Macro photography dates back to the early 1900s and was originally pioneered as a tool for scientific research and education by photographers like Frank Percy Smith. By photographing subjects at 1:1 magnification (i.e. life-size), he was able to show insects and plants in microscopic detail. His close-up of a bluebottle fly’s tongue changed the photography world forever – and horrified people far and wide.

F. Percy Smith at his house in Southgate, April 1, 1936. IMAGNO / GETTY IMAGES

It didn’t take long for other photographers to start zooming in on the miniature world to take stunning images of everything from snowflakes and water droplets to jewellery and everyday household items. Any photo that shows tiny subjects in extremely high detail can be classed as a macro photo, which means you’re free to get as creative as you like. And the beauty of macro photography is that you don’t even need to leave your house to find captivating subjects.

Jamie Price is a specialist macro photographer who shoots most of his images in his own home. Photographing everything from house spiders, which look surprisingly cute up close, to flowers and his favourite toys, Jamie’s work shows that you don’t need to go far to get creative with macro photography.

Today there are thousands if not millions of macro photographs taken every day. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, you don’t need to be a pro or have professional camera gear to take mind-blowing macro shots – your smartphone camera is all you need!

Must know macro photography camera settings, gear and techniques

Start with the right lens

If you’d like to shoot macro photos with your phone, you might need a special macro lens. This will screw or clip onto your phone. However, many modern phones feature a built-in macro mode that allows you to focus as close as two centimetres using your phone’s built-in lens, so you may already have everything you need to get started with macro shooting!

If you’re using a DSLR or mirrorless camera, consider investing in a dedicated macro lens. These are specially designed to focus at very close distances and will give you the best image quality. There are hundreds of macro lenses to choose from, but a versatile focal length to start with would be something between 100mm and 200mm.

Shoot in Manual mode

Whether shooting with a camera or your phone, manual mode will give you full control of your settings and the final image. Some modern phones offer a manual mode within their standard camera app. If your phone does not, download an app like Moment or Manual Camera DSLR. Select a shutter speed no slower than 1/125 and a low ISO like 160 or 200.

Use a wide aperture like f/2.8 or f/4 if you’d like to separate your subject from the background and introduce a nice bokeh blur to your image. Note however that a high aperture value of around f/16 or f/22 will provide a greater depth of field and make it much easier to get your subject in focus.

Use manual focus

If you’re shooting with a mirrorless camera or DSLR, be sure to switch your macro lens to manual focus. Autofocus is fantastic these days, but the serious magnification levels of a macro lens make it almost impossible for your camera to find a focus point. Use focus peaking if your camera has it, which will outline the part of your image that’s in focus.

Use a tripod

No matter how steady your hands are, you’ll find even the smallest of hand shakes and movements are exaggerated in macro photography. For this reason, even the pros rely on tripods to get super sharp images. Set your phone or camera up and consider using a self-timer to take your shot so as not to move your camera as you hit the shutter button.

Light it up

LED lights make all the difference whether you’re shooting indoors or outside, day or night. And the beauty of macro photography is that you only really need a tiny light to illuminate your tiny subjects. Invest in a battery powered light that you can use outdoors as well as indoors. And make sure to get a tripod or clamp for it so you can set it up and use it hands-free. You can also buy ring lights made especially for macro photography that attach directly to your camera lens.

Example macro photography scenarios

Still subjects

From the texture of your carpet to the sweeping curves of your favourite watch, stationary objects are perfect for honing your macro photography skills. Assuming you’re using a tripod, you’ll be able to use your lens’s high aperture setting, which will be around f/16 or even f/22. This will make it much easier to get more of your subject in crisp focus. It’s also easier to light stationary subjects, which means you can use a low ISO, like 160 or 200. Then you can adjust your shutter speed – start at 1/250 and slow it down until you’re happy with your exposure. The beauty of using a tripod to photograph still subjects is that you can use ultra-slow shutter speeds and still get sharp images.

Moving subjects

Creepy crawlies and other moving subjects might look stunning when photographed with a macro lens, but they also present their own challenges. Even if you’re using a tripod and light, you’ll still need a fast enough shutter speed to “freeze” your subject’s movement. Whether you’re photographing a wriggly worm or a restless grasshopper, a shutter speed of at least 1/500 will help in this scenario. In this case you’ll need a slightly wider aperture, such as f/11, to let in more light. You’ll also need a higher ISO setting, but try not to go above ISO 800. Anything over this will start to introduce noise to your image. It’s always better to use a brighter LED light than to increase your ISO too much.

Creative tips for shooting macro photographs

Start at home

It’s a good idea to begin your macro photography journey by shooting objects that don’t move. From the texture of your sofa to your favourite house plants, you’ll be amazed by how fantastical everyday objects look once you zoom in up close. It’s also a good way to practise setting up your tripod and light, and getting your focus right.

Go wild

Once you’ve practised photographing non-moving images, head out into your garden or local park to practise shooting tiny beasts and beauties in their natural habitat. Focus on one small area at a time and you’ll soon see signs of life. From flies and bumblebees to dragonflies, worms and ants, you’ll be amazed by the amount of life going on right beneath your nose.

Get creative with macro portraits

Love photographing your loved ones? Whether it’s your children or partner, parents or siblings, you can capture stunning portraits of them with your new-found macro skills. Focus on specific details rather than trying to capture everything. The iris of their eyes, for example, will look like otherworldly galaxies with the power of macro photography. Or what about their tattoos and piercings? Even their nose and ears will become fascinating works of art when captured up close.

Have fun with your food

You’ve probably been taught to never play with your food, but this rule definitely doesn’t apply to photography. Macro photography is perfect for capturing the beauty of food. Zoom in on your favourite fruits, veggies and sugary snacks to magnify their colours and textures, and don’t forget to photography drinks too – the bubbles in fizzy drinks look spectacular!

Shoot your favourite possessions

Commercial product photographers use macro photography to show off everything from watches and jewellery to electronics and other little luxury trinkets. Gather a few of your favourite possessions and zoom in to capture the finer details that make you love them so much. Don’t forget about your loved one’s possessions too. From your pet’s name tag to your child’s favourite toy, there’s no better way to celebrate the stuff that matters most.

Wherever your macro photography adventures take you, remember that the most important thing is to have fun. There are no rules or limits on your creativity. The key is to experiment with different subjects and ideas, and to shoot as often as possible.

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