Macro Photography Without an Expensive Camera :: Digital Photo Secrets

Macro Photography Without an Expensive Camera

by David Peterson 10 comments

You wonder how it is done. How is it possible to get something as tiny as an insect to appear larger than life? You have probably tried to get really close to small things and photograph them, but you have undoubtedly learned just how challenging it can be. Many people think they need a very expensive camera setup to get great macro photographs, but this isn’t necessarily true. You can use a point and shoot to take macro pictures that are almost as good as what you would get with a digital SLR. It all depends on how you take the shot.

To begin with, many people don’t know their camera has a macro mode. When you switch to this mode, your camera automatically sets the shutter speed and aperture to the ideal settings for macro photography. Macro mode is usually represented with an icon in the shape of a flower. Just twist the dial to the icon, and you should be ready.

The next step seems obvious, but it still needs to be mentioned. It is important to get as close to your subject as possible. If you can edge in closer by walking, do so. Get so close that the image through the viewfinder, or on the LCD screen, starts to get blurry. After that, take a step back and see if you can find any interesting ways of arranging what you see in the frame. Think about the rule of thirds in composition as you do this.

Sometimes you still won’t be able to get close enough. Most normal lenses on cameras aren’t designed with extra magnification in mind. If you have a point and shoot, you might not be able to magnify your image any further. Having said this, many point and shoot cameras have third party macro lens attachments that transform an ordinary point and shoot lens into a masterpiece of macro machinery. Do some research and you will probably find a low cost attachment that’s perfect for the job.

For those of you who are fortunate enough to own a digital SLR, you can purchase some fantastic macro lenses for a reasonable price. Many of these lenses are only offered at a single focal length. This fact, however, is more of a testament to their quality and ability to help you get the shot you are looking for.

Second to getting very close to your subject, you will also want to keep the camera as still as possible. When you are working with subjects as small as what you see in macro photographs, the slightest shake of the camera or nudge in any direction can offset your photos. Your best bet is to use a tripod with fine-tuned controls. This will guarantee that you are only capturing what you want to capture.

Some people go the extra mile on this and purchase special macro attachments for their tripods. These attachments give the photographer even more control over the arrangement of elements in the photo. The truly crazy add in a remote to eliminate the slight effect of physically pressing the shutter button with their hands. Of course, you can always use the self-timer on any camera (including a point and shoot) to achieve the same result.

With your camera mounted on your tripod and your subject in the frame, it is time to think about your aperture. You might not be able to change your aperture in macro mode, but if you can, it will help you get the ideal shot. Think about how much of the background you want to keep in focus. You have probably already noticed that the magic of macro photographs is the way they capture a subject while everything else is blurred. If you use a smaller aperture like f22, almost none of the background will be blurred out. If you use a bigger aperture like f2.8, most of the background will be blurred out. Decide how much you want the image to focus on the subject alone, and set your aperture accordingly.

If you are using a point and shoot camera, odds are you won’t have much control over where the camera focuses. But with a digital SLR and a macro lens, you can make some very fine adjustments to where you focus your shot. Whenever possible, avoid automatic focusing modes when shooting macro. Always opt for manual focus. Remember when checking your photos to zoom in on the LCD, or view on a computer before packing up. Your LCD can lie to you!

And lastly, we come to the topic of lighting. Unfortunately, many point and shoot cameras fall short of the bar in this regard. When shooting the very small, the powerful light from a head-on flash can completely destroy the photo and overexpose it. There are a few flash-free ways to solve this problem. You could simply avoid flashes altogether and wait until there is enough ambient light to take your photo. Because many macro photographs are taken outside during the day, there’s bound to be enough light if you wait for the right moment.

You can also invest in some portable lights or an external flash that can be bounced off a wall. So long as the light you shine on your tiny subjects is diffused, you won’t ruin your photo. This is the more complicated side of taking macro photos, but it is worth the experimentation.

Macro photography is fascinating if only because it magnifies all of the possibilities around us. With our cameras in hand, the everyday becomes interesting in a way it never was before. If you have a particularly amazing macro photo you want to share, and don't mind me critiquing it, I want to see it. Please send it my way!

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  1. Barb Feggestad says:

    Thanks for this info - for when I can afford a macro lens!

    Barb F

  2. Mario Villaflor says:

    try reversing the SLR lens check this out

  3. Zuraida Hassan says:

    Dear David,
    I'm using Sony Alpha 550 with 18250mm lens. I like to shot macro and I bought a Raynox lens/filter. I've tried so many times but I could not get perfect picture. I would like to know which one is the best 'Raynox lens adapter or extension tube beside the macro lens(which is expensive)

  4. Melisa says:

    Macro photograph is one of my favorite things to do althought I was limited to my cameras ability. Have invested in macro filters since then. :) Ill try n forward some shots... Would love pointers.... :D

  5. Nancy says:

    I have used my Nikon's Marco setting and love it! Pictures are just as good as the ones I have taken with an actual Marco lens. By the way, have you ever used the Marco Extension Tubes for close up photography? If so what do you think of their results vs. Marco setting or lens?

  6. Marcelo says:

    I'd add to Richard that:
    In (1), you run the risk of losing your subject, if it's an insect that can suddenly fly, or if it can be carried away by the wind, for instance.
    In (2), you'd have to use a tripod or have very firm hands, since a small movement will be amplified to a giant blur by the same factor as the zoom you're using.
    Also, in (3), the image quality is lower because you're throwing pixels away, thus not taking advantage of the full resolution of your camera's sensor.

    That being said, I'd also love to see an article by David on tripods, especially relating their fancy features to corresponding price ranges.

  7. David Peterson says:


    The differences? With 1, you can take images of very small objects like the top of a pin. You can't do that with a normal zoom. 2 allows you to get closer to macro (larger) objects. With 3, you'll get a worse image than using the optical zoom to get closer.


  8. sunil says:

    Please let me know the use of close up lens and lens adapter... How far will the close up lens help in taking macro photos...

  9. Richard says:

    What is the difference between

    1) taking a picture with the subject inches from the lend
    2) Using a telephoto lens with high zoom with the subject further away
    3) Taking the picture with normal with high ISO and Quality then croping

    will love if you will include tripods in a next topic.

  10. ronald says:

    i usually use a magnifuying glass to get close ups but it gets blurry so i dont go close but untill the image is clear. i take the shot then zoom in for a close r look after i take the picture and its super clear. ill be happy to show you my closeups.

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