard time getting the best macro shots.

Most people will tell you that your best options for macro photography are DSLR or mirrorless cameras.

Both have their pros and cons, centring around lag time, viewfinders, and type of focus but generally speaking, these days either type of camera will be fine.

Whichever you choose though, it’s worth having an electronic viewfinder as this will help you see what’s going on better which can lead to a better end result.

At the end of the day, though, the camera is almost secondary to the type of lens you use. You need a top macro lens if you want to do well with this type of photography.

What are Macro Lenses?

macro lens
A macro lens is one way to capture unique macro images. Unsplash

The first thing you need to know about macro lenses is that you can take macro photos without one.

Having said that, a dedicated macro lens, if you’re willing to make the investment, is well worth it.

So what exactly is a macro lens?

A macro lens is a lens that gives you a 1:1 ratio with the sensor.

In other words, it’s a lens that will allow you to make small things appear lifesize, as they take up the whole sensor and frame.

The main difference between your average camera lens and a macro lens is that most lenses can’t focus on subjects that are closer than a few feet away. A macro lens, on the other hand, will let you focus on subjects that are very close to you, roughly between 8-12 inches away to give you an idea.

So while you can use an ordinary camera with a basic lens to take macro photos, it’s going to be extremely difficult to pull it off as you’ll have a hard time getting it to focus on a subject that’s close to you.

A macro lens isn’t the only piece of equipment that can help you take the best macro photos, though.

There are other photo accessories that can help you get a headstart and ensure that it’s easier to get the shot you’re looking for.

Other Essential Macro Photography Gear

Most people who’ve picked up a camera will have heard of a macro lens before, but what about an extension tube?

This is one of the accessories that is commonplace in a lot of macro photographers’ backpacks, so it’s worth looking into.

Extension Tube

An extension tube sounds more like something a plumber or electrician would need than a photographer, yet it can be an excellent piece of equipment to use if you’re planning to forego the macro lens.

If you already have a top camera and you aren’t interested in splashing out more money on a dedicated macro lens, extension tubes might be the solution you need.

Do you remember when we said that most ordinary cameras can’t focus on subjects closer than a few feet away?

The extension tube provides a way around this problem.

Basically, an extension tube slots into your camera between the lens and the body, allowing you to decrease the len’s minimum focus distance.

You often find extension tubes in packs of three, and it’s important to pay attention to the connection type. While some will allow for electronic connections, others won’t.

The electronic connection tubes are more expensive as you might imagine, but they let you access the camera’s features such as autofocus and aperture control.

Tripod

The other main piece of equipment you’ll want to look into aside from a macro lens or extension tubes is a tripod.

Most photographers use a tripod, so sooner or later you’ll probably need to invest in one.

This is especially true for macro photography, though.

When the stakes are high and you’re trying to take a close-up photo of a dragonfly that you can tell is about to fly off its perch at any moment, camera shake is almost inevitable. Even if the weight of the camera is fine and you aren’t nervous, adrenaline can take over and mess up your shot.

As such, you need a tripod that will take the load off your hands and allow you to focus on the composition and focus of the photo.

Especially when you think of the micro-levels of focus that are necessary to get the eyes of a spider in focus, for example, it’s not something many people could feasibly do by holding a camera in their hands.

Once you have your equipment, you’ll want to find a photography tutor to help you get to grips with it. With Superprof, you can find a tutor who can help you work on your macro photography skills so you can take on your first few photoshoots with confidence.

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