Interested in Macro Photography?

f3.2 1/125 sec. ISO 125

Got The Bug? Figuratively and Literally? Let’s explore this interesting technique over a series of posts to come…

The world of closeup photography is one in which is alive, and very accessible to everyone with a camera. By this I mean finding a world you may not know existed and using what you have to capture it.

In coming posts, I will show you ways I get in close. Since I own a Coolpix, I will use that as well, and maybe show you a tip you never thought of. This series of posts are strictly for beginners and not for all readers of GWGT.  I want to share what I have learned and hope it can help some of you along the way.

The macro world is a much more beautiful world than the one in which we find ourselves at this time of year. As everything is turning shades of brown or gray, it might require looking closer, and boy is that worth it. Many have heard photographers say, “any photograph can be improved by moving closer to the subject.” That always seems to be the big tip too.

My aim is a bit more practical and I will include some camera settings also.

f5.6 1/100 sec. ISO 250 A true macro image, a 1:1 ratio. DSLR images with a 60mm macro lens unless where noted.

I find myself exploring even what is right in front of me, finding a different way of seeing it by moving in really close. But how close? My guess is most don’t get close enough to really define the subject.

To define true macro work, it really is seeing in inches, where real world subjects are captured about the same size as they exist in real life. But closeup photography has a greater scope of what is considered close. I will explore that with you in an upcoming post.

I rarely see where anyone, pro or hobbyist, takes you through ways to get in close, using things like extension tubes (affordable), diopter (moderate cost, but hard to use without a good and versatile tripod), zoom lenses, or macro lenses (most costly). A diopter is an optical element that is placed in front of a prime or zoom lens which increases the lens’ magnification.

Different camera gear gets you different results. My posts are geared to beginners, but some of this equipment is used by professionals.

I use many equipment options, and over the course of the next couple of months, will take you through how I use this equipment. Sure, pros might be a better resource, but few offer up their equipment or settings.

I learned some of this on Kelby Training from a well-known pro, Bill Fortney. I also have an e-book by Rob Sheppard, a well-known photographer and naturalist.  His blog is Nature and Photography. My posts will be a combination of what I have known over the years, along with what I learned from these two photographers.

I have learned from Rob Sheppard,”if you aren’t getting down and dirty, you probably are not shooting close enough.” Another thing many do not do, is shoot at a low angle or eye level with the subject, especially when most own cameras that can do this very easily.

f4 1/125 sec. ISO 2500 High Key blowout

Other things I have learned through architecture which translates into photography, is consider your context. That will be another valuable tip where the macro subject includes a bit of its environment. That leads to story telling. I will try to capture some of these images on my trip and see if I can relate my experience through my images.

f8 1/30 sec. ISO 400

And of course, what about lighting? There is so much of interest in the small world where light sneaks in, or back lights a subject. Dramatic light can create some interesting composition, but poses exposure challenges. There are ways to address this that do not cost much, but makes the harsh daylight images possible on these tiny subjects. Plus with macro work, adding light is necessary, so flash is used. What if we explore that?

f8 1/160 sec. ISO 100

My first post on the subject of macro work will show you how to recognize if you are even doing it or if you need to get in closer. It is based on ratios and how the subject fills the frame of the camera sensor. This is based on Kelby Training courses. This post will also show what is in my camera bag that comes in handy is shooting closeup subjects.

f5 1/125 sec. ISO 320 Ball Python photographed today at a studio shoot. No tripod used on location. I used Flash and was very close to the reptile.  The lens was a 17mm-35mm wide-angle to make this closeup shot.

I will touch on using the tripod for clarity of focus and also going without. I rarely use a tripod because I need the fluidity of freedom to be able to make slight movements important for composition and also for capturing moving insects. Most of today’s images were shot using a tripod, although a couple were not.

Then there is the rule of thirds and how does that affect your composition. Most macro images are shot dead center, but a little off-center or weighted to one side makes for a nicer photo. The same with a directionally framed image. Time to remove that bull’s eye off the subject.

Coolpix image of lichen, no tripod. Did you know lichen is a composite organism, one composed of a fungus and a photosynthetic organism, like alga?  I see another post coming…

How about intentionally selecting a background or eliminating it?  That might be as simple as changing the f-stop or using a different lens. Other cases, it is selecting a simple enough background to showcase your subject. Or think of having a choice of muted color or bokeh? So many possibilities in the small world.

f5 1/125 sec. ISO 320 Speedlight bouncing off the ceiling. Model with Ball Python, shot in the studio against a white background during a shoot with my camera club. Yep guys, she is nude. Sorry for the tight shot, but GWGT is PG.

I hope to pass along things that might improve your percentage of getting the photo you really want, not one that happens by chance.

I was just talking to a friend about this and finding out that one simple thing was preventing her from getting her closeup images. I will pass that tip along to you in my posts on focus and depth of field.  I bet many of you are doing exactly what she was doing. I myself did it too for the longest time. Once you develop a habit, it sticks with you, so why not make it a good one?

f3.5  1/125 sec.  ISO 125

So if you want some tips like Photographing Hummingbirds in Flight – Useful Tips, stop back for my exploration of Macro photography.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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39 Responses to Interested in Macro Photography?

  1. Such beautiful photography! And such great information! Thanks for sharing!!

  2. I am sure I will get a lot of good ideas from this series. Even if I have been told something before, it takes repetition to get me to remember it.

  3. Astrid says:

    Hi Donna
    this is perfect timing!! I plan to ask Santa for a macro lens. Your photography and many other bloggers I follow has inspired me to try to get closer! I look fwd to any advice you’ll give out. Thx!!

  4. Was outside, getting ‘down and dirty’ with my Canon today. Unfortunately something is wrong with the camera! When I have it on auto focus it is fine, manual focus it keeps trying to focus itself. Haven’t done more than put it down and plan to address it tomorrow.
    Love your reminders on composition and lighting etc. Am making baby steps to better use my Canon.

    • Check on your camera if you have both the camera and lens set to Manual (if the camera has this option). If one is off, the manual will try to focus on its own. I have made this mistake by accident, so I know it is a possibility. Also, I think it can cause issues in the camera too.

      • Andrea says:

        Hi Donna, what about if the camera is set to Manual, but the focus is set to Auto? What happens, will it not be good for the lens? I wonder why when in Aperture Priority and Autofocus lens, there is a gurgling sound and sometimes the lens can’t fully return to normal. I thought maybe it will be destroyed! thanks.

        • You might check your manual for both the camera and the one for the lens. If the camera is on Manual and the lens is on MA which is on a Nikon, it allows for both Auto focus on Manual and Auto settings. I use the MA setting when shooting on Continuous. That way I get at least one image in great focus of a fast moving subject. The camera is pre-set for manual settings for ISO, aperture, and shutter.

  5. Oooo, looking forward to the hummingbird shots! I’m having trouble with my action shots because I’m too deliberate and studied with my photography. Also, I’m not sure my camera can handle them unless the light is very bright. Always a pleasure to visit your blog, and thanks for the tips!

  6. Andrea says:

    Thanks so much for this Donna, I haven’t read yet the full text and haven’t regurgitated it, but will be back soonest, just will have an errand. I am very sure this will be very helpful for me!

  7. catmint says:

    thank you for this Donna, you are so generous to share your knowledge. I love being on a steep learning curve, so much to learn in photography.

    • Honestly, I find even though I have been photographing for a really long time, there is new things to learn everyday. That is why I joined Kelby Training. Each pro has their own way of doing things and getting differing results. I love to learn.

  8. Victor Ho says:

    Great post. Traditionally, I think of macro with a true macro lens. I use the Canon G11 (cheating) as it has macro focus. And then there is always the operating microscope. There’s a fine line between close-up, zoom, and true macro. I consider images of the compound eye of a fly to be pretty awesome. I’ve not had the inclination. Part of the fascination is presenting a common object in a different perspective by close focusing on a part you wouldn’t ordinarily notice. And as with the nude model sometimes you’re too close. I look forward to your series.

    • I think I would love micro photography, especially with an electron microscope. It would not just be for the photography end either. What I would find would astound me. Like you said, showing the common object in an uncommon way. Funny, on this nude shoot, I was not as pleased with my images. I think it had to do with the size of the snake. I always think of pythons as very huge snakes and these where very young at 3 to 4 years old. They seemed out of scale somewhat, especially draping her body.

  9. Great tips, have this lens on my Christmas list! Hope to really dive into the “tutorials” this Winter!
    Thank you, Stacey

    • You will enjoy the new lens, but my suggesting is get the 105mm. With the 60mm you will be right on top of insects at 6inches. The 105mm you are 12 inches away. If you add an extension tube, you will be even closer yet.

  10. lula says:

    I take my hat off!!, so exquisite images the first ones. Love them and you know how fond I am of macro, its a different world. I will be teaching a course in spring for botanical gardens and one od the sessions wil be about macro. I’ll have this post at hand, thanks!

  11. absolutely beautiful shots! but of course…we have come to expect that quality from you now anyways!

  12. Reblogged this on filmcamera999 and commented:
    this is how macro should be done…!

  13. Shyrlene says:

    As soon as I saw the title of your post, you know it was all over. (I’m supposed to be doing ‘homework’ … and took a 20 minute detour!) Reading your setting recommendations had me pulling out my camera, checking the settings, playing with the lenses. … Must … stop! … Must … be … responsible … (arg!). BUT will return for more great info!! (Fabulous post!!)

    • The nest set of posts on Macro will have the really useful stuff that many do not know. I think when you learn some of the reasoning and focal distances, you understand this subject so much better.

  14. HolleyGarden says:

    This is one area I need to improve upon, so I will be reading your posts with interest. Thanks so much for passing along your knowledge!

    • Thanks Holley. There is so much information out there, but not often the simpler kind of information that matters to hobbyists. I find knowing a little of why something works really helps me make it work in a practical sense.

  15. Patty says:

    I am certainly looking forward to these posts. I have a camera 20x optical zoom with a macro option on the dial that I use for all macros. It does a good job but is limiting as I want to get even closer but the camera can’t focus on the subject. Fstops, ISO’s I do not comprehend. I hope I will pick this up on your posts.

    • Thank you Patty. A 20x would be a bit limiting in that the closer you get to the subject it starts to blur. Did you try it on a tripod or even rest it on something immovable? Sometimes the point and shoots are better when the camera remains still. My smallest Nikon is a bit like that. It really needs to be steady or it will not focus on a subject. It keeps hunting for what to focus on.

  16. Amazing images and thank yoi for sharing a wealth of knowledge and ideas in this post Donna. I am hoping that Santa brings me a macro lens for christmas 🙂

    • I see on your site there are some mighty fine closeups this last post. They were very creatively done also. They add so much to the story of getting married, showing going though the full day. Kudos to you and Marcus.

  17. Karen says:

    Outstanding photos…I’m bookmarking this to refer back to. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

  18. Brian Comeau says:

    Good thing GWGT is PG. My wife would make me unfollow. LOL

  19. Of course I am interested especially using the Coolpix…just wonderful and I love getting down and dirty

  20. Thanks so much for this series, Donna. I really need it, as a very-beginning beginner. My favorite picture here is the lichen. If I could take a picture of that quality with my Coolpix I would be so happy! P. x

  21. James Lane says:

    Brilliant Photos, Really liked the Lichen photo. Just starting in macro photography myself and these show me how they should be done. Thank you.

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