Top 20 macro photography tips and tricks for beginners

| February 26, 2010 | 3 Comments
Digital macro photography can be very fun and rewarding, but also sometimes if the basics are not understood correctly, can be also frustrating at times. To help you minimize the frustration and maximize the fun factor Digital Photography Student team brings you top macro photography tips and tricks.



Before you start

Cyclamen macro

Cyclamen macro

It would be a good that you decide on your choice of subject. If you are a beginner in macro photography, we would recommend that you start with static subjects such as flowers and still life as they will give you a chance to try different camera settings, lighting conditions, and composition setup. Once these aspects have been mastered you might be more comfortable with moving on to more demanding subjects such as insects, small animals, and other moving subjects that require quick thinking and adopting your photography techniques on the fly. For this guide we are assuming that your primary subjects are stationary.


Which photography gear do you need for shooting macros ?

1. Close-up lens (1:2) or macro lens(1:1) (see understanding photography for descriptions) are the most common ways on getting involved in macro photography. While they are not the cheapest option, they certainly are the best option from the quality standpoint. Other possibilities involve close-up filters, extension tubes and other creative ways on shooting macros (e.g. reversing lens). Remember, lens with longer focal length will provide bigger minimum focusing distance and shallower depth of field.

2. Solid tripod that can be fine tuned easily. More often than not macro photography requires tiny adjustments, and although most of macro photos can be done with even the most basic tripods, having a tripod that is easily fine tuned will go a long way in helping you keep your sanity. Ball head on your tripod is one of such improvements, as is milimeter scale on some more professional models.

3. Remote release or self timer function. As described in our guide 20 photography tips for shooting tack sharp photos, the purpose for the remote release or self timer function is to minimize camera shake introduced by a photographer, that could result in blurry photos. Some of the more advanced cameras offer mirror lock-up function which can also help reduce camera shake introduced by flipping the mirror-up in order to take the shot.

4. If you plan to use flash, we recommend that you look into ring flashes, or to create your own softbox (here is how), as your on-camera flash is too harsh for small subjects, rendering it almost unusable.

5. If you plan to shoot flower macros, consider into investing in a plamp. It is a moveable clamp that is particularly useful for holding flowers,Plamp reflectors, or backgrounds in place. It can be ordered through Wimbereley Professional Photo Gear website and costs approximately $37.


Which camera settings are useful in macro photography ?

Pentax K200 Left Dial6. Use Aperture Priority mode for maximum control over depth of field. Since depth of field (DOF) plays an important role in macro photography (perhaps even more than in other photography categories), aperture priority mode will give you a full control over your aperture and DOF, while taking care of setting the correct exposure automatically. If you want full control over the exposure as well, use manual mode instead. Remember that smaller apertures will give you larger depth of field, resulting more subject parts in sharp focus.

7. Remember that the depth of field in macro distances is measured in millimeters.

8. Try to shoot the subject parallel to the sensor plane to optimize depth of field.

9. Use depth of field preview function on your camera to help you decide which parts of the subject you want in sharp focus, and which you want to blur, thus helping you decide on which aperture to use.

10. If you can afford it, use the lowest ISO possible, for minimum noise.

11. Do not use Auto White Balance (WB). Whenever possible, set your white balance manually. You can better determine the type of light, and the quality. In addition manually selecting WB will give you more creative options regarding colors, and the mood you are trying to convey. The only exception to this rule is if you had mixed lighting conditions (different color temperatures, and light types) making it difficult to correctly guess white balance. Or alternatively, simply shoot in RAW. This will give you the flexibility to play with WB at later stage.

12. Use manual focusing. Due to the millimeter DOF range in macro photography, as well as long focusing paths in macro lens, most of the autofocusing mechanisms struggle with taking macro photos. In addition, the subject that autofocusing mechanism chooses, might not coincide with your vision of the subject. Therefore it is our recommendation that you take full control over your focusing, by engaging manual focus.

13. If your camera has Live View, use it to magnify the portion of your photo that you want in sharp focus, and then manually focus until you get the desired area tack sharp.


What do I need to think about in terms of Composition ?

14. Look at your subject. No, seriously, take a good look at your subject, and try thinking about what are the most interesting aspects of your subject ? What part of your subject do you really want to emphasize ?

15. Try different angles until you find the one that works best. Usually, the most unconventional angles can give most interesting results.

A backlit leaf

A backlit leaf

16. Check your background. Although it will most likely be a blurred blob of color, it is important to see how well does that color relate to your subject. Having ability to control the color of your background can make a difference between a good shot and a great shot. It might be handy to buy a collage paper in different colors for this purpose (usually it can be found in stores selling primary school material for kids).

17. Use Live View if available for composition. It is easier to experiment with live view, especially if you want to introduce a new element to the frame, or to re-frame the photo all together.


Anyting else ?

18. Explore your options. Try different lighting and composition schemes to make the object feel more alive.

19. Take a lot of shots – as some photos might turn out blurry for many reasons, even more so if shooting outdoors. Even the smallest gust of wind can shake your subject. Therefore, it is prudent to hedge your bets by taking multiple shots of the same subject.

20. Have a lot of patience. Macro photography takes a little time to learn, but a lot time to master. But it pays off to see all elements coming together, creating that WOW effect. And did we mention that it was fun ?

There you have it. These are just general macro photography tips to help you get started. There will be more subject specific macro photography tips to follow in next series of guides. Until then, post your opinions and comments, and show off your hard work in our flickr group. Happy Shooting.

For more great macro photography tips check out:


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Category: Beginners Photography, Macro Photography, Photography Lessons

About the Author (Author Profile)

Alan Graf is the editor and founder of Digital Photography Student. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, and is also editor of CRO-Wallpapers.com – a Croatian wallpaper archive, and his own photo gallery at http://www.alangraf.com.

Comments (3)

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  1. Pixie says:

    Thank you for the tips. I always use Auto White balance and I thought I already have nice photos but with the tips here. I will try it and will check some good results.

  2. Thank you for this article, really helpful for starters like me.

  3. [...] Top 20 tips for shooting macros [...]

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