Macro photography was once out of reach for most people because it required a significant investment in equipment, but today anyone with a DSLR or even a digital camera can try it.
Want to learn macro photography? This guide will help you choose the right tool for the job and show you that no special equipment is required!
Define your goals
Macro photography can be as simple and affordable or complex and expensive as your abilities allow. Are you going to be a professional macro photographer or do you want to have fun doing your favorite hobby?
If you have a digital camera, you can do macro photography without any additional equipment. The vast majority of digital cameras, from point-and-shoot cameras to SLRs, have a macro mode that can be accessed through an external control or via the viewfinder menu.
Option #1: Compact Cameras
With such cameras, when macro mode is selected, the lens elements are automatically adjusted to focus at close range. On the plus side, it’s a free and easy way to take great close-up and macro shots without investing in additional equipment.
The downside is that photos won’t have the same level of fidelity, detail, and quality as photos taken with a DSLR and a dedicated macro lens.
If you are just starting to think about getting into macro photography, then this camera is a great place to start. You can explore a new direction in photography without any investment in equipment or learning new techniques and see if it’s right for you.
Option #2: SLR Cameras
If you have a DSLR, the possibilities for macro photography increase exponentially.
You can use a lens you already own, add hardware to expand the capabilities of your lens, or you can buy lenses designed specifically for macro photography. They all work and they can all produce great images, so the choice depends on your budget, experience, and the image quality you need to get.
Here are some ideas on how to turn your DSLR into a macro machine.
Let’s start with the most affordable options.
Flip the lens you already have
If you have a 50mm prime lens, you have the basics of macro photography setup.
This is the reverse lens method: you take the 50mm lens off the camera and rotate it so that the front side of the lens, which would normally face the subject, is facing the camera.
If your hands are not shaking, then you can simply press the lens against the camera. If you can’t hold it straight, you can purchase a special adapter called a reversing ring that holds the lens upside down on the camera. Reversing rings are widely available where camera accessories are sold and cost less than a pizza.
This method is related to how a lens with a fixed focal length of 50 mm works. In standard photography, a 50mm lens focuses light from far away, making the image smaller so that it can be captured by a digital sensor. When you flip the lens, the opposite happens and the image is enlarged to nearly life size. This method works with fixed lenses of any size, but 50mm is considered by many to give the best results.
Use two lenses and flip one of them
If you have another lens in addition to the 50mm, you can put them together to create a powerful macro setup.
This method, known as “double reverse lens”, will work with any lens as the primary (attached to the camera behind the reversed 50mm). The longer the focal length of the main lens, the greater the magnification will be.
To use this method to its full potential, you need to purchase a connector ring and connect the two lenses together. It’s easiest if both lenses have the same size filter threads, but otherwise you can use a stepped ring to match them up.
To implement this technique, simply attach the main lens to the camera as usual, then flip the 50mm lens over and use the coupling ring (plus a stepped ring if needed) to attach it to the main lens.
The two lenses make this setup exceptionally powerful, but somewhat unwieldy, and it can be tricky to get a clear shot while holding the camera in your hand. Therefore, it will be better to use a tripod to stabilize the camera and a cable release to release the shutter.
Another way to adapt your DSLR for macro photography is to use extension rings that attach between the lens and the camera mount to increase the extension of your lens.
They don’t have optics, so their effect depends entirely on their ability to change the lens’s minimum focusing distance, or how close you can get to your subject and still be in focus. The wider the extension ring, the closer you can get to the subject and still focus, and the closer you get, the higher the magnification of the lens becomes.
Extension rings are often sold as sets of three rings in different sizes, and each ring can be used on its own or attached to one or more additional rings for more length.
Their cost varies from less than one and a half thousand rubles to more than 10 thousand rubles, depending on the type and brand. The cheapest type of extension tubes are simple adapters that do not provide an electrical connection between the lens and the camera body. More expensive extension rings have electrical contacts that keep the lens in contact with the camera, allowing you to adjust the aperture setting, exposure, etc.
Extension rings are best for short to medium focal length subjects. Since they can be used with any lens and combined to create different lengths and magnifications, they are very versatile accessories. The only major downside to extension rings is that they create some light loss, but setting your camera to auto exposure compensates for this.
Macro lenses are like loupes that are screwed onto your lens. They are usually sold in sets of four. These are simple and straightforward accessories that do just one thing: shorten the minimum focusing distance of your lens so you can capture sharp shots of close subjects.
And they work in the same way as a normal magnifying glass — using curved glass to change the light so that objects appear larger.
While lenses are affordable, they do have some limitations. They can only be used for objects that are very close to you, photos taken with attached lenses tend to be softer and less detailed. Lenses often create unwanted color problems such as “ringing” or chromatic aberration.
If you’re serious about macro photography, or plan on doing it a lot, lenses alone probably won’t be enough. But if you’re mostly just interested in random, detailed close-ups, then using lenses can be fun and often results in beautiful, compelling images.
If you want to shoot macro professionally, there is no real substitute for a macro lens. These highly specialized sophisticated lenses can focus from infinity to a magnification ratio of at least 1:1 at the maximum focus setting, meaning the image is reproduced on the sensor at full size.
The magnification ratio of macro lenses varies depending on the focal length of the lens, with some macro lenses reaching a magnification ratio of 5:1 or producing an image up to five times the size of the subject.
Most macro lenses have a fixed focal length. Because focal length determines how close you need to be to your subject, it’s important to choose the one that best suits your subjects and style.
The shorter focal length of 50mm or 60mm is suitable for subjects such as plants, flowers and inanimate objects that can be photographed at very close range.
However, objects such as insects or wild animals, which can be dangerous or easily startled, need to be photographed from a distance, so a large focal length of 100mm or more is critical.
Macro lenses are great for capturing very small objects at close range, but that’s not their only advantage. Macro lenses are actually very flexible and can be used in many areas of photography, from food photography to portraits.
Today’s macro lenses incorporate many advanced focusing technologies, vibration reduction and light control to deliver amazingly sharp, distortion-free images.
All these technologies are not cheap. Therefore, a macro lens is probably not the best choice for those who just want to experiment a little. But for those who are serious about capturing the finest details of the smallest subjects and producing the highest quality images, a macro lens is a great investment.
Optional macro accessories
Among the most valuable accessories for macro photography are a tripod and a remote shutter release. When shooting macro, it is very important to keep the camera in a stable position, so tools that exclude hand contact as much as possible will definitely come in handy on the farm.
Because macro photography typically uses a very narrow aperture, getting enough light can be a real challenge. One solution is to use a ring light, a simple, affordable and effective tool that goes right over your camera lens. The ring light is not as powerful as a standard flash, but it provides a soft, even light on the subject.