Photography Basics

Introduction to Macro Photography with some examples

What is  macro photography? Can I take macro photos with my compact camera? OR Do I need an expensive equipment to take macro photographs? How many shots should I take to get good results?

 These are some of the common questions that come to one’s mind when they think about taking macro photography for the first time. So, let me give you a brief introduction. This may look very basic to most people who are already into photography but I believe it will be helpful for those who want to give their first shot at macro photography.

What is Macro Photography?

For those who do or don’t know about macro photography, I say, it is an art of taking close-up pictures to show the details which go un-noticed or ‘invisible’ to the naked eye. Well, the definition is ambiguous as different macro photographers have their own definitions – some say it is not an art as they are not creating anything, as it is just translation of what is actually there. You can define it in whatever way you would like depending upon your philosophical bend.

Okay. Let’s come to the business. There are different levels in macro photography based on the magnification. There is 1:2, 1:1, 2:1 and so on magnifications are there. I will get back on what these numbers mean in my future posts.

 Is macro photography difficult?

One needs a lot of patience and perseverance for taking macro shots of insects. Insects won’t just pose for you. You need to compose it perfectly – avoid a cluttered background, proper depth of field etc. Getting a good result depends on the abovementioned factors and the sheer volume of shots one takes. But for studio macros of small inanimate objects (coins etc.), it is comparatively easy.

What sort of equipment you need?

Well, you don’t necessarily need a high-end equipment to take macro shots. You can take macro photographs with almost any camera available in the market – from a mobile phone camera to a DSLR camera.But each type of digital cameras has its advantages and disadvantages. Below are some of them.

Mobile phone cameras: I started my photography with a mobile phone camera. They are compact and are good for not-so-serious photographers. The downside of mobile phone macro photography is that they don’t perform well in low light situations and the image quality is poor when compared to digital cameras. Since mobile phone cameras are fully automatic (some allows you to change the ISO) you can’t get creative in your shots.

Point and shoot cameras: What boosted my interest in photography was a point and shoot camera I borrowed from my sister. It was a Sony DSC-T20 which is a basic point and shoot camera. I must say, the results where incredible. Back then, all I knew was how to focus. But, since that camera was fully automatic, it helped me to take some pretty decent shots. So, point and shoot cameras are good for beginners who want to try some [macro] photography. It will never let you down unless you compare the results with those taken from DSLR cameras. Point and shoot cameras have inbuilt macro lenses which allows you to take photos in high magnification. Since they are compact it won’t scare the insects away. The disadvantages include – low image quality, poor low light performance due to small sensor size. I wouldn’t say being fully automatic is one of the disadvantages since advanced point and shoot cameras offer manual controls.

DSLR cameras: The advantages of using a DSLR are that they give good image quality, great low light performance due to large sensor, and full manual controls. However, unlike a point and shoot camera, you need to have extra lenses for taking macro photographs with a DSLR camera. Macro lenses are designed for taking macro photographs with 1:1 or life-size magnification. There are some super macro lenses which help you to take magnification beyond 1:1. So, extra investment is necessary if you want to try some macro photography with a DSLR camera.

But, do not worry. There are some good, low-cost alternatives for macro photography using a DSLR camera. Some of them are lens reversal technique, close up filters, diopters etc.

Basically, the choice of equipment and techniques depends on the magnification one wants to make. Well, then why does one needs to buy expensive DSLR and lenses if they can take macro photographs using a point and shoot camera? Even though taking macro photography with a compact camera is easy, one may not have full control over their cameras as most of them are automatic. And you may experience colour issues, noise at high ISO etc. A dedicated macro lens will give you sharp images, good working distance and better exposure. Well, there is a lot to talk about equipment. But more on that later. Close-up and macro photography by Adrian Davies is one of the best books you can read. I highly recommend it for both beginners and advanced photographers. Here are some beautiful macro photographs which will inspire you.

Read: Understanding Color Models and Color spaces

Photo Credits: Lord V ( Brian Valentine)
Flower dewdrop refraction and spider
Photo Credits: Lord V (Brian Valentine)

Garden lizard portrait

Female Striped Horse Fly (Tabanus lineola)
Photo Credits: Thomas Shahan via Flickr
Robber fly eating dragonfly
Photo Credits: Thomas Shahan/Flickr
jumping spider eyes macro
Photo Credits: Mundo Poco

Recommended read: Step by Step guide to Macro Photography for Beginners 

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Vidhu Soman

Vidhu is an enthusiastic photographer from Kerala, India. His desire to share his knowledge and experience on photography was the motivation for creating Shutterstoppers. His dream is to provide a platform for people all around the world to exchange ideas and information on everything related to photography. In addition to photography, he also has a keen interest in traveling, philately and science.

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  1. Pingback: Poor man's macro -- The reverse lens technique - ShutterStoppers | Digital Photography Tips and Tutorials

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