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macro photography

Macro Photography

What is Macro Photography?

According to Wikipedia, macro photography is taking photographs of small objects at larger than life-size. I tend to think of macro photography as shooting small objects in sharp focus at a size that fills the frame with the subject. I suppose both are accurate.

How I Became Interested in Macro Photography

I became interested in macro photography even before I bought my first DSLR camera. Shooting macro with a point-and-shoot camera is next to impossible. The focus would just search all over the place, trying to find focus on the object of my interest. That’s what drove me to purchase my first DSLR camera. I needed manual focus ability and a lens capable of shooting macro photos.

What do you Need to do Macro Photography?

You need a lens designed for macro photography or you can use macro rings designed for your make and model of camera. A macro lens is designed with the ability to focus extremely close and also do fine focus. The minimum focal distance of a lens is usually stamped into the lens somewhere. A macro lens will have a significantly smaller minimal focal distance than a typical lens. Many also include the “macro” in the name of the lens. Many lens manufacturers make one or several lenses that can also be used for macro photography.

Using A Macro Tube

A Macro tube can help you do macro photography without having to purchase a new lens. But since we all probably spend way more on lens glass than we should, I’m going to show you a way to use an existing lens and something called a macro tube. Using a macro tube will allow you to begin doing photography of small things without spending tons of money on a new lens.

I want to give you tips and tricks about how to take great photos with affordable tools. So let’s look at a set of macro rings and a few photos I shot with those rings. The set of macro rings I bought are available here.

Below are the three rings separated. The rings come in different lengths to allow you to move the lens you are using closer or farther away from the camera body. It’s this movement away from the image sensor that allows you to decrease the minimum focal distance of your lens. The physics of how this works is beyond the scope of this article. You can go here to explore the way it works further.

macro rings

The rings allow you to move your lens at different distances from the camera sensor. You can stack the rings for even more options. This allows flexibility in the use of lenses with different minimum focal distances. Below is a shot of my full-frame Canon 5Ds with the largest macro ring between the camera body and my Canon 18-135 macro zoom lens. This is already a macro lens with a minimum focusing distance of 1.6ft. While this is good for flowers, larger insects, etc. it is not enough for tiny flowers or insects. By combining the two I get even more options for focusing on tiny objects.

Camera and macro ring

With this macro ring in place, the minimum focusing distance is greatly reduced. The following are some photos I shot with this ring in place.

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Ring Flash For Macro Photography

A ring flash can be useful for macro photography. Macro photography takes place at such close distances to the subject that a traditional Speedlight flash may be too high to light your subject. You may be able to use a reflector to bounce light from the Speedlight onto your subject. However, that introduces complexity to your setup that you might not want. Macro photography many times involves insects that are notoriously skittish as you get close. These are the times I will use a ring flash for macro photography.

What is a Ring Flash?

This type of flash is a lighting setup that attaches to the front of your lens by way of an adapter. The adapter attaches to your lens using the filter threads on the front of your lens. The flash I purchased comes with 7 sizes of adapters to fit most standard lenses. As with all equipment used for this site, the cost is substantially less than a name-brand flash, yet still does a reasonable job for the intended purpose. The flash I am using here is available on Amazon for $34.99. The useful thing about this ring flash is it also has a light setting that allows you to turn on all the LEDs for continuous lighting. This can be useful when trying to fine focus on an object that is really close due to the very thin focal plane with macro photography.

How do you use a Ring Flash?

The first step is to attach the proper size adapter to the lens by screwing the adapter on the front of the lens as you would with any other filter. Once attached, the ring flash is placed over the adapter while depressing two buttons on each side of the ring flash. Once you have the flash in place, you release the buttons and check that the ring flash is securely attached. The control unit is then mounted on the hot-shoe adapter. The control unit uses 4 AA batteries and powers the flash. The flash has 7 power settings and these are also used when using as a ring light. I mostly use the flash as a ring light. As I said, it helps with focusing when using small aperture settings at such close distances. Since the light is on the same plane as the lens, the light is more even and less apt to cause shadows. Because the light is close to the subject, it also produces a softer light, similar to what you would get when using a Speedlight with a softbox.

Creative Ways to use a Ring Flash

Besides being able to cast a soft light on subjects when doing macro photography, you can get some interesting looks when photographing reflective objects. A ring flash gives an interesting round catch light in the eyes when doing portrait photography. So what kinds of interesting effects can you get when using a ring flash for macro photography. In the two photos below, you can see the reflections the ring flash makes when photographing water droplets. Depending on the angle you are shooting from and the shape and size of the water droplet, there are endless possibilities to the effects you can achieve.

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ring flash 4

If you want to try out macro photography try purchasing a ring flash to light your subjects. The great thing about this type of flash for macro photography is that its light, so you can keep it in your camera bag and have it with you if you have an opportunity to shoot something tiny. You can even attach it to your camera and have it ready when you head out on a nature walk. The only warning here is if you have a wide-angle lens with the flash attached, you may find the flash shows as a vignette in wide-angle photos. With a zoom lens, you can do a slight zoom to prevent this from happening. Test your lens after attaching the ring flash and see if this poses a problem for you. All in all, the ring flash is a good way to get soft light onto a small object to shoot macro images.

If you want to learn more and take your photography journey to the next level, you might like the Photography Master Class. This video course will definitely help you on your journey to be a better photographer.

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