Here you’ll find useful macro photography tips that you can try out on the mini wildlife in your own backyard. Then you’ll have the skills to tackle those subjects further from home!
Macro photography has come to mean close up photography.
A macro lens is capable of close focusing. You don’t have to start with a macro lens though. Your zoom lens that you use for general wildlife photography can still capture subjects like butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies and flowers.
In fact a long telephoto gives a good working distance so as not to scare away some insects. Telephotos can be made even better by the addition of extension tubes. They simply add space between the camera body and lens so that it focuses closer.
Another option is a close up filter that screws onto the end of the lens to enable close focusing. I use one of these on my 70-200mm lens. Normally with this lens you need to be 1.5 meters away from the subject to focus. No good at all for close up photography.
With the filter screwed on, I can be centimeters away!
Both moths are sharp because the lens was parallel to the two insects giving maximum depth of field. An aperture of f/5.6 is enough to get the moths sharp whilst keeping the background out of focus. 1 stop over exposure applied as the moths are so much darker than the rest of the scene. All this gives a shutter speed of 1/250 secs.
There is nothing in the few feet behind this plant so the background is clear of distractions.
Live for the Live View
DSLR cameras these days are starting to include live view. This is the same as compact cameras where you compose the picture through a screen at the back of the camera rather than through the viewfinder. Despite often being dismissed as a gimmick, I find it very useful for shooting close-up.
It enables precise focusing by zooming in on the screen. It’s very helpful not to have to get your eye down to the viewfinder to compose your shot.
Getting Really Close
A true macro lens offers 1:1 magnification (life size magnification). For instance if a lizard’s head covers half of your camera’s sensor. In the photo it will fill half the frame.
A standard telephoto lens that claims to do macro is probably offering at best 1:2 magnification (half life size). This is still ok for some shots.
When people ask me what lens they should get, I always ask “what do you want to photograph most?”
For somebody with a general interest in wildlife who wants to do the occasional close up shot, a general purpose telephoto lens will do the trick.
For those who want to do a lot of macro, you’ll get plenty of enjoyment from a dedicated macro lens.
The next of these macro photography tips is dealing with depth of field. Depth of field is the area in front and behind the focus point that is sharp. It is very limited in macro photography.
Everything is scaled down so the depth of field can be no more than an insect’s eye! It’s really worth the effort to understand depth of field. Not many photographers do and you’ll be able to take control over your photography.
Use limited depth of field to your advantage
The depth of field is just the head of a tiny grasshopper. This really isolates the insect from the mass of grass it sits in.
There are 3 things that affect depth of field:
- Aperture (the opening of the lens).
- Focal point or zoom level.
- Subject distance. This is usually small in macro because you’re close up
Don’t worry if this sounds complicated. Here are some simple macro photography tips on depth of field
Lighting For Close Up Photography
Natural light can be difficult to work with in close up photography. You may have to use the lens wide open (its widest aperture) to get as much light in as possible. This will shrink your depth of field even more.
Using off camera flash is the next of my macro photography tips. The flash needs to be off camera because the subject will be so close that the light on your camera flash won’t reach! The nature of some close up work means that there is almost no natural light reaching the subject.
When you are hand-holding the camera and the insect may be moving a burst of flash will freeze the movement. I’ll explain how to use Lighting For Macro Photos.
Get Down and Dirty!
Getting down to the subject’s level might mean getting dirty but it’s worth it.
It not only produces a more dramatic viewpoint but also increases the area of focus. Getting the lens parallel to the subject means more of the subject is in focus than if the lens were angled with you looking down.
One of the best macro photography tips I can give you is to use the right tripod. Go for one where the legs can spread out almost flat so you can get right down low. Get the heaviest you can. It might not be fun to carry around but you’ll be rewarded with better photographs.
Having said that a bean bag is a cheaper alternative to a tripod for some situations!
Hand holding and focusing
Macro lenses are famous for their “hunting” auto focus at close range. This means that the focus shifts back and forth desperately trying to lock and failing.
Manual focusing comes to the rescue.
Whilst hand holding the lens it can be awkward to constantly twist the focus ring. I find a much better technique is to roughly get the focus then move your camera until the subject appears in focus. Fire off some rapid shots to increase your chances of getting one in focus.
I’ve managed a lot of hand held shots this way. Just be prepared to delete a lot as well!