This article is written with beginners in mind. Everything written here is written from experience and may not be standard practice for some photographers. I hope you will find this informative and useful. If you have any questions you can find me on Twitter or Facebook, and the links to these will be at the end of the article. Alternatively you may leave a comment below.
1. You don’t need fancy macro equipment.
A lot of people believe that in order to begin with macro photography, you need expensive macro lenses and big cameras – this is wrong. These days there are all sorts of equipment available that can help you zoom right into your subject without the need to splash out.
Without a doubt, the cheapest method of beginning macro photography is the ‘reverse lens technique’. This technique is exactly what it says in the title – you take your lens away from the camera, reverse it, and then use the camera mounted end to shoot. It is a tricky technique that takes practice but the results can be wonderful. The drawbacks to this can be that your camera elements will be exposed to dust or water, and this can be expensive to repair.
A second technique would be to purchase extension tubes which fit onto your camera and then your lens would sit on the tubes. These are very cheap and reduce the need to leave your camera exposed to the elements. Thirdly, compact cameras or camera phones now have the ability to take macro shots. All you have to do is select the correct setting and shoot away.
2. Plenty of light is a must.
This is a given for any sort of photography, but especially for macro. As you are working at very close quarters with your subject, you might want to be able to keep your shutter speeds above 1/500th of a second to avoid camera shake. Ideally you need plenty of sunshine, but if the weather fails, you can use a simple household torch (just tinker with your camera’s settings for correct white balance settings or you can wait until post-processing) or if you’re really serious about macro photography you can invest in a macro ring flash. This device fits around your lens and can be tinkered with to create lighting to aid with your photography.
3. A tripod is not essential.
This is probably controversial thing to say but I do believe that an amateur macro photographer can go without a tripod a few times in the beginning stages. It all depends on the conditions that you are in but most of the time you can improvise. I have been known to use my shoe as a prop for low down photography (see photo below). At this early stage you are concentrating on composition and exposure – the rest will come to you naturally.
4. A unique perspective helps.
Clichés are inevitable. You’ll see something that someone else has done, (see: the love heart shadow made from positioning a ring in a book) and you’ll want to try it yourself. Before you resort to the cliché, remember that you want to become is a fantastic photographer. You’re going to need to bring to the table a unique way of looking at things and a good way to do that is to photograph things on your own terms right from the beginning. Don’t copy someone else’s idea however easy it may be. Be yourself.
5. You won’t get a perfect shot on your first go.
Macro photography is a carefully honed skill that takes months – even years – to fully perfect. You’re going to find that as you go along, you’re going to take photos that are blurred, underexposed and badly composed. But before you go and delete these ‘mistakes’, learn from them. What did you do wrong? Can you think of anything you can do to better these shots? If you can, upload the shots to your laptop, look through them, take notes and then go back to the object and re-photograph it until you get something you are happy with. Only you know what you like and only you know how to achieve this.
6. Your house and/or garden are places for practice.
You can take close-up shots anywhere you like but a good idea would be to start where you know best, your house or garden. You know everything here and you can pick objects out that you think would look great close-up. Windowsills (for those unfamiliar with the term, these are the ledges beneath your windows in your house) offer great places to set up your items and will also provide natural light (during the day time of course) that will aid your practice. That money in your pocket? Photograph it. Your toothbrush? Photograph it. Curiosity is a wonderful thing and you should use it to your advantage.
7. Post processing will correct some mistakes.
All you really need is a program capable of doing basic adjustments, cropping and sharpening and you’re away. You can find some programs online free of charge if you search enough. You may need to sharpen your images a little to help the details of the object shine through. Cropping may also be handy if you haven’t managed to get close enough to fill the whole frame. Adjustments will probably need to be made such as brightening but this is up to you and how you want your image to look.
8. You don’t need to stick with shallow depth of field.
You may find that when you are photographing at such close-up quarters that the depth of field will become more shallow as you go along. For more advanced photographers, there is a way to ‘stack’ your images so that you can have the entire object in focus. There are various programs and tutorials scattered all over the internet which can guide you through this process. This technique involves taking multiple exposures with different parts of the item in focus and then when in post-processing, you can use said programs to help you ‘stack’ them together to create an image. It sounds complicated but the results are very rewarding.
9. Macro photography alone might not get you a career.
Unless you’re thinking of becoming a scientific or forensic photographer, macro will more than likely become a something you will use amongst other skills. For example at a wedding, you will be primarily shooting portraits, but you may possibly want to shoot the finer details like a pattern on the brides dress, or the flowers in her bouquet – this is where your macro skills will come into play. If you are a wildlife photographer, you may find that you can use macro to capture a close-up of a bird or an insect, but overall I find that macro is something that can’t be relied on as a single practice. Most macro photographers dabble in other forms of photography too.
10. Macro photography changes your view of the world.
As you go along, you will start to look at things differently. You’ll find that you will be thinking about a certain object and what it might be like up-close. You’ll definitely find that you will become more interested in the finer details in life. Macro photography is a beautiful area of photography that becomes a sort of adventure to those who pursue it. Your attitude to the things around you will change and this is not necessarily a bad thing.
Enjoy your journey!