The world looks different from behind a camera lens. It's both literal and abstract, with patterns and colors that aren't quite as obvious when you see them outside of the viewfinder. There are times, though, when your standard lens doesn't grab the finer details of your shot. That's when a macro lens comes in handy - it lets you focus even closer, creating a miniature world that's otherwise overlooked.
1. Keep Your Distance ... Or Don't
The focal length of your macro lens determines how far you should place your camera from the subject, so consider what you're shooting before you pick a lens. A standard Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 macro lens is sufficient for small, still objects like stamps and coins, since it gives you about 20 centimeters of working space. But if you're photographing something easily scared away, like bugs or wildlife, chances are good you'll be happier with a telephoto macro lens. The Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, for example, has a mid-telephoto focal length that will give you about 30 centimeters of wiggle room.
2. Emphasize the Separation
Macro photography's shallow depth of field lets you hone in on your subject and blur out just about everything else. To get the most pop, test your shot from every angle - some background elements might be more distracting than others, and the simpler the photo, the better. For example, the delicate petals of a dandelion globe might get lost when positioned opposite a busy background of wildflowers. Isolate them against the simple blue of a cloudless sky instead and your photo suddenly becomes a finely tuned masterpiece.
3. Sometimes Manual is Just Better
It's all about the details when it comes to macro photography, so focus is key. When you're this close to your subject, you can dramatically change the look of your shot simply by shifting your focus a few millimeters one way or another. Trying to do that with your camera's autofocus enabled, however, can be frustrating - sometimes the camera will only focus on the closest thing its sensor can detect. Take the control away from your camera by switching to manual focus and you'll be the one calling the shots.
4. Stay as Still as Possible
Your focusing control also hinges on how still your camera is at the time you snap the photo. Find a tripod with adjustable legs that can be used low to the ground or splayed out wide for extra balance. A weight suspended from the tripod's center column or a beanbag draped over the mounted camera might offer a bit more stability as well. Then, once you're happy with the way your shot is composed, enable the self-timer or use a remote so there's no chance of accidentally shifting all of your work when you press the shutter.
5. What You See Is What You Get (For the Most Part)
The picture you see through your viewfinder reflects the way your subject looks in reality, not the way your camera "sees" it. Changes you've made to the white balance, exposure, and ISO settings won't be visible there. Luckily, your camera's live view display screen can help bump up your macro focusing skills - it gives you a better idea of your final image than what you see in the viewfinder. Many cameras also support zooming in live view, which means you can magnify the display to fine tune the focus even further before you take the photo.
6. Light Is Your Friend
Good lighting will bring out the three dimensional qualities and textures of your subject, making your macro photographs sharp, vibrant and detailed. When the lighting's wrong, however, it does just the opposite, and your photos come out dull, flat and boring. Whether you decide to up the illumination using continuous, flash, or natural light, make sure your desired focal point is facing the light source and that it isn't creating harsh shadows or unwanted contrast. Also, be aware of where you position your camera - the closer you get to a subject, the more prone you are blocking the light and casting shadows.
- National Geographic: How to Take Macro Photos: Miniature Model Cars
- Seeing In Macro: Macro Photography Technique – Focusing With Live View
- Digital Photo Magazine: Tips for Macro Lighting