How To Do Macro Photography

by William Lulow

Many people like to shoot close ups of various things – flowers, food, people, etc. Close ups nearly always are intriguing because they focus on small details. They enable us to see something better. They are more revealing. Macro photography usually refers to images created at 1:1 magnification or closer.

Here are a few suggestions to help with shooting close ups:

  1. You need a lens that will let you get close to your subject. For most of us these days, that means a “Macro Lens.” A macro lens is just a lens with elements placed to allow close up focusing. Usually, the front element needs to be able to be moved as close as possible to the subject in order to render it “same size.”
  2. You need a tripod so that the camera does not move. When objects are photographed at close range, the slightest movement will be obvious.
  3. You need enough light because often, the close proximity of the lens to the subject cuts down the amount of ambient light. Light can be provided by a “ring light” attached to the lens. A ring light gets its name because it completely surrounds the barrel of the lens like a ring. This light can get as close to the subject as the lens does. Or use a large soft box. Both will provide the soft, shadow-less light needed for good close-ups.
  4. Backgrounds should be kept simple so as to focus the viewer’s attention on the subject

There are several types of “macro lenses.” Most manufacturers make a “normal” lens of around 50mm to 60mm that has a macro focusing function. Sometimes, however, a slightly longer focal length macro lens is handy so that you don’t have to get so close to the subject. You might, therefore, try to find a macro lens of about 100mm. Canon and Nikon both have these lenses.

Many of the close ups that I have shot in the past were made with a view camera that enables the photographer to focus on close subjects by extending the bellows. I would usually use a longer lens on my view camera (210mm or so) and rack the bellows out to get a 1:1 magnification as I did on this image:


Today, the macro lens can focus at very close range. This image of a guitar was made with my 60mm macro lens stop down to f/32. I needed my 1600 watt/second flash to create enough light to shoot at that aperture. I already had a plain background and I wanted to create as much depth-of-field as possible to keep all the elements in focus.


A good, sturdy tripod is just about a necessity when doing this type of photography. As with any still-life image, you need to be focused completely on the subject. The tripod helps slow down the image-making process and almost forces you to pay more attention.

Lighting needs to be sufficient to render detail on whatever aspect of the subject you want the viewer to see. Usually, light on small objects is best from the top. But often, that light needs to be filled in from the front to eliminate most of the shadows.

Backgrounds should be simple. You are trying to make a close-up image, so the background should really be of no consequence. You can shoot close-ups on plain white no-seam paper or you can use a 16×20 card which is black on one side, white on the other. When placed behind the subject, this will yield a plain background and keep focus on the subject. If you are shooting outdoors, you may need to use a short shutter speed in order to stop movement of flowers and leaves due to the wind. Best time to shoot outdoors is on an overcast day that is still bright. You also need to shoot with the aperture close to its largest opening so that you cut down the depth-of-field, thus keeping the background out of focus. I normally don’t shoot with any of my lenses wide open because most lenses are not as sharp as they could be when used at their largest apertures. On my f/2.8 lenses I usually try to shoot with them at f/4 or so. My faster lenses like my 85mm f/1.8, can be used at f/2.8 in order to minimize depth-of-field.