Macro Tutorial

This post was originally published on the Light Inspired Blog HERE.

Macro photography is the art of extreme close up photography. Technically, in order to be considered a macro image, the subject of the photo must be greater than life size. But I tend to be pretty lenient in my following that rule.
Macro flower
For many photographers, macro work is a chance to get away from the running children for a while, and slow down to look for the beauty in the little details. But if you’ve ever tried your hand at it, you know that there is more to it than that! So today I am going to walk you through my process when I go out with the intention of shooting macro.
Before we get started, let’s talk a little bit about equipment. Your standard lenses will not allow you to take macro images because they do not focus that close-up. But that doesn’t mean that you have to invest in a whole different lens for macro, although that it is one option – I use a Tokina 100mm Macro lens most of the time. But many of my friends use a set of Macro extension tubes or Macro filters, both available on Amazon for less than $20.
So now, I invite you to come with me on a macro adventure!
How to take macro pictures
My first step in shooting macro is to decide what I want to shoot. Today, and most of the time for me, that means shooting nature – flowers, leaves, etc. But other common subjects are insects, water droplets, food, toys – anything is possible really! My favorite thing is to simply choose a location – a park, my front yard, my neighbor’s, the downtown area of my town – and go to see whatever I can find! Today I am actually going to shoot at my church because I noticed the other day that there is a variety of plants and flowers around it.
The next thing to consider is the light. You might be tempted to think that because this is not a portrait and you don’t have to worry about catchlights since your subject doesn’t have any eyes you don’t have to worry about the light, but that is not true at all! In macro photography, just like portraiture, the light is often what makes or breaks an image! So today I am going to wait until an hour or two before sunset, to get that pretty golden light. Don’t feel trapped into waiting until golden hour, though – if the light does not work, make it work! Take it inside and use artificial light, use a ring flash or something similar, get out your reflector, shoot in the shade, or use the shadows to your advantage!
  • Okay, once we are there, I’m going to take some time to look around. Walk around and look at everything. Put your camera up to your eye and look through your viewfinder. Get up close and look at the tiny details.
  • Once you find your subject, looks through the viewfinder and consider everything that you want to include in your image – think about how much you want to be in focus, what is going to be in the background, and what other elements will be in your frame. Think about what message your images are going to convey.
  • Tip: Shooting the same subject from many different angles and with different compositions can help bring variety and interest to your images.
Then, if you are shooting in Manual mode (which you definitely should be!) adjust your settings. Some tips for macro:
  • Don’t shoot wide open. When you are that close to your subject, your depth of field at 2.8 is going to be so tiny – literally millimeters – that it will be nearly impossible to get what you want in focus, so you’re going to have to close it down more than usual. I often shoot around f5.6-8 but I like to use a pretty shallow depth of field, so you may very well want an even higher f-stop
  • Because a smaller aperture (larger f-stop number) means you are letting less light into your camera, you will have to make up for that somehow, so don’t be afraid to bump up your iso to avoid a slow shutter speed and camera shake. Even on my entry level Canon Rebel t2i, I often shoot macro at 800 or 1600.
  • Remember your shutter speed – either keep it high enough to avoid camera shake (I generally operate by the rule of thumb to keep your shutter speed at least twice the focal length – so at least 1/200th of a second with my 100mm lens), prop your arms up against something, or use a tripod!
  •  And finally, your focus: you can try auto focus (I use the One Shot mode), but often macro photographers rely on manual focus and physically moving their bodies in and out to get their subject into focus. It’s tricky; just keep practicing and you’ll get it! You have to beware of the wind while shooting outside!
That’s it! Go out there and give it a try yourself – and be sure to come share your results on the Light Inspired Forum!