What Is Macro Photography?

Jeff Picoult

By Jeff Picoult

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Photographers do not use the same techniques for every shot. Sometimes, capturing a subject from a distance creates a dreamy, mystic vibe that works wonders. Other times, a close-up, more personal approach leaves a stronger and much more lasting impact!

macro butterfly photography

For the latter, that’s where macro shot photography shines through. Keep scrolling to learn what it offers!

What Is Macro Lens Photography?

Macro photographers take close-up images of small targets like flowers, bugs, insects, or blades of grass. The background can be anything from a setup studio to an outdoor garden, as long as the entire subject is sufficiently magnified.

insec macro photography

From a more technical point of view, “macro photography” is exclusive to capturing small subjects at a “life-size” level of magnification (sometimes even greater). 

The macro photography subject should be smaller or just as large as your cam sensor, filling the entire frame. For instance, if your sensor is only half an inch in width, you’d photograph something no bigger than half an inch.

But nowadays, the term “macro” is used much more loosely than before, even if the subject is slightly larger. Many photos do not strictly fit this definition yet are still considered close-up macro photographs.


Understanding how big or small the subject appears on your sensor is key. This comparison gives you what’s called magnification.

close up of a flower

When the subject size on the sensor is the same as its real-life size, it is at “life-size” or 1x magnification. As with our previous example, when you photograph something half an inch wide and project exactly half an inch onto your sensor, then it’s life-size. Your sensor’s size does not matter in this case.

Most mirrorless and DSLR camera sensors are about 17 to 36 mm across. So, a 1-inch subject will look pretty big in your photo, especially if you print it large — like billboard-sized!

Let us simplify it: macro photographers often use measurable ratios instead of always calling them “half-life-size” or “life-size.” Life-size means a 1:1 (1x) magnification ratio, while half-life size refers to a 1:2 (2x). Once you go beyond about 10% of the life/original size, then you’re arguably not doing a true macro shot anymore.

Top-notch macro lenses allow you to shoot at 1:1 or 1x, though some specialized options can go even further. Canon, for example, offers a macro lens with a staggering 5x (or 5:1) magnification!

However, other lenses with labeled macro capabilities might only reach a 1:2 (2x) ratio or less. We recommend investing in a good lens with at least a 2x magnification, ideally 1x, for maximum flexibility.

Working Distance

It’s simply the length of space between your nearest subject and the lens. A focus distance that is too short might spook your macro subject or block light, so aim for at least six inches or 15 centimeters. The results will be even better if the distance is twice that number or more!

The lens’s working distance is shortest at 1:1 (1x) magnification, as extreme shots require getting as close to the subject as possible. 

From our observation, lenses with longer focal lengths offer greater distance than moderate ones (for instance, the Canon 180mm f/3.5 provides much more working space than a Canon EFS 60mm f/2.8). So, it’s best to opt for one with the longest possible distance to avoid startling your subjects or casting shadows on them!

Nevertheless, 180-mm or 200-mm macro lenses tend to be pricier. Consider a lens from 100 mm to 150 mm to balance working distance and price.

Camera Equipment Options For Macro Photography

snail above the frog's head marcro photography

Extension Tubes

A quality macro lens can do wonders for your macro photography. But what if you have no budget for that yet? Fortunately, there’s a friendlier and more common tool: extension tubes.

Extension tubes are attachments that go between your lens and the camera body. By increasing the lens-sensor distance, you can now focus on the targets much closer than the lens normally could. 


MeFOTO background

Even the smallest movement can ruin your macro shot. That’s why a sturdy tripod is essential!

A tripod provides enduring stability to keep your close-up photography clear and sharp. This essential piece of equipment is also a must-have if you don’t want any blur to ruin all the intricate patterns and details.

Flash Brackets

Lastly, flash brackets are handy tools that help add extra exposition and remove shadows, resulting in evenly lit close-up photos. Specifically, these brackets allow you to position the flash close to or even around your lens, giving you all the creative freedom for lighting effects and angles. 

They can be secured to either the lens or the digital camera and come in single or double configurations, though it’s not a good idea to dive straight into complex setups if you are still new. Start easy with some LED lights and gradually explore more advanced techniques as you gain experience.

See more: 22 Main Parts Of A Camera

2 Tips To Take Macro Photography Beautifully

The honey bee macro photography

Pay Attention to the Details

Zooming close to an object reveals small details or imperfections you wouldn’t notice from afar. A small stray hair might now look as thick as noodles! 

Hence, the cleaning process must be well-planned, even more so if the objects are fragile. Compressed air won’t cut it; you’ll need small brushes and tweezers to get everything spotless.

Plan Your Close-Up Shots

Since the depth of field becomes narrower with small subjects, it’s essential to have a clear overview of the macro images you need to capture. After all, there’s less room for error in macro works; even small adjustments can throw off your detailed shots entirely!

Answer the following questions before you jump in: 

  • What am I trying to capture?
  • Is my gear up for macro control? 
  • What is the background of my close-up work?
  • What artificial or natural light will work best for my desired image quality? Does the macro photo require any advanced lighting techniques?


Contrary to its name, macro shooting demands lots of “micro” attention to minute details. But when everything is set up just right, the results can be incredibly rewarding! If you still need any assistance with your macro photography ideas, feel free to contact us.

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Jeff Picoult

Jeff Picoult


Jeff Picoult is a seasoned photographer, who blends artistry and innovation. With a humble approach, he captures moments resonating with depth and emotion, from nature's beauty to the energy of sports.

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