A Guide To Macro Photography

Macro photography opens up a whole new level of wildlife and nature photography and you can get some great lenses for relatively low prices. The best thing about it is you don’t have to carry lots of heavy equipment for miles as you can pretty much just sit in the garden and still get some stunning shots. This article will focus on the basic techniques of macro photography to help you get some great wildlife photos.

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Macro Lenses

To start with you will need a specialist macro (micro) lens. A true macro lens will have the ability to focus on a subject very close to the lens, up to a 1:1 ratio if needed, but there are a few other things to consider before getting your lens. The bigger macro lenses such as 200mm or 300mm lenses can be great for getting that close up before something fly’s away but the cheaper telephoto macro lenses normally struggle with getting enough light and you will get a lot of soft and out of focus images but lenses like the old manual focus Nikon 200mm Macro are meant to be some of the best although even a good second hand one is over £1000 which is a lot to spend if you’re not using it a lot.

My own macro lens is the Sigma 105mm 2.8 macro. In retrospect I should have gone with the Nikon 105mm macro, not that I think there is any difference in quality but I didn’t realise Nikon fit Sigma lenses won’t fit Nikon Tele-Convertors so bare that in mind if you already have TC’s. The Sigma 105mm 2.8 Macro is available for around £400 so if you are looking for a great lens thats reasonably cost effective then thats what I would recommend to get started with your macro photography. The Nikon 105mm 2.8 Macro is around £600 and if you already have Nikon TC’s and you can stretch to that price you’ll be able to get much closer to the subjects, although having said that all the images on this page were taken at 105mm with no TC.

There are also a range of 50mm macro lenses which would do the job for subjects like butterflies and larger insects and work well as general macro lenses in commercial work such as product photography. If you can’t justify buying a specialist macro lens then a decent telephoto lens with a short focus distance will work on larger butterflies and dragonflies.

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Depth Of Field

Depth of field is the most challenging part of macro photography. Because you are working so close to the subject the slightest movement will affect the focus. There are some techniques such as image stacking which use multiple images with slightly different focus points to create one image with the entire subject in focus. However I’ve never encountered a wild insect that was sat still long enough to do that and I also prefer to capture an image in one shot. To get the best out of a single image you want to use a high aperture such as f14 or f16, or even higher if there is enough light. You can get specialist macro ring flashes or use a normal flash off camera, but most of the time a nice sunny day will provide enough light. The focus point will depend on the angle of your subject, whether you are focusing on the eyes looking head on or trying to take the image from above or the side to get more of the subject in focus.

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Shutter Speeds

If you’re lucky you will get a nice sunny day with no wind and you should be able to use shutter speeds as low as 1/250, allowing you to use a low ISO and high aperture. Unfortunately most insects don’t sit still for long and even those that do might be sat on a flimsy blade of grass or flower which will be moving all over in the slightest breeze. This will require a faster shutter speed, higher ISO and lower aperture which will mean a smaller depth of field. In these conditions an external flash might help but you will still need to be quick to focus and take a shot before everything is just a blur again. Luckily most places will have areas more sheltered from the winds so you can usually find somewhere that will make things a bit easier.

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