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Macro Photography: What Do You Need to Get Started?

Macro photography is defined as extreme close-up photography. This type of photography is truly interesting and exciting. It can create some stunning and wondrous end-results. It can even show you things you cannot see with the naked eye.

Imagine using your macro lens and being able to see the individual hairs on a bee’s legs. Or imagine looking through the viewfinder and seeing tiny metal fibres on a piece of corrugated paneling. The possibilities are endless!

Macro Photography: What Do You Need to Get Started?

Whilst macro photography can be highly rewarding, it also requires a specific setup and skillset. It is possible to take macro photos with a standard DSLR lens – the results could be varied, however. If you want to pursue this type of photography and create the highest quality photos, you must invest in specialist equipment.

Moreover, you must understand the basic process involved. In the paragraphs below, we have imparted our knowledge to bring you a step by step guide to macro photography – enjoy!

5 Steps to Setting up Your First Macro Shot

If you want to take high-end macro shots, this step by step guide will help. We look at suitable equipment, composition techniques, and even post-processing.

1. Gather and set up your equipment

As we mentioned, macro photography requires specialist equipment. The list below contains standard equipment that you should consider purchasing for your macro photography setup:

These are the standard items – you could also benefit from a clip-on light fixture too, like these. The macro lens is the most important piece of kit. You must have a lens capable of shooting in high detail such as the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8. A tripod is essential for stability – it is difficult to shoot clear and in-focus macro shots by hand. A shutter release kit will allow you to refrain from pressing the camera shutter – this can dislodge the camera and cause motion blur. A reversing ring and extension tubes are also required if you wish to extend the functionality of one of your existing lenses.

2. Choose your subject

This step largely depends upon your personal taste. You must, however, have a clear idea of your subject so that you can prepare your camera setup before taking any shots. There are many different objects and wildlife that are suitable for macro photography.

How to Photograph Snowdrops by Casey-Drew.

You have to have a different eye when choosing – don’t look at the subject as a whole; consider the small detail and how you would benefit from shooting this object with a macro lens. We’ve listed a few suitable macro photography subjects below:

Macro Photography: What Do You Need to Get Started?

Macro Photography: What Do You Need to Get Started?

Macro Photography: What Do You Need to Get Started?

Macro Photography: What Do You Need to Get Started?

These are just a few ideas. You could literally spend hours on any one of these subjects. Whatever you choose, ensure the object is stationary and easy to access (This can sometimes be difficult for insects and animals!).

3. Setup your Camera

Macro photography requires specific camera settings. If you try and take a shot with your camera in automatic mode, the end results will vary greatly. The main setting you must consider is exposure. Generally, when taking macro photos, your exposure is influenced by the aperture, ISO and shutter speed. Consider using manual mode when shooting macro, to give you a full level of control. You can then adjust your exposure if needed if the photo is appearing too dark or washed out.

Macro photos usually have a shallow depth of field, therefore an aperture of between f/5.6 and f/11 is desirable. This will mean that all the detail of your subject will be in focus. If you only want to concentrate on a certain area, you could increase the aperture to f/2.8 for example.

Macro Photography: What Do You Need to Get Started?

As a rule of thumb, you should try and keep your ISO as low as possible – 100 is perfect. This may not always be possible though depending on other factors. A low ISO will help reduce grain and background noise.

Finally, we have shutter speed. A fast shutter speed will provide a crisp image with no motion blur. When shooting macro photos of insects and animals, this is essential. It is not as important when shooting inanimate objects such as product photography.

4. Create your composition

One of the main compositional tips is to utilise the rule of thirds. Don’t shoot your subject centrally – this is considered bad form. You should aim to capture the subject within one of a third of a frame. Imagine you have a 3×3 grid – your subject should be placed over the lines intersecting that grid i.e. the top left, top right, bottom left, or bottom right thirds.

Macro Photography: What Do You Need to Get Started?

Another useful compositional tip is to use diagonal lines. It is generally believed that parallel lines are unappealing and boring. Diagonal lines can provide extra intrigue and a fantastic end effect. For example, you could take a shot of a butterfly standing on a set of diagonally positioned leaves.

Finally, another important composition tip to remember is about the lead room. This applies specifically to wildlife macro photography. When shooting wildlife, you must leave additional room in the direction that the subject is looking. For example, let’s say you are shooting a fly. The fly is looking towards the left. To balance the photo, you should position the fly slightly to the right, to leave extra room on the left-hand side – the way it is looking.

5. Edit in post-processing software

The hard work is not quite complete yet! Hopefully, you have taken a superb close-up shot of your desired subject. You should have taken this photo in RAW file mode. Camera RAW files are uncompressed and displayed in their original format. This differs from JPEG files as they have elements of post-processing applied within the camera.

As RAW files are displayed in their original format, they may appear somewhat “flat” and lacking in colour. This is where post-processing is necessary.

Macro Photography: What Do You Need to Get Started?

It is essential that you use a program that is capable of processing Raw files. Other features are pretty similar for all professional photo editors – you can edit basic image parameters such as colour saturation, white balance, contrast, and clarity. Moreover, you can edit the highlights and shadows to create a more balanced photo.

Aside from basic parameters, you can also add a vignette, remove chromatic aberration, and any unwanted background noise. In short, you can turn your macro photo into a masterpiece. There are many photo editors, free and paid, you can choose from.

And that’s it!

Hopefully, you have found this guide illuminating and instructive. Macro photography really is a fantastic hobby to get into. You should now have a clear idea of the equipment required to take high-quality macro shots. Furthermore, you should understand the process – from initial setup, through to post-processing. If you have any magnificent macro shots, why not share them with us?

Enjoy this post? Then you’ll love Women in Photography: An interview with Victoria Hillman, a 37 year old wildlife researcher and macro photographer from Frome, Somerset.

About the author

Check out much more of Max’s amazing work at his website and Instagram page!

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