Macro photography: how to use your camera or smartphone

Macro photography is the perfect way to reveal the Lilliputian world of insects that exists right under our noses. Creepy critters look amazing when photographed close-up, not least because details often impossible to see with the naked eye are suddenly revealed in all their glory.

What is macro photography?

Macro photography refers to a genre of photography where small subjects are captured on the camera sensor at a 1:1 ratio. This simply means that an insect 1 cm long, for example, will be reproduced on the camera sensor at 1 cm long. And when printed or viewed on screen, it will become much larger.

There are several options for taking close-up photos, ranging from using the macro function of your smartphone camera to using a dedicated macro lens for your DSLR or mirrorless camera. So we’ll take a look at some of the options available before explaining the techniques and camera settings you can use to capture amazing insect images, whatever your budget.

Kit for macro photography

Use your smartphone

Most of us have a smartphone, and for many people, their smartphone camera is the only camera they own and use. Although it doesn’t provide the image quality and lens options available with DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, smartphones offer a wide range of shooting modes. These include a “macro mode” that allows you to focus incredibly closely on tiny subjects, including insects and flowers, so the smartphones are perfect for beginners and almost always within reach.

Shooting with a kit lens

A kit lens is a lens often supplied with your camera and will typically be 18-55mm for APS-C cameras, which is the most popular format for beginners and enthusiasts. Although these lenses don’t allow you to achieve a 1:1 macro ratio, most can focus up to 20cm from the subject you are shooting. To get as close to the subject as possible, zoom the lens to 55mm and position the camera as close as possible for autofocus or manual focus to work.

Get closer with automatic extension tubes

Extension tubes are rings attached between the camera and the lens to increase the distance between the rear lens element and the camera sensor. This in turn allows you to focus closer to subjects.

Automatic extension tubes maintain contact between the camera and lens so that aperture can be changed, light metering works, and autofocus can be used. Automatic extension tubes come in sets of two or three and should be the correct lens mount for your camera.

Close-up of a young lady © Getty Images

Enjoy the simplicity of close-up filters

Close-up filters screw onto the front of your lenses to reduce the focusing distance between the lens and the subject. They come in sets or individually with diopter values ​​from +1 to +10. Diopters increase the magnification capability of your kit lens, essentially acting as a magnifying glass for your lens. The +10 filter provides a 1:1 macro ratio and lower value filters can be stacked to increase magnification.

Just make sure you buy close-up filters with the same filter thread size as the lens you intend to use them with so they can be attached. This can often be found on the back of the lens cap.

Invest in a macro lens for the best image quality

If you’re serious about macro photography and want the best image quality with the ultimate convenience, a dedicated macro lens is a must. These lenses allow you to capture subjects at normal distances or close up to achieve a 1:1 ratio.

And since they’re optimized to capture the finest details of tiny objects, the image quality is fantastic. This is the most expensive close-up lens option, and the most versatile focal lengths for these lenses are 90mm and 105mm.

How to take great macro photos

Find your topic

A good time of day for insect photography is early morning, as insects are less active in cooler weather. Of course, you can shoot throughout the day and your local garden or park are great places, but the bugs will move faster during the hottest parts of the day.

The flowers and foliage of plants and trees are the perfect places to look for flying insects. And those plants that provide a popular food source, like the buddleia, will always be teeming with life.

Close up of a pink butterfly

Close-up of a pink moth ©Getty Images

Configure your camera

Whether you’re shooting with a macro lens, automatic extension tubes, or close-up filters, set the camera to “aperture priority mode” with the aperture set to f/8. You’ll need a fast shutter speed if you’re holding the camera in your hands, so set the ISO to 400 unless it’s a particularly bright day where ISO 100 can suffice.

When shooting close-ups, even the smallest camera movements are amplified, so keep an eye on the shutter speed set by the camera – this should ideally be 1/250 s or faster.

Consider Concentration and Composition

A trend when shooting close-ups/macro photography is to fill the camera frame with the subject, but this is not always necessary. Leave some space around the subject to show the environment and give a sense of context.

And as for focusing, put the lens in manual focus, rotate the focus ring to the closest focusing distance, then gently move the camera back and forward while looking through the viewfinder until the insect is in focus, then take the picture. .

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