Macro Photography Beginners Guide

Macro Photography Beginners GuideCamera – Nikon D700; Lens – AFD Nikkor 60/2.8D; ISO – 800; Shutter – 1/640; Aperture – 11

In general taking close up photo of an object is regarded as Macro Photography. One has to understand many technical terms, calculation and use of specialized software if you want to grab the whole world of macro. But for most of us to take decent Macro Photo we don’t need that much knowledge.

Take a simple measuring ruler. Look at the side that is marked with centimeter (cm). Now look through your camera, try to take a sharp picture of the ruler as close as possible. Most of the camera that can take an image of 14.4cm or less is termed as macro by manufacturers. With this type of camera or lens you can take beautiful close up pictures of flower, butterfly or any other object. If that much all you need then you already have the camera you want.

LeafCamera – Nikon D700; Lens – AFD Nikkor 60/2.8D; ISO – 800; Shutter – 1/250; Aperture – 5

Understanding Magnification ratio

Ruler - 144 mmFig – Ruler – 144 mm

Ruler - 36mmFig – Ruler – 36mm


Magnification Ratio 1:1Fig – Magnification Ratio 1:1


Magnification Ratio 1:4Fig – Magnification Ratio 1:4


Magnification Ratio 2:1Fig – Magnification Ratio 2:1

If you want more close up photos then take a look at your ruler once again. Find out the marking that measures 3.6cm (that is 36mm). 36mm is the length of a single frame of film. Digital cameras have sensors instead of film. Now take a photo of the ruler that covers only 36mm. This photo covers an area that equals the size of the sensor (36mm). This is called Life size or 1:1 (Size of sensor : Size of object). For most of the work we don’t need anything more than 1:1. In the previous image we actually compressed an area of 14.4cm into the sensor, which is 3.6cm long (Sensor 3.6cm : Ruler 14.4cm = 1:4). So the ratio was roughly 1:4.

SpiderCamera – Nikon D700; Lens – AFD Nikkor 60/2.8D; ISO – 200; Shutter – 1/8; Aperture – 18; Image stacking


Now that we have learned about the magnification ratio, lets find out what equipment we need to achieve it. I’ll go from cheap to expensive. They all have their pros and cons. You should choose gear depending on your need and budget.

 **I’m not going to explain about some equipment you will commonly find in other places e.g. Reversing ring, Manual Extension tube. Because from years of experience I know you will be struggling to get proper image using those things. That is a waste of time and money.**

A. Close up Filter
A close up filter is like a magnifying glass. You can fit it infront of your existing camera lens. They come in different magnifying power. Marked as +1, +2, +4. With a higher number you will get higher magnification. You can use them individually or in combination.

Hoya Close up filterHoya Close up filter

– They are cheap.
– Easy to use.

– Image quality is average. There is distortion at the corners of an image.

Recommended use
1. If you are a beginner in macro photography.
2. If you want to take occasional close up picture.
3. If you want to make creative use of distortion that is produced by close up filters.

Before you purchase
1. Check your filter diameter (marked at the front your lens or lens cap e.g. 52mm)
2. The magnification power of the filter e.g. +1, +2, +4
3. You can buy then in set (+1, +2, +4) or as Single piece.
4. A multicoated lens will give better result.

Hoya Close-up Filter Set43mm | 46mm | 49mm | 52mm | 55mm58mm | 62mm67mm | 72mm | 77mm


B. Auto Focus Extension tube
An extension tube is a hollow tube and has no glass in it. It’s fitted in between your DSLR camera & lens. By increasing the distance between lens and camera it magnifies the image. The more the distance the higher the magnification. An Auto Focus Extension Tube maintains all the electronic communication between your camera and lens, so you will not loose any functionality. Extension tubes come in different lengths e.g. 12mm, 20mm, 36mm. They are sold in a set of three. You can use them separately or in combination.

Auto Focus Extension Tube

AF Extension TubeFig – AF Extension Tube

***You may have to manually focus your subject because a lot of time autofocus will not work if you use long extension tube.

A general rule about extension tube
– If you attach 50mm extension tube with a 50mm Normal lens you will get 1:1 magnification.
– If you attach 100mm extension tube with a 50mm Normal lens you will get 2:1 magnification.
– If you still need more magnification upto 6:1 read this article.

– Easy to use.
– Doesn’t reduce image quality.
– Can be used with Tele lens for shooting butterfly from a distance.
– It you already have a macro lens it will increase the magnification power.

– It reduces amount of light reaching the camera sensor.

Recommend use
1. I recommend Extension tube as the first step for serious macro photography.
2. Love to shoot butterfly or dragonfly a lot.

Before you purchase
1. Make sure you purchase Auto Focus Extension tube not Manual version.
2. Out of many brands Kenko has very good built and highly recommended.

Kenko Autofocus Extension tubeNikon | Canon | Sony A | Sony E | Olympus | Panasonic

C. Micro Lens

Theses are special purpose lenses. A Micro lens can take photos at 1:1 or 1:2 magnification. They are specifically designed to correct the distortion of an image at close range. You will get very sharp image from center of the frame to extreme corners. They are frequently used for copying document, product photography, medical photography and in many other field. Micro lenses come in different focal length.

Construction of Micro lens vs Regular lensConstruction of Micro lens vs Regular lens

Some uses of different focal length are as follows ~
–  60mm Micro lens = 7 inch working distance (useful for non-moving object & copying purpose)
– 100mm Micro lens = 12 inch working distance (useful for moving object as well as portrait photography)
– 200mm micro lens = 19 inch working distance (useful for close up picture of moving subject e.g. butterfly, humming bird)
(**Working Distance – It is the distance between camera lens and the object we are photographing.**)

AF Nikkor 60mm / 2.8DAF Nikkor 60mm / 2.8D

– Excellent image quality.
– Can be used for General photography.

– Expensive.

Recommended use
1. For serious macro photography.
2. Medical & product photography.
3. Copying documentation.

Before you purchase
– Decide what subject you are going to photograph most.
– Now look which micro lens has the right working distance for that purpose.

Adorama :
Nikon – AFS Micro Nikkor 60/2.8G ED
Nikon – AFS Micro Nikkor 105/2.8G ED VR
Canon EF Macro 100/2.8L IS USM
Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di 1:1 AF Macro (for Canon)

Head BandCamera – Nikon FM2; Lens – AFD Nikkor 35~80/4-5.6D; Film – Fuji Provia 100

My Macro Setup

I am using AF Nikkor 60mm / 2.8D lens for last 12 years. Reason for choosing this lens ~
– It’s a very sharp macro lens
– It serves me as a normal lens which is good for copying object.
– If I need higher magnification beyond 1:1, I attach extension tube with it. (magnification upto 6:1 – read here).
– I can use it as an portrait lens with a Crop body DSLR camera.
– If I’m going to take close photos of butterfly I use extension tube with Tele zoom lens (e.g. 70-300mm lens), which gives me enough working distance.

Common Problems in Macro Photography

Blurry & Unsharp photograph

Any of the following reason can result in a blurry picture

1. The Subject moved (e.g. – in windy day you are photographing a flower)
     Solution – Try to fix the subject if possible. (e.g. wait for the wind to calm down)
2. The Photographer moved. You will find a lot of time while taking a close up photo our body keeps moving slightly forward &  backward, as a result we may get an out of focus image.
     Solution – Use a Tripod. It’s a very good practice to always use a tripod.
3. Focusing error.
     Solution – Recheck focus before shooting. If necessary do focus manually.
4. Only center area is sharp, corners unsharp.
    Solution – Use the macro mode in your camera or manually use higher aperture number (e.g. f/16 in your camera). It will make corner area sharp.

On location setup of the Spider PictureOn location setup of the Spider Picture

About Author

Junaed is a Doctor by profession who started photography back in 1992. From film days to digital he is regarded as a very good Photographer. He regularly appears as a guest lecturer at various Photographic clubs & institutes.

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