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How to Make the Best Macro Photos

Macro photography is such an interesting niche within the industry that some people prefer to work on it full time. If you have ever tried to shoot in this mode you will probably be aware that achieving successful macro photographs can be a real challenge. As with any other specialist skill, there are a lot of things you have to learn and practice before you master it. For those of you interested in improving your portfolio with some great macro shots, here is our brief guide on how to make the best macro photos.

1. Lenses matter

If you ask a macro photographer to recommend the lenses you should use, it will probably take him a while to explain the advantages of one in comparison to another. However, some specialists in the area claim that true macro photography begins with 1:1 ratio and nothing less. The general rule is that a 50-60mm lens will be fine for most of your macro shots, but if you want to have a greater distance from your subject, you will need at least a 100mm lens.

The lens-to-subject distance is extremely important, especially for those of you who would like to capture macro photos of small creatures such as butterflies and bees. If you can afford to invest in a lens in the 150-200mm range, you will appreciate the extra power you have when trying to stalk a tiny subject.

Macro photo by Stefano Montagner

Image by Stefano Montagner licensed under CC BY – 2.0

2. Play with zoom and lens focus

If you are not very confident in the abilities of your DSLR, we recommend that you play around a bit with the zoom and the focus of your lens. Macro photography requires a lot of patience and a steady hand, so it is a good idea to know what can be achieved by zooming in and out as well as by changing the object in focus. Professional photographers recommend that you don’t use an f-stop wider/larger than f/16 to get all or most of the main subject in focus.

Don’t forget that each lens has different setting you have to take into consideration. Give yourself enough time to get used to your current configuration and don’t rush your macro shots.

Macro photo by Alias 0591Image by Alias 0591 licensed under CC BY – 2.0

3. Aperture and Depth of Field

Another big thing in the area of macro photography is the fact that it lacks depth of field, so when you’re very close to the object you’re photographing, it is a good idea to shoot at about f/32.

You also have to consider the alignment of the object you’re preparing to shoot. If you are taking a macro shot of an insect, you have to make sure that its wings are lying flat. This is the only way you can make sure that the shot is sharp. It is a great challenge to achieve this since even the tiniest movement will affect the position of things within your planned composition.

If you want to master macro photography, you have to  make some decision before you start shooting – whether you want a sharp or blurred image and what parts of the photo you want to put in and out of focus. It is safe to say that using aperture settings between f/22 and f/45 should be pretty safe for all your macro efforts. However, the best way to identify the optimal aperture setting is to experiment.

Macro photo by Kool Cats PhotographyImage by Kool Cats Photography licensed under CC BY – 2.0

4. experiment with the background

Most macro shots require preparation and some extra work before you start. This includes choosing the right background. Whilst it is not always possible to choose what the background will be, if you can choose, we’d recommend that you plan this in advance. Since there is not much depth of field in any macro photograph, the background can play a very important role. Be careful when setting up your background and have at least a few options to choose from. There is no such thing as a perfect background but you can always try to create an environment you like before your photo shoot begins.

Another hint is to experiment with different angles to achieve more interesting effect in your macro images.

Macro photo by John Ari NatureImage by John Ari Nature licensed under CC BY – 2.0

5. Test the flash

There is a big debate in macro photography about whether the use of flash is necessary. Some people argue that you can’t achieve much without using flash, but we recommend you experiment with different flash settings. You can also try attaching external flashes in different configurations to test their possibilities. You might find that using flash makes your objects look brighter and sharper – who knows, it might become your favourite trick. Just try it!

Macro photo by Ze'ev BarkanImage by Ze’ev Barkan licensed under CC BY – 2.0

6. Compact Digital Cameras

If you don’t have a DSLR camera but you’re still keen to try macro photography, don’t panic – you still can. However, there are a few additional things you must consider before you start. It is highly likely that your camera has a built-in macro mode. Play with it and see what you can do by putting your camera as close as possible to the object you want to photograph. Most models allow you to go as close as as an inch to your subject, but this doesn’t mean that you will always need to be that close.

Test your widest zoom setting and you will also find that there is a lot of distortion in your macro image. You can try and fix that in Photoshop, but if you don’t want to spend too much time in post production, we advise you to play a bit with your zoom settings as well as the distances from your objects.

Each compact camera has slightly different macro settings, so testing them is always advisable. That’s the only way you can find what works best for you.


Macro photographs are defined as photos which are made between 1/10 of life size and life size. In comparison, “normal photography” is defined as less than 1/10 life size at the sensor, and micro photography is defined as greater than life size. These are all guides, though, since even brands such as Nikon refer to their macro lenses as micro lenses.

We hope you enjoyed this article and feel inspired. Let us know what you think in the comments section below, and don’t forget to share:

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