7 Different Ways to Approach Macro Photography

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Macro photography is one a genre that many people love. But the expense of buying a top lens to take close up photos can make it restrictive or impossible to do. However, there are many ways of approaching this kind of photography, and not all of them have to break the bank.

Here are seven different approaches to macro photography. We’ll start with what most people think of, and cover other ways to help you do macro photography when you don’t have a big budget to do what you love.

7 Different Ways to Approach Macro Photography - orange flower

105mm Macro lens with auto-focus. I have used the same flower for all the photos. They were taken as close to the flower as the lens would allow for focusing. A full frame camera was used to take the images, except for the last one.

#1 – Dedicated Macro Lens

Getting yourself a macro lens is one if the best ways of doing close-up photography. These lenses are specifically designed to allow you to focus very close to your subject. With most macro lenses, you can get as close as about four inches or 10 centimeters (compared to “regular” lenses which close focusing distance is usually around 12 inches or more). That is with autofocus on, but if you turn it off you will be able to focus even closer.

Manual focusing seems to be the preferred way of doing macro photography. If do some reading, you will find a lot of photographers prefer to use their macro lenses this way. It allows them to get even closer. This, then, might be where you ask the question, “Why should I bother buying a macro lens that has autofocus?”

Many of the top lenses manufacturers make options for macro photography. They are high-end, and the quality is as you would expect those brands to produce. However, they are also very expensive and you can expect to pay quite a bit for a dedicated macro lens.

Many other companies are now also making macro lenses. Some don’t have autofocus, but if you are happy using manual then they may be a better (or less expensive) alternative for you. They are often around half the price of the big brands, so if you can’t afford one of the top models, then this could be a much better fit for you.

7 Different Ways to Approach Macro Photography

Shot with a 105mm Macro lens using manual focus.

#2 – Zoom Lenses

When many people start doing macro photography they often start with a zoom lens and do their best to get as close as possible. Depending on the focal length of your lens you can get pretty close to your subject. You may not get tiny bugs on your flowers from the garden, but you will get whole flowers.

There are some zoom lenses that also have a macro ability which makes it easier for you to get great photos and it allows you to focus in closer. Often zoom lenses will only focus if you are a few feet away from your subject. If you have one with the ability to get closer, then you will be able to get fairly good “almost macro” images.

7 Different Ways to Approach Macro Photography

Image taken with a zoom lens and the focal length was 300mm.

#3 – Lensbaby Velvet 56

The Velvet 56 by Lensbaby is a special lens that can be used for taking normal photos, but what a lot of people use it for is macro photography. It looks like a normal prime lens, but it has a very short depth of field, which makes it ideal for macro photography. You can change the aperture to give you very little in focus or a lot.

A lot of macro photographers who start using the Velvet 56 fall in love with it and find it difficult to use other lenses again.

7 Different Ways to Approach Macro Photography

This image was taken with the Lensbaby Velvet 56.

#4 – Lensbaby Composer Pro and Optics

This is a unique system where the first part, the Lensbaby Composer Pro, fits onto your camera like a lens. It is made up of two parts which are connected by a ball-like socket so you can move the outer part around to put your focus point and plane where you want. Into this, you put an optic that will give you the desired effect you want. There are many different types of optics, however, the Sweet 35 and Sweet 50 are the most popular ones for macro photography.

The Composure Pro and optics gives you a lot of opportunities to get some interesting and different effects. You can change the point of focus to anywhere you want in the image. You can also decide what depth of field you want to get. Macro images that are very different to what you can achieve with other types of macro lenses are possible with this system.

Read my overview of the Lensbaby system here: Overview of the Lensbaby System – Is it for you?

7 Different Ways to Approach Macro Photography

This image was achieved by using the Lensbaby Composer Pro with a Sweet 50 optic.

#5 – Extension Tubes

You can also get extension tubes that will fit in between your camera and your lens. These will make your lenses get closer to your subjects (and shift the focusing distance). Your 50mm lens with extension tubes, and you can start taking photos that are very close to those from a macro lens. It should be noted that there are differences though, and a dedicated lens for close ups is easier to use.

Extension tubes are usually bought in a group of three, you get a 12mm, 20mm and a 36mm. You can use them individually, or combine together. You can get one that will not allow the lens to communicate with your camera, they are usually much cheaper. So look for what they call automatic rings, with Autofocus. I use Kenko Automatic Extension Tubes.

You have to be careful with the rings as they are not very heavy and if you put a big hefty lens on your camera and don’t give it enough support, then you risk damaging the connection between the lens and camera.

7 Different ways of approaching macro photography

Shot with a 50mm lens on its own.

7 Different Ways to Approach Macro Photography

Shot with a 50mm lens and a 36mm extension tube.

#6 – Close-Up Filters

There are many filters available for your lenses and you can also get ones that help you get really close to subjects. They are called close-up filters and are like magnifying glasses. You are quite limited in what you can do with them, and they can be hard to use.

When you go looking for close-up filters you will find different levels of magnification. It would be tempting to get lots of them, but you really only need a couple. The one I have is a +5 from B+W.

I also use the close-up filters on my macro lens as it allows me to get even closer to the flowers I’m trying to photograph. Sometimes you have to use everything you have to get as close as possible.

7 Different Ways to Approach Macro Photography

105mm macro lens with a +5 close-up filter.

#7 – Phone

Most cell or mobile phones have quite good cameras now and you can get some really good images with them, including macro photography. You can find the option for macro photos in your settings. Though my Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge doesn’t have a specific macro one, there are some that will help you get better photos.

With the phone, you can get just as close to your subject as you can with most macro lenses. That makes it great, however, it can be much harder to get a good image. It is very hard to hold the phone steady enough to get good photos. It takes a lot of practice to get good images.

Many companies now produce lenses that you can use with your phone including a macro lens which can be a great way for doing this kind of photography.

7 Different Ways to Approach Macro Photography

This macro image was taken with the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge Phone.

In the end

There are so many different approaches, and while seven have been mentioned here, there may be a lot more. Whichever way you choose to go, you have to find the method fits within with your budget and the amount of time you want to spend photographing subjects at a macro level.

What do you use to do macro photography? Do you have a different approach you can share with us?

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Leanne Cole is a fine art photographer based in Melbourne, Australia. She loves Melbourne and photographing it, along with other parts of the state. She likes doing architectural and environmental photography. You can find her on her website or on Instagram.

  • Tex-S

    These are all great options, but reversing a lens such as a 50mm, 35mm, or 28mm can also yield a dramatic magnification. The focus has to be made by physically moving your camera forward or back, but the reverse adapters can be found for five bucks on ebay. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9d7fba4ab6cbd808f345079fd4ad324cc95187182168154e97abade0271629d4.jpg

  • BRIAN THOMAS

    All very good until you call close-up lenses, filters. Think about it, a filter stops something. Time and time again they get misnamed and then repeated in things like this. People new to the hobby will never get things right if they are learning wrong terminology.

  • I have heard of that technique, though not something i have ever tried, so thank you for telling us about it, I’m sure others would like this as well.

  • I looked it up and that is what all the companies call them, filters, they go on the end of your lens. I think calling them lenses would be incorrect, beginners might think that is all they need. Perhaps this time you have the wrong name.

  • John Colborne

    No! Sorry Leanne I have to agree with Brian. They are close up lenses and have been so for decades.
    I have a set of two from Kodak no less +10 and +7 and the printed manual says “Close up Lenses. They allow the camera to be placed closer to the subject. The diopter determining the distance from the front of the close up lens to the subject.

    In my view a far superior system on two counts. The close up lens is effectively a magnifying glass and and is generally further from the subject than a “pure” macro lens, thus it allows far more light on the subject.
    Secondly, if used in conjunction with a zoom lens, the zoom function of the main lens is retained with greater flexibility for framing and/or greater magnification.

  • John Colborne

    I should have added. A lens by definition bends and focuses light whether on a camera, glasses, telescope, microscope etc.
    A filter generally restricts the passage of light whether it be a frequency (red, blue, plorizing etc) or the quantity eg. Neutral density filter.

    So my apologies but as said previously I am in whole hearted agreement with Brian.

  • it seems that they can be called either, and I’m not going to get into an argument over what they should or shouldn’t be called, I have always called them that, and that is what they are to me.

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