Macro Photography Tips

Image courtesy of Tips For Photographers

Macro photography can be a difficult beast to conquer even for the most experienced photographer, but it’s especially tricky for folks who must rely on point-and-shoot cameras and a lack of professional equipment.

Being able to shoot good macro can mean the difference between a profile full of photos that impressively showcase the intricate detail of your pieces in a creative and eye-catching way, and a series of poorly lit, fuzzy, boring photos that do your work a disservice. There’s plenty that you can do with what you have to improve your macro photography, and here are some tips and tricks to help you along!

 

F-Stops

F-stops are bandied about all the time by the pros as an important factor in macro photography, but what are they, exactly? F-stops are a measurement of the proportion between the focal length of a lens and its aperture’s diameter. Sound confusing? Absolutely.

The focal length of a lens is, very simply, the distance between the lens and film (for a film camera) or digital sensor (for a digital camera) if the subject (at infinity) is in focus. Focal length is increased when you zoom your camera in to try and get a closer, focused picture, which is why you’ll see your lens move outwards when you hit zoom.

The aperture of a lens is the opening through which light travels and hits your lens. Think of a camera aperture in the same way your own iris works – if your pupils are dilated and your iris is very thin, you’re probably somewhere dark and your eyes are trying to let in as much light as possible. If your pupils are small and your iris thicker, you’re probably in the sun or some kind of bright light, so your eye is trying not to let in a damaging amount of light.

F-stops measure the relationship between focal length and aperture diameter, and with the way they operate, the larger the f-stop number, the smaller the aperture and the less light coming through it. A picture taken at an f-stop of f/2 on a camera with a 50mm lens, for example, will be letting in a lot more light due to its wider aperture than a picture taken using the same camera/lens with an f-stop of f/16.

Now what does this have to do with macro photography? Conventional wisdom recommends using an f-stop no wider (higher, numerically) than f/16 when it comes to macro photography. Finding a good balance between the focal length of your lens and the amount of light you’re letting in is very important in macro, and for most modern lenses, you’ll likely have the best luck in terms of sharpness of the image with an f-stop somewhere between f/5.6-f/8. It might take some experimentation, but understanding what’s going on when you adjust and monitor your f-stops is a great way to start improving your macro.

 

Manual Focus vs Automatic Focus

Image courtesy of Digital Camera World

Auto focus when it comes to macro photography, while convenient, is fickle and often doesn’t give as good a result. Many point-and-shoots have a “Macro” feature that attempts to do all the focusing for you, but it often removes your ability to control and tweak the aperture and shutter speed settings.

Manual focusing provides more consistency with macro photos, and gives you complete freedom over every other important setting. If you’ve got some extra cash floating around, you might even think about investing in a good macro lens if your camera allows for switching lenses, as that would give you even more control over your manual focus.

 

Experiment with Lighting

Image courtesy of Bailey Shoemaker Richards

Most of the time, a camera’s stock flash is by far the worst way to try and light a subject for a macro photography picture. Ring flashes are, by and large, a much better option than a regular flash because it provides even illumination with very little shadowing, and they’re quite affordable if you know what to look for!

I’ve seen ring flashes go for anywhere from $25 to hundreds of dollars, so you’ll need to read reviews and do a little research before you buy. If a ring flash is out of your budget, you can try and work with your regular flash by putting some scotch tape or tissue paper over it to diffuse the light and make it more even!

Another lighting tip for macro is to experiment with mixing front lighting and side lighting. Good, strong front lighting will provide better color saturation, while side lighting will help highlight the texture of your piece, so finding a balance between the two would be a good move.

 

Always Always Always Use a Tripod

This one’s fairly self-explanatory, and I touched on it in my earlier Product Photography post, but I can’t overemphasize the importance of mounting your camera on something steady while you shoot macro. Camera shake has ruined many a potentially amazing macro shot, and fuzzy pictures make it tough for you to show off your product’s details!

Hope you guys enjoyed these macro photography tips and tricks, and let us know if you have any questions in the comments!

Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this information. It will be so helpful when photographing all my jewelry design’s as I had no idea of the F-stop. Will definitely start using the Tripod instead of trying to steady the camera with my hands. This is a very informative article and I hope many read it.

  2. Dafne says:

    Great tips! Especially like the ones about lighting.

  3. Kathy says:

    This is good information but I have a question. All I have is one of those “point and shoot” cameras. The F-stop you mentioned sounds like it’s only something we can really manipulate on a more expensive camera with a manual lens? My camera is a Panasonic Lumix..7.2.
    Thank you again for the tips.

    1. Hey Kathy, thanks for the question! Taking a look at your camera in particular, it looks like it has a 28mm lens and a default f-stop of f/2.8, which is pretty standard for smaller point and shoots. If you have the TZ3, it looks like the macro focus/zoom is actually pretty solid! My suggestion would be to experiment with lighting, since most of the adjustments important to f-stop manipulation (like shutter speed and aperture width, both of which affect the amount of light coming into the lens) are done automatically by the camera in this case. You should be able to trick your point and shoot into some f-stop manipulation if you try different types of lighting and different focus distances!

  4. Thanks for the informative article. I’ve just recently upgraded our camera and although our photos are a million times better, it’s good to be able to learn what an F stop is. We now have an Olympus SZ-14, and while I’m happy with it, I’m always open to learning how to use it better.
    So, thanks!

  5. [...] a look at Nosh’s article on macro photography and Sara’s photography guide to improve your photography [...]

  6. Karen says:

    Thanks for this article. Right now, the best pictures of my jewelry come from my smartphone. I did just get a tripod for it though, so that will help. I will be storing your article for some time in the future when/if I buy a new camera. I have what is called a “Cowboy Studio” which I set up to take pictures of my work. I’m always watching for tips to make my photography more appealing.