Macro Photography for Beginners - Part 2

Macro Photography for Beginners – Part 2


Today we continue to look at some tips for beginners wanting to explore the world of Macro Photography. Check out part 1 of this article at Macro Photography for Beginners Part 1.

In macro photography you should aim to capture a sharp image of your tiny subject with all — or nearly all — of the subject in sharp focus. Using a macro lens on a DSLR is the optimum way to travel.

Image by ecstaticist

Image by ecstaticist

There is one more thing to be taken into account: you must keep the subject still and the camera must be locked off.

For macro shots you need a steady camera and subject, a small lens aperture and a slow shutter speed. Then you need more light to cope with the slower shutter speed.

Keep Your Distance

In macro shooting the optimum camera-to-subject distance is a long one. Place the camera too close to the subject and there’s a good chance you’ll throw a camera shadow onto it; at too close a distance you may distort the subject.

Using the macro mode on a compact or DSLR and wanting to capture a very, very close detail of your subject, it’s most likely you’ll move the lens to the widest angle/shortest focal length setting. This also presents the possibility of optical distortion.

Macro lenses for DSLRs are best chosen in the longer focal lengths: many lens makers market a 100mm macro — ideal for the task.

Canon and others make stabilised macro lenses. The idea is sound in principle: if you have to handhold the camera/lens combo while you snare close shots of a bug, a stabilised lens would seem to be the answer to the need for a steady camera.

The truth is that there are too many variables in the equation: moving camera, moving focus, moving subject. And then you have to frame the shot properly.

The best approach is to keep the camera steady.

image by macropoulos

image by macropoulos

Chosen Few

There are some cameras that offer lens/shutter speed adjustment in macro mode.

The Canon PowerShot S5 IS has a long 12x optical zoom lens along with 8.0 million pixels of image capture.

And it has a terrific macro mode: unlike most others digicams this camera’s macro button is a separate control placed on the lens barrel and not on the mode dial. With this arrangement you can select shutter or aperture priority and macro simultaneously.

Now you can reduce the lens aperture to a minimum setting and attain the optimum depth of field when the camera is close to the subject.

Another macro-friendly model is the Canon PowerShot SX100IS. It is unusually well set up for macro shooting: with the SX100IS you can engage macro mode along with aperture priority, allowing selection of a small aperture for depth. This camera has a 10x zoom and 8.0 megapixels of image capture.

Another contender in the maxi macro stakes is the Olympus’ SP-5500UZ. There are others that have the same benefit. Aside from an extraordinary 18x optical zoom lens it has 7.1 megapixels on its CCD. When selecting macro the camera still allows you to use the zoom, so you can back off and yet still take big closeups.

In a slightly different fashion, the Ricoh Caplio R6 helps you light subjects in macro mode, an often difficult chore with the camera positioned so close to the subject. The Ricoh’s Auto Soft Flash function dampens the output of the camera’s flash. This avoids ‘washing out’ the subject at close range.

image by macropoulos

image by macropoulos


When shooting macro with a digicam always use the LCD screen for viewing — never use the optical viewfinder. Use the optical finder and you will encounter parallax error … what you see in the finder is not what the camera will photograph.


Digital compact camera optics are a compromise between size and price. With budget cameras you will probably encounter spherical distortion: shots taken at the wide end (even in macro!) of the zoom will barrel out at the edges; shots taken with the zoom set to tele may show distortion which forces the picture edges to bow inwards, like a pincushion.

Try shooting a square subject — like a stamp — and you’ll see what I mean. The solution is to use the Spherize filter in Photoshop to straighten the barrel distortion on the affected image.

Depth of Field

This is possibly the core factor in successful macro shooting. When you focus, the depth of field includes the plane you focus on plus an area in front of and behind that plane. Half of the sharpest area will be in front of the plane and half will be behind it.

Depth of field varies with the lens aperture, focal length and the camera-to-subject distance. Competent use of it will give you a subject in pin-sharp focus with the background in soft focus: a soft focus background isolates a subject, making it stand out sharply.

image by jerryhsu2k

image by jerryhsu2k

No Confusion

Take care to position your macro subject against an appropriate background: no confusing fuzz, no bright spots; dark backgrounds for light subjects and vice versa.


You’ve probably set up the camera only centimetres from the subject. Flash is useless at a close working distance — it would overexpose the shot. If you’re working in filtered daylight (my ideal) you can help by scattering small reflectors around the subject. But in most cases you’ll have to live with the existing ambient light level.

Arguably the optimum light for macro work is to set up a scrim of translucent material (like rice paper) over the subject. In this fashion you can shoot in bright sunlight, with the subject illuminated by soft light.

Light Loss

If you’re working with a DSLR you might like to use extension tubes or close up bellows to shoot macro. If you do, you will encounter one problem: the further the lens is extended from the image sensor the more you will encounter light loss, requiring the camera to use a larger lens aperture.


In macro photography it is advantageous to have full charge over focusing — especially when you want to have control over that part of the subject you want in focus. If your camera allows manual focusing, use it and manually focus on the part of our subject that is the main point of interest.

Image by Matthew Fang

Image by Matthew Fang

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Barrie Smith is an experienced writer/photographer currently published in Australian Macworld, Auscam and other magazines in Australia and overseas.

Some Older Comments

  • Barrie Smith March 2, 2013 10:28 am

    Adequate for a beginner in macro but eventually you will find it is lacking: definition down etc.

  • Sara March 2, 2013 07:37 am

    I have a Canon SX 220 HS, is it good enough for good quality macro photography??

  • Maninder Singh December 9, 2012 07:39 pm

    I have dabbled in macro for long.
    Started with Sony H5 and then H7.
    Changed over to D90 with Sigma 150mm non OS.
    Results were good but the non OS became a bottleneck.
    Bought a Nikon 105mm F2.8 VR macro recently. The quality with remote SB700 + diffuser is a quantum jump for me in the quality of macro photography.
    Couldn't afford the R1C1 Close Up set and what I have is my final and ultimate macro setup for me.
    Adequate for an amateur.

    My other lenses are
    Nikon 18-105 kit lens which I decided to keep after playing with the idea of changing to 18-200.
    Nikon 70-300 VR
    Sigma 150-500
    and Nikon 50/1.8D with "frosted"filter for portraits.
    I'm loving my photography part time now "full time" after I retire in about an year's time
    I use the grip with the larger lenses only. It makes handling with the macro a little inconvenient.

  • Ronald J. Stein February 25, 2012 02:58 pm

    How do you get your bugs to stay still??? All the articles I have read never will tell you now to make the bugs stay still. I had a photo of a jumping spider once and he had gotten wet while I washed my car- I was accused of trying to drown the little fellow!! No writer Ihav ever read will tell this trick??? so how do I do it????
    Thanks- Great column!

  • ajay February 25, 2012 09:09 am

    I loved your macro work (the pics in the article). However, are those 1:1 images. Will i be able to take similar pics with any 1:1 macro lens (for ex- Nikon 105mm micro lens)?

  • Ronald J. Stein December 5, 2011 06:10 pm

    The longer the mm the longer the distance between subject and camera lens front. Most that I know use the 100mm Macro. 50 mm makes you get really close and then you get shadows on the subject. The set of Tubes are an extra cost and come in generally 3 sizes in the set. 12mm thru 25mm. Make sure you get a good brand like Kenco. Your electronics will pass thru to the lens!! Make sure you get the correct model for your lens system as the older ones will not work on the newer lenses for the smaller sensors. I belong to a large camera club (800 members) and we have found... Canon for Canon Cameras- Nikon for Nikon cameras. The off brands are not quite as sharp(many will disagree with me) but you get what you pay for. Again.. you get what you pay for!!!!!!!!! If you have a 50mm (and it is a Macro!) you can try using an extension tube and see what you get. Pretty darn close working range tho!! Go to U tube ans look for movies on the subject or even Google- Macro shooting... read what you can.
    The 7D(which I have) and the 30 D are the smaller sensor cameras- just be careful which tube set you purchase- the inner shields may hit the lens if you get the older models..

  • Wiliam K December 5, 2011 05:50 pm

    Can you please tell me which of the three lenses 180mm, 100mm and the 50mmwould you recommend me to buy. (I would assume 180mm) Is the tube kind like an extension between the lens and the camera. Could I get buy with the 50mm and the tube. What brand and model tube. I also hear about sigma lenses being as good as canon but cheaper.

  • Ronald J. Stein December 5, 2011 03:46 pm

    I'm not sure you can magnify "many times over". Most close up shots are done using 3 different lenses, 180mm 100mm and the 50mm macros ..The main difference in these 3 lenses is "how close " you have to be to take the shot. The additional + lenses you can add in front of a lens, are a cheaper way out however, do not give the best results. Any time you add glass with power to a lens, it loses contrast in the final file. Same happens adding a 1.4 tele converter to a lens. Extension Tubes which extend the lens away from the camera body, give better results however-(nothing is free) you need more light to compensate for adding more distance- hence a ring flash or some type of light setup is needed. In his article above which was written before image stabilized lenses were around, you would turn off the stabilization if the camera is mounted on a tripod. The largest problem I have found is getting the bug to stay still- They don't listen to me when I'm trying to photograph them!! Good luck-

  • Wiliam K December 4, 2011 04:29 pm

    I have been taking pictures with DSLR for the last four years. First with a canon 30D and more recently with a canon 7D. I want to take close shots of insects, water, etc. I want to know if what I got (as far lenses go) can be used with additional kits or what should I buy to get good macro.
    I have a few lenses
    Sigma 10-20mm AF
    Canon EFS 18-200mm
    Canon EF 100-400mm
    a kit with four close-up lens +1, +2, +4, +8
    I want some that will magnify it many times over. I will be very appreciative of any suggestion or comment that will help me to choose a good lens. I have been reading about CANON EF 180mm f/3.5 L Macro USM Lens but I don't know if it will do.

  • steinr98 March 15, 2010 10:26 pm

    Gwielo is correct in stating you will need more light- in older submissions people kept saying "You need more light to cope with a SLOWER shutter speed-" No, you need more light to cope with a high f/stop, and you need a fairly fast shutter so you don't get blur- even on a tripod. If you are doing a fairly close shot, your on camera flash or even a flash in the hot shoe is too high for the lens and you will get a shadow. Therefore, you will need a ring light or lights off to each side to get the proper lighting. The hardest part is to get close up of live bugs... They don't sit still..... I just purchased a inexpensive ring light for $90- works good. It is a complete unit not one that uses you old hot shoe flash.SFD 140 by Bower- I think it was from Amazon.

  • gweilo March 14, 2010 07:08 pm

    "For macro shots you need a steady camera and subject, a small lens aperture and a slow shutter speed. Then you need more light to cope with the slower shutter speed."

    Well, actually, you would want fast shutter speed, but since a larger DOF is more important, and you cannot hold the camera by hand anyways, the shutter speed will have to go up. At f2.8 and 1:1 ratio, you will have an impossibly shallow Depth of Field. Consequence is to increase aperture, to for example f22. With less light coming in due to the smaller aperture, the exposure time has to go up (you usually don't want to increase ISO too much).

    At some point you have to chose between blur from movement and shallow depth of field. The only thing you can do is increase lighting.

  • Sarina February 28, 2010 07:51 am

    "For macro shots you need a steady camera and subject, a small lens aperture and a slow shutter speed. Then you need more light to cope with the slower shutter speed."

    Thank you for that.
    That simple statement has answered so many questions for me that I'm inspired to go out and start playing with my camera now!

  • Dave June 13, 2009 01:14 am

    Excellent piece. What are the pros and cons of a genuine macro lens versus a set of ext tubes?

  • mags May 13, 2009 03:13 am

    HELP !!! how to set up macro extension tube for sp570uz ?? planing to buy extension tube but i dont know how to set up :(

  • sabbir May 9, 2009 11:30 am

    @lisa, can you give me your contact info(email) so that I can discuss more ?

  • Lisa May 4, 2009 03:03 am

    Can anyone help? I have a Sony a200 with a 75-300mm macro lens. I absolutely love playing in macro, but I can not figure out how to use this lens. I have tried auto and manual focus. Nothing brings the subject into focus. I have tried various distances from subject with no luck. What am I doing wrong? How do i get this lens to focus in macro?

  • Ryan Culp March 31, 2009 12:05 am

    I just wanted to clear something up, i was told that if by taking someones picture it would also take the persons soul, i was told this by my grandmother, but it doesnt matter right, cause shes already dead right.

  • Praveen March 30, 2009 05:57 pm

    Interesting article, i am not very sure how to take marco of subjects which have little movment, usually insects or flowers do move..

    below is one of my trails :

  • Alfred March 29, 2009 07:36 am

    I did get a giggle out of this post.
    Yesterday I bought some extension tubes and took a picture of the exact same flower that you have on your post. Then I open up this post this morning and I thought one of my own pictures was staring me in the face :)

  • Ronald Stein March 29, 2009 04:51 am

    How do you keep the subject from moving unless you kill the bug ??? It is almost impossible to keep the bug in the view finder outdoors....
    Thanks- good article!!

  • Tiffany March 28, 2009 02:06 am

    I have both a P&S camera and a DSLR that I just bought. I still use my P&S for close-ups because right now I can't afford a dedicated macro lens.
    I have a Samsung P&S which I can control the aperture and shutter speed when I shoot macro but I have it in manual and press the macro button. i don't turn the dial to macro, i'll have to try it and see if I can still control the aperture and shutter.

  • CapturedByKylie March 27, 2009 01:50 pm

    I currently use an SP570-UZ and have had quite a few macro images which i am really happy with.
    Thanks for these tutorials on macro photography- i knew some of what you speak about already, but it is always nice to be reminded and there is always a chance to learn something new.

  • Jason March 27, 2009 11:53 am

    I would like to know how to get those tack sharp and extremely close-up shots of insect faces. I have a Nikon D300 and the Nikkor AF-S 105mm VR micro lens and haven't gotten anything close to that, mostly because I never find dragonflies just staying still that much, nor many other insects.

  • klavaza March 27, 2009 09:22 am

    Sorry, please visit

  • klavaza March 27, 2009 09:21 am

    I have been shooting macro for a long time and in my opinion Nikon is the best choice in 35mm. The use of bellows becomes imperative at certain pint, and here Nikon excells like no other, be it in DSLRs or in film.

  • SMII March 26, 2009 11:50 pm

    good article for beginners

  • AJ March 26, 2009 07:14 pm

    Thanks for the PM, Barrie! I appreciate it a lot. As of now, I've decided to narrow my choices down to 3, and just check them out myself in the shops... as I'm not really sure about their availability here in Doha. I'll probably just compare them myself in my actual purchase. Thanks again. By the way, I haven't actually made a comment about your article -- I really think it's great. It actually encourage me to do more macro shots with the Fuji available here. It made me realize that anyone can do macro shots, as long as you have the passion and the patience. It doesn't really matter what camera you use, it is an individual choice, and it really depends on how you look at your own shots -- definitely, no camera is perfect. I really think I've got a lot more to learn, since I really want to take it seriously. But for now, it's all about maximizing what you have -- take it step-by-step, from simple P&S compact to bridge camera, then who knows, maybe in the future, I'll be having my hands on a DSLR, and I'll be confident enough to share my pics with you, guys! ^_-

  • Rick March 26, 2009 04:36 am

    Yesterday I used my new Kenko Extention tube to practice some macro on flowers. I was shooting at ISO 100 but my image is full of noise. Does the extention tube enhance noise?

  • JD March 26, 2009 02:43 am

    Thanks. Great articles.

  • Van March 26, 2009 01:30 am

    This is an interesting and helpful article. What I missed was a review of macro lenses available for DSLR cameras. I am shopping for my first DSLR camera, and seriously considering a Canon Rebel XSi. Macro photography is one of my primary interests. When I mentioned this to a camera store clerk, he recommended a Tamron lens. If anyone can offer advice I would appreciate it.

  • AJ March 25, 2009 09:58 pm

    I've always been interested on getting into macro photography... and soon, probably by next month, I'll be having my own digital camera, well, not that I haven't used one before -- we have a fuji compact at home, but it's my parents', and I've never had my own digital camera... I've been playing with it for a long time now, trying to do good macro shots. But being more familiar with the new premium digital cameras nowadays, it really makes me excited to get my hands on one of those macro beasts. Finally, I can get one soon - yay! But right now, I'm really having trouble comparing some models... as I also read user reviews, and it gets more confusing, as I always get disappointed when they say something of a flaw on a certain camera that's one of my choices. But now that I've seen people who actually do macro photography, I think it would be more convenient to share my camera choices here... So you can help me compare them (or compare them for me ^_^). I'm really looking for a camera that would best suit a beginner in macro photography... 'Cause I'm not really familiar with manual settings and all that...

    Anyway, here are my choices:
    Olympus SP-570 UZ
    Olympus SP-565 UZ
    Canon Powershot S5-IS
    Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
    Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30
    Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50

    Thanks in advance!
    (Sorry if this is too long, I just think this is the best place to share this concern of mine... ^_^)

  • tom March 25, 2009 08:58 pm

    "Flash is useless at a close working distance — it would overexpose the shot."

    Not necessarily. At least in case of DSLRs you can get pretty good results when you have control over your flash's power. I constantly use my flash at 1/16 power with f/16-f/22 aperture (flash is moved forward so it's the same distance from the subject as my front lens) and results are very nice.

  • Markus Weimer March 25, 2009 07:26 pm

    Thanks for the article! I'd like to add that Panasonic's Lumix LX3 does indeed allow one to go full manual and macro at the same time, too.

  • Photography & Design Blog March 25, 2009 05:33 pm

    Thank you for the tips! I love macro photography.

  • Tian Chad March 25, 2009 02:01 pm

    Thanks for the Distortion tips~ ;p

  • MeiTeng March 25, 2009 12:09 pm

    Thanks for the tips. I am keen to explore macro photography.

  • jimothy March 25, 2009 11:35 am

    Canon does not make an image stabilized macro lens for it's SLRs

  • Austin_HXC March 25, 2009 10:56 am

    "When shooting macro with a digicam always use the LCD screen for viewing — never use the optical viewfinder. Use the optical finder and you will encounter parallax error"

    I disagree with this statement for DSLR's.
    There is no parallax factor because the viewfinder shows what the lens sees.

  • João Alves March 25, 2009 08:20 am

    You've made a small mistake in the title. It should read Beginners and not Beiginners. :)

    Also, I'm slightly confused when you say:

    "For macro shots you need a steady camera and subject, a small lens aperture and a slow shutter speed.

    Shouldn't you be using a fast shutter speed in order to avoid blur?

  • murrymalty March 25, 2009 07:38 am

    I've got an SP-550UZ and have started experimenting with macro for about a fortnight, im really pleased with my results, I've mainly been shooting flowers so far.

  • TheRob March 25, 2009 07:18 am

    Very good description about this part of photography.