Here’s a recent post reproduced from my personal 5 A Day blog on the topic of macro photography:
First of all, let’s be clear what I mean by macro photography – it’s extreme close up photography, where the subject appears life size or greater. Most people I speak to on the subject think that you need highly specialised (meaning expensive) equipment to capture a macro photo. Yes, there are some specific pieces of kit out there, and some are on the wrong side of affordable for most photographers, but it is still possible to take macro shots with low end kit – especially with a DSLR.
Any lens can in theory be used and with the addition of some simple, and relatively inexpensive add ons, macro can be in the reach of anyone. So here are five things to get going with macro photography:
1. Extension Tubes
Turn any DSLR lens into a macro lens with the addition of some simple tubes – by moving the lens away from the camera sensor, the image is enlarged. There are basically two types, contactless and those with electrical contacts. I’ve got both types and the contactless ones are incredibly cheap – under £10 – but with modern DSLR cameras you’re restricted to shooting at the maximum aperture of the lens being used – and in macro photography, depth of field is already tiny, really tiny – fractions of a millimetre at times. The type with electrical contacts cost a bit more, but you retain full control over aperture and autofocus still works – although I would recommend using manual focus for macro work. They can be bought for around £70-£80 and typically come in a set of different lengths that can be stacked for extreme close ups.
Keeping you camera steady is incredibly important in macro work – the slightest movements are massively exaggerated creating motion blur – so a sturdy sound mount for your camera is essential. I use a Manfrotto tripod and head and have the added advantage of a central column that allows me to rotate the camera to portrait orientation and even to point vertically down onto a subject. I also use a geared head for fine adjustments.
3. Dedicated Macro Lens
Whilst any lens will get you started, and the addition of extension tubes will give you more capability, there’s no real substitute for a dedicated macro lens. Many lenses claim to offer macro, but few are true macro lenses, i.e. where the subject is at least life size on the sensor – think of an insect or a spider measuring just millimetres. I happen to use Canon kit, and one day I might just get around to buying their MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5X which offers up to an amazing 5x life size – think about those spiders!
4. Macro Rail
One of the difficulties with macro photography is the incredibly small adjustments that are required. Moving your camera closer to or further away from your subject can be fiddly at best. One way around this is to use a macro rail. The camera attaches to the rail and minute adjustments can be made, typically by rotating a gear wheel. I might get around to buying one of these at some point – currently, I use the fiddly method!
5. What to Shoot?
I’ve taken many macro shots over the years, but I thought I’d share a few stunning examples from others to inspire us all. All images are copyright of their respective owners and images have been embedded from Flickr (click the images to view in Flickr).