Macro pho­tog­ra­phy is a spe­cial­ized genre that is very pop­u­lar. Even though it’s just “close-up pho­tog­ra­phy” for most peo­ple, a lot of terms and tools are emerg­ing in the field of macro pho­tog­ra­phy. Let’s take a look at a few basic

1. Macro

Let’s start with the most obvi­ous: macro pho­tog­ra­phy is broad­ly defined as close-up pho­tog­ra­phy tak­en at life size or larg­er. We will talk about this in more detail in the next para­graph.

There are many half life-size (1:2) “macro” lens­es on the mar­ket, and in every­day life we ​​con­tin­ue to call them “macro lens­es”, but to be pre­cise, in order to do true macro pho­tog­ra­phy, you need to shoot at a repro­duc­tion ratio of 1: 1, that is, in real size.

2. Reproduction ratio

In sim­ple terms, repro­duc­tion ratio is how the actu­al size of an object is relat­ed to the size of the object in the pho­to.

Imag­ine that you are pho­tograph­ing an object exact­ly one cen­time­ter long: if this object appears on the cam­era as an object one cen­time­ter long, then your repro­duc­tion ratio is 1:1 (the object is cap­tured at life size).

If an object four cen­time­ters long occu­pies one cen­time­ter on your matrix, then in this case the repro­duc­tion ratio is 1:4 (a quar­ter of the nat­ur­al size). Sim­i­lar­ly, if you are pho­tograph­ing a 1mm long object that takes up 4mm on your sen­sor, then you get a repro­duc­tion ratio of 4:1 (4 times life size).

Repro­duc­tion ratios can also be expressed as mag­ni­fi­ca­tion, where 1:1 cor­re­sponds to 1.0x, 1:4 cor­re­sponds to 0.25x, and 4:1 cor­re­sponds to 4.0x.

3. Working distance

Work­ing dis­tance is impor­tant in macro pho­tog­ra­phy because it takes into account the phys­i­cal length of the lens being used.

While the focal length is mea­sured from the sensor/film plane to the sub­ject, the work­ing dis­tance is mea­sured from the front of the lens to the sub­ject. This is impor­tant for a macro pho­tog­ra­ph­er to know because many liv­ing macro sub­jects, be they insects or birds, will run, fly, or crawl away if you get too close.

For exam­ple, a 1:1 repro­duc­tion ratio Nikon 200mm f/4 macro lens has a min­i­mum work­ing dis­tance of approx­i­mate­ly 29.5cm; its 60mm f/2.8 macro lens, which also has a 1:1 repro­duc­tion ratio, has a min­i­mum work­ing dis­tance of just 9.65cm. This means that with a 200mm lens, you can be about 20.3cm fur­ther from the sub­ject, than with a 60mm lens, while main­tain­ing a repro­duc­tion ratio of 1:1.

4. Depth of field

Depth of field is also impor­tant for macro pho­tog­ra­phy. Sub­ject dis­tance and focal length are key fac­tors in how depth of field is dis­played, and in macro pho­tog­ra­phy you will almost always be work­ing at the min­i­mum focal length and min­i­mum work­ing dis­tance.

Such a shal­low depth of field can often be a plus, as it allows you to sep­a­rate the sub­ject from the back­ground. Often, macro pho­tog­ra­phers work at f/22 or f/32 to achieve suf­fi­cient depth of field, and also use the fol­low­ing tech­nique.

5. Overlay focus

Focus stack­ing is a rel­a­tive­ly new tech­nique for increas­ing depth of field. Although it can be applied to any genre of pho­tog­ra­phy, it is best suit­ed for macro pho­tog­ra­phy.

This process uses mul­ti­ple expo­sures of the same scene, chang­ing the plane of focus from frame to frame. These frames are then com­bined (usu­al­ly in post-pro­cess­ing) into a sin­gle frame to achieve greater depth of field than would be pos­si­ble with a sin­gle frame.

Anoth­er ben­e­fit of focus stack­ing is that you can work at a medi­um aper­ture such as f/8 where lens per­for­mance is usu­al­ly bet­ter com­pared to f/22 where dif­frac­tion can reduce sharp­ness.

The down­side to this tech­nique is that you need to work on a tri­pod and the sub­ject does­n’t have to move.

6. Flat field lens

Macro lens­es often have a spe­cial opti­cal design to reduce field cur­va­ture, which is why they are called flat field lens­es.

By cor­rect­ing for the cur­va­ture of the field, macro lens­es have a flat­ter plane of focus to be bet­ter suit­ed for pho­tograph­ing flat objects/planes. This is also handy for depth of field, as the plane of focus will be flat from edge to edge, help­ing you make fin­er adjust­ments.

7. Macro Lens/Diopter

One of the eas­i­est spe­cial­ized macro tools to use is the macro lens, or diopter. It’s like a fil­ter that you screw onto the front of your lens.

How­ev­er, unlike a fil­ter, a macro lens has a semi-con­vex ele­ment that helps reduce the min­i­mum focus­ing dis­tance of any lens. These lens­es usu­al­ly come in sets with dif­fer­ent diopter pow­ers, allow­ing you to com­bine dif­fer­ent lens­es to achieve vary­ing degrees of close focus.

Macro Lens Hoya 77mm HMC Close-Up Fil­ter Set II

8. Reversing ring

Revers­ing rings are a unique solu­tion for achiev­ing close focus with any lens.

The idea behind these sim­ple tools is to attach the lens to the cam­era with the reverse side, so that the rear ele­ment of the lens is fac­ing out­ward and the front ele­ment is fac­ing the sen­sor.

The revers­ing ring attach­es to the lens with a fil­ter thread (so an adapter ring may be required). It also has a bay­o­net mount for attach­ing to a spe­cif­ic type of cam­era.

This method works best with lens­es that have a man­u­al aper­ture ring and man­u­al focus, how­ev­er there are sev­er­al auto­mat­ic revers­ing rings avail­able to work with more mod­ern AF lens­es.

In addi­tion, for an even more dra­mat­ic effect, cou­pling rings can be used in com­bi­na­tion with two lens­es, where you flip one lens in front of the oth­er lens to fur­ther zoom in and out.

Foto­di­oX macro adapter ring with reverse mount

9. Fur and extension rings

Oth­er tools to help you achieve short­er focal lengths with any lens are bel­lows and exten­sion rings. They are just as sim­ple as the pre­vi­ous two meth­ods, but gen­er­al­ly give bet­ter results (from an opti­cal point of view) because you don’t add extra optics to your shoot­ing set­up.

Both of these tools work on the same prin­ci­ple of increas­ing the work­ing dis­tance between the lens and the image sen­sor in order to reduce the avail­able focal length.

Exten­sion rings are the eas­i­er method. Like macro lens­es, exten­sion rings usu­al­ly come in sets. You can use rings indi­vid­u­al­ly or in com­bi­na­tion with each oth­er.

Kenko Auto Exten­sion Tube Set DG

On the oth­er hand, the bel­lows is a flex­i­ble and more pre­cise tool for adjust­ing the dis­tance. While exten­sion rings are avail­able in 10mm, 20mm and 30mm lengths, the bel­lows can range from, say, 30mm to 200mm.

Focus­ing bel­lows Novoflex BALPRO 1 for Leica

10. Ring Flash / Ring Light

The last cou­ple of tools we’ll look at are ring flash­es and lamps.

These tools are used in a wide vari­ety of gen­res these days, but these ring-shaped lights are the per­fect way to illu­mi­nate sub­jects in close-up shots.

Since you are often very close to the sub­ject when shoot­ing macro, you also often block the abil­i­ty to use exter­nal light sources to illu­mi­nate the sub­ject. Ring flashes/lamps solve this prob­lem by attach­ing direct­ly to the front of the lens to pro­vide even and unob­struct­ed light on close sub­jects.

These are fair­ly sim­ple tools, and the main choice comes down to whether you pre­fer a high­er flash out­put, or whether the tool is an all-rounder, that is, whether it is suit­able for both stills and video.

Canon MR-14EX II Macro Ring Lite