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Macro photography

Tutorial to learn how to take macro photographs – “Macro photography”


Are you passionate about photographing flowers and insects close up? In this tutorial you will learn the different facets of macro photography and how to take beautiful macro photos. 

Macro photography is a rather complex subject. Before continuing you need to know the basics of exposure. You can learn everything about the exposure in the following three free tutorials:  

Shutter Speed – Sensor ISO Sensitivity – Opening of the Diaphragm 

Photo edited in Lightroom. [Click here to learn how to use Lightroom.] 


What is macro photography? 

Macro photography is more commonly referred to macro from the moment your subject has a magnification ratio of 1:1

(That is, if the size of the subject is one centimeter, it will be the same size on the camera sensor.) 

Let’s say you’re taking a picture of a spider whose size is 24mm X 36mm. It will take up your whole picture (the full frame of the sensor). 

Some subjects will therefore not be able to be photographed in full in macro photography because they are larger than the sensor of the camera (imagine the size of a large butterfly compared to the size of a sensor). 

If your subject measures less than 1mm, that will be micro photography. But that is another subject… 


Photo edited in Lightroom. [Click here to learn how to use Lightroom.] 


What equipment for macro photography? 

There are five accessories necessary for macro photography: 

  • a close-up lens
  • an extension tube
  • A reversed lens
  • the macro bellows
  • a macro lens.

The close-up lens 

The close-up lens screws on to the front of the lens like a filter. It acts as a magnifying glass and allows to magnify the image on the sensor. 

A close-up lens is characterized by its power (in diopter) and the diameter of its screw pitch (in mm) so that it corresponds to the diameter of your lens. 

You can use one or more close-up lenses simultaneously according to the desired result. A close-up lens is not expensive, (within $55), but it causes a significant loss of optical quality, chromatic aberration, and increases the chance of vignetting. One of its advantages is that it doesn’t take up much space. The macrophotography close-up lens can easily slip into a photo bag, so you will always have enough tools for taking macro photos. 

The close-up lens

The extension tube 

The extension tube is usually delivered in sets of three components, and has no optical elements. 

The idea this time is not to screw something on to the lens, but to insert a tube extension between the case and the lens to increase the distance between the lens and the sensor

The extension tube is used to reduce the focal distance which permits higher magnification. 

Extension tubes have several sizes and are stackable to further reduce the focal distance. 

If we do not have an optical element, we will not lose quality

However we will significantly lose brightness, especially if we stack several tubes. 

It will therefore be necessary to use an external source, such as a flash, to compensate for this loss. 

The extension tube remains an excellent way to start in macro photography with a satisfactory quality rendering for a reasonable price (about $170). 

The extension tube 

Reversed lens 

The reversed lens technique is to put a lens on the camera upside down, meaning that the front lens will face the camera and the rear will face out. 

To do this simply use a reversed lens (attached directly to the camera and the lens). Its cost is relatively low – around $35. 

The magnification will of course be different according to the used lens. There are many possible combinations. The shorter your focal length, the higher the magnification and the closer you are to the subject. 

For example, with a reversed 24mm you will have very high magnification, and will be extremely close to the subject (less than 5 centimeters). 

You will therefore have to make a compromise between the magnification and the distance from your subject. 

Reversed lens 

The macro bellows 

The bellows have an operating principle similar to that of the extension tube. They’re inserted between the case and the lens. Their purpose is to reduce the focal distance. 

With the advantage of being able to be lengthened or shortened (from 48 to 208mm for some bellows) they allow maximal magnification ratios in macrophotography. 

The main advantage of the bellows is that they act as an concertina, since they can be lengthened or shortened to obtain the desired reproduction scale. We can therefore vary the magnification with the same lens without having to disassemble it. 

The absence of optics does not lead to loss of quality, but the bellows have disadvantages. Their price is higher than that of the extension tubes. They are relatively cumbersome and heavy (1kg) and must be mounted on a tripod. The loss of brightness is important and requires the use of a flash. We must also work manually because there is no longer a link to the camera lens. 

macro bellows

The macro lens – “Macro photography”

The macro lens is the best solution to have a good stitch and maintain impeccable image quality. It will quickly become an indispensable lens for evolving in macro photography

Many brands produce high-performance macro lenses: Nikon, Canon, Tamron, Sigma, Sony, Pentax, etc. The prices range from $340 to $1,100 for the longest focal lengths. 

Most macrophotography lenses have focal lengths between 50 and 180mm. If you want to photograph dangerous subjects, you should have a lens with a long focal length. This will allow you to stay farther from your subject. 

Macro photography lenses from 50 to 70mm 

They are generally very good and versatile. Their price is not high, but the focal distance is relatively short. 

You will therefore be only a few centimeters away from your subject (less than 10). This can cause shadow problems when you have your back facing the sun. 

Macro photography lenses from 90 to 105mm 

Excellent in terms of image quality, these intermediate focal lengths are the most versatile and allow a longer distance between the lens and the subject. 

Macro lenses from 150 to 180mm 

They represent the high-end macro lenses. Their prices are much higher, but their development distances are ideal for approaching delicate subjects. 

The macro lens 

Manual focusing – “Macro photography” 

Automatic focusing is not easy to do with an extremely short depth of field, and especially when you want to take a picture of a ladybug of only a few millimeters. Autofocus will have trouble finding a catch if you use a macrophotography closeup lens or an extension tube, and it will be impossible to do with bellows or an inverted lens

Manual focusing is essential for solving this problem. It will allow you better control of your focus, and to have an area of sharpness exactly where you want it. 

Photo edited in Lightroom. [Click here to learn how to use Lightroom.] 


Closing the diaphragm 

Depth of field is extremely difficult to manage in macro photography. 

The higher the magnification, the shorter the depth of field. The sharpness is often only a few millimeters. 

Any subject larger than the depth of field cannot therefore be photographed whole. 

In addition to this difficulty imagine a depth of field of one centimeter with a moving subject like a ladybug. By the time the focus is set the ladybug will have covered several centimeters… 

The goal now is to increase the depth of field to the maximum. Then it is necessary to close the diaphragm

This will obviously greatly reduce the brightness. Let’s add the significant loss of light if you use extension tubes or the bellows. 

We then have to reduce the speed. We are quickly led to work with a tripod, but in nature the slightest wind makes the subject move and the photo is blurred. The use of a flash becomes mandatory. 

105mm macro lens on extension tubes - Glossary of Photography

Conclusion – “Macro photography”

Most of the macro photographs you will find on  were made with the equipment shown in the photo above. 

You can see the bellows with a reversed 24mm lens. These two accessories will allow us to have the maximal magnification of x11. But there is of course a price to pay for such magnification. 

  • The focal distance between the lens and our subject will be very short (less than 5 centimeters)
  • Although the diaphragm has been adjusted to f22, the depth of field will still be very short (1.4mm).
  • The loss of brightness due to the bellows, the reversed lens, and the closure of the diaphragm forces us to have four flashes directed all around our subject.
  • The lack of brightness is so important that when you look into the viewfinder of your camera, you’ll only see black. You will need to add flashes and side lights to illuminate your subject to be able to focus.
  • Finally, the weight of the set makes shooting impossible without a tripod.

As you will have understood, the simplest is still a close-up lens. 

Let’s take a 105mm lens as an example. Its magnification will be x1 and you will have a focal distance of about 14cm from your subject and a depth of field of 7 to 8mm

But here is an interesting compromise for a satisfying magnification: 

105mm macro lens on extension tubes (102mm rings) will give you a magnification of x2.5 and a focus at 10cm for a depth of field between 7 and 10mm

But be careful. In this case the equipment begins to be heavy, and you must shoot handheld, because the camera cannot be fixed on a tripod. 

Macro photography is an extraordinary world, but also very complicated, difficult, and requires great mastery. 

Feel free to test several techniques and materials. And once you have found what suits you best, the fabulous world of macro photography will be yours. 


Give us your opinion, and share your experience in the comments. 

And if you think that this article helped you, share it! 


Have a nice photoshoot! 

Lightroom and Photoshop Tutorials

December 28, 2019

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