A Beginner’s Guide to Macro Photography: How to Take Stunning Shots without Spending a lot of Money on Equipment
Take photos that are literally “larger-than-life” with macro photography. With a powerful camera, you can zero in on the most minute details—from the velvety wings of a butterfly, to the stunning light refractions on a single droplet of water.
Macro photography is fun in and of itself, but it also has several commercial purposes. It’s often used in advertising, especially for food or beauty products. And like any form of art, they can be sold as prints, used in merchandise like calendars, or licensed to image banks like Shutterstock and Getty. There are also popular macro photographers who have thousands of followers on social media.
Before, macro photography needed a hefty investment that was well beyond the budget of hobbyists and enthusiasts. Today, you can literally “start small” with a powerful camera like the Sony A6000. Here are some simple tips for anyone who wants to try macro photography for the first time.
Sony A600: Power At Your Fingertips
The Sony A600 is known to be one of the world’s bestselling mirrorless cameras. While it was released in 2014 (and already praised for its powerful features and value for money), it continues to be a popular pick.
The Sony A600 has a 24.3 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, and a powerful hybrid Autofocus System that includes 25 contrast-detect and 179 phase-detect points. When it was first released, it was actually the fastest autofocus system in the market.
But even today, the Sony A600 AF is pretty darned impressive. Its ability to instantly and precisely lock on to your subject almost feels like “camera voodoo.” Even if you just slightly press the button, it will pick out the best focal point. It can also adapt very well from single focus to continuous focus, which you will need when you stop between shots to choose another angle or composition. Some photographers say that its autofocus system is more accurate than some of the new cameras today.
The Sony A600 also has incredible image quality, so you can actually shoot in JPEG and be happy with whatever you get. This is faster and more convenient in shooting in RAW, and won’t eat up a lot of space in your memory card.
You get ISO 100-25600, plus Sony’s patented image technology: diffraction correction, area-specific noise reduction, and detail reproduction features. These are all very important when you’re shooting images in extreme close-up.
The Sony is also very compact and light, which is important if you’re going to be doing macro photography without a tripod. The shape is easy to grip and you can change the settings with just one hand. It’s also easy to switch between Aperture and Shutter Speed priority, which may not be a big factor in macro photography but means you can also use this camera for portraits, sports, and other kinds of scenarios.
All in all, the Sony A600 offers the best performance in its price range, and is a great choice for people who want to get into macro photography without paying a macro price. Now that you’ve got the tools, here are some easy tricks.
Play With Manual Focus
While cameras like the Sony A6000 have powerful and intelligent auto focus features, try shooting osme of your macro photos in manual mode. You can get interesting effects, while also becoming more confident in your photography skills.
To manually focus your camera, just turn the focus ring until the object is out of focus, and then gradually move it back yourself until the image becomes clear and crisp. You can also try moving the camera (or yourself) forward, to see which distance will help give you the best shot. This can sometimes work better when you are using f/5.6 or less.
Select Different Angles
One of the best things about macro photography is that even a slight change in position or angle can make a huge difference. It can change the shadows and highlights, or reveal different textures and details.
Improve Depth Of Field By Controlling The Aperture
One of the most challenging aspects of macro photography is to blur out the distracting background so your subject’s color and details take center stage. This is where depth of field comes in.
Select aperture priority mode. If you want to blur out the background completely, choose f/2.8 and f/5.6 . As you go towards f/16 or smaller, more of the background details will emerge. Play with the aperture size to achieve different kinds of effects.
Avoid Camera Shake
Macro photography requires really slow shutter speeds, but that can mean that the slightest jiggle will ruin the shot. If you don’t have a tripod, keep the shutter speed at 1/400th of a second. To keep your hands steady, keep your elbows close to your torso and brace yourself against something solid. You can lean on the table, or support yourself on your knees. Exhale and relax your shoulders, then take the photo.
Play With Texture And Details
Even something as simple and small as a humble leaf will look different when shot at dawn or in bright light, dry or sprayed with a bit of water. And you have even more possibilities when you’re taking pictures of products.
For example, photographers who take pictures of beauty products use craft tools to help bring out the texture and play with the color. They will smudge or slice the lipstick, then smear it against a clear acrylic board. They will crush eyeshadows into fine powders, or sharpen the eye pencil to take a picture with its shavings.
Experiment With Different Backgrounds
While most photographers will have clear or white backgrounds for products, they will also have solid papers and even printed scrapbook papers. While these will usually get blurred out during the shot, they create subtle dimension and change the mood of the shot.
Learn About Different Lighting Conditions
Before buying any expensive lighting equipment and shooting in your home studio, it’s best to learn about natural light. Even the “mistakes” provide invaluable experience in knowing how the position and amount of light affects shadow, contrast and color.
The best kind of light for macro photography is bright but diffused—never very bright sunlight. This occurs in early morning or early late afternoon (often called “the Golden Hours”) or when the sky is slightly overcast.
You can also try experimenting with ways to block, soften or control the light—or even protect your subject from the wind. When you’re shooting macro photos, the slightest breeze can make your image blurry. Some photographers bring umbrellas or craft boards, light reflectors, or make makeshift shadow boxes. These are all affordable and can even be DIY’d.
Don’t Block The Light
If you’re using a natural light source, or any kind of light set-up that is not 100% in your control, make sure that you’re not accidentally blocking the light. Depending on your position, you could be casting shadows—and since you’re using slow shutter speeds, your camera needs all the light it can get.
Alternatively, when you’re shooting in very harsh or uneven lighting, position yourself in a way that will shield your set-up.
Use The Rule Of Thirds
Placing your subject in the center of your photo can be very boring. Try using the Rule of Thirds. Imagine three horizontal lines intersecting with three vertical lines—just like a tic tac toe grid. The key details should fall either on one of the lines or one of the points of intersection. It’s a quick way to ensure that your photo has “balance” and will grab the attention of your viewer.
Look For Everyday Objects
Insects, flowers or water droplets are all interesting subjects for macro photographer, but they can be more challenging because of the fact that they move.
Start with static objects around the house. Play with texture and color: a row of crayons, rug patterns, very small toys, rocks and pebbles, iridescent or glassy objects like marbles. Look at how changing a light source (like a lamp) can create interesting shadow effects.
You can also try sticking objects together with tacky clay or invisible tape to play with silhouettes, or using colored cellophane to create fascinating light effects. Macro photographer is both about skill and creativity — the ability to play with texture, color, light, and shadow to bring out the beauty of everyday things.
As you become more comfortable with your camera, and confident about the right settings for different light conditions, you can take on more challenging subjects.
And be patient—not just with your subject, but yourself. Famous macro photographers spend years honing their craft, and may be using a lot of expensive equipment. But for now, all you need is a good camera like the Sony A600 and lot of practice.