8 Essential Gear Items for Taking Breathtaking Macro Photos
Macro photos take you to another world full of strange insects and exquisite flowers. Want to enter the microcosm and try your hand at macro photography? Unfortunately, these tiny subjects are elusive – you should be prepared to get your hands dirty and your shoes dirty. Plus, you need special equipment and software to capture your macro subjects in all their glory.
Want to know the tools you need to take great macro photos? You are in the right place. Let’s cut to the chase.
1. DSLR or mirrorless camera
Technically, you can take macro photos with an iPhone or a compact camera, but here we’re focusing on serious, life-size macro photography. So you will need a DSLR or mirrorless camera. You can choose a cropped sensor or a full frame sensor. However, a full-frame sensor will give you higher quality images.
When choosing a camera, look for the highest resolution you can afford. Since macro subjects are tiny, it’s good to have all the extra pixels you can crop out in post and fill your subject into the frame.
2. Lens inversion ring
Macro lenses are generally a bit pricey. So if you’re just trying to test the waters of macro photography, you can use a lens reversing ring instead of spending a lot of money on a macro lens. A lens reversing ring allows you to connect the front part of your lens to the camera. The reverse lens acts as a magnifying glass and magnifies your subject.
The lens reversal ring is very inexpensive, and you can try it with your kit lens or the famous fifty lens. Remember that the protruding part of your lens is exposed when using this technique, so be sure to take extra precautions to protect your lens.
You can also use a coupler to connect the reverse lens to another lens properly mounted on the camera. With this technique, you can use a zoom to enlarge your subject far more than the 1:1 magnification of your standard macro lens.
3. Macro lenses
A suitable macro lens is a great investment if you plan to stick with macro photography for a long time. But not all macro lenses are created equal. A true macro lens has a reproduction ratio of 1:1 or more. So, for example, if you are photographing an ant, the macro lens should project it life-size onto the camera sensor. A 1:2 macro lens projects only half the size of the actual subject.
Additionally, you get macro lenses in different focal lengths. Your best bet is to buy one in the medium zoom range. Canon’s 100mm f/2.8 and Nikon’s 105mm f/2.8 are two popular macro lenses you can check out.
The problem with short throw lenses is that you need to be very close to your subject. Imagine that you are photographing a small insect. When you’re almost on it, you’ll end up scaring it away. You can also cast a shadow on your subject if you get too close.
4. Tripod with a 90 degree arm
You’re often crouched, prone, or doing stunts to get that perfect angle when shooting macro. Of course, it doesn’t help that our favorite macro subjects like frogs, lizards and other creepy critters tend to hide under rocks and bushes. Want a break from all that backbreaking work? Get a tripod.
When looking for a tripod, it’s best to find one with a center column that works horizontally and allows you to shoot from top to bottom. But on the other hand, these types of tripods are quite expensive. So, if you want to save some money, you can purchase a tripod extension arm from third-party manufacturers like Neewer or K&F Concept to attach to your existing tripod.
5. Macro ring flash
Macro lenses have a very shallow depth of field, so you can’t open your aperture wide. Also, macro subjects like bees will be fast-paced and you will experience windy weather when out in nature. Slowing down your shutter speed is a no-go in such situations. You have to rely on artificial lighting to properly expose your subjects.
You can use your usual flash for macro photography, but there is a special type of flash called a ring flash specifically for macro photography. It attaches to your lens instead of your camera’s hot shoe. Since the ring flash is on the lens, it is closer to the subject and illuminates it evenly. Nikon offers a slightly different version of the ring flash called the Wireless Close-Up Speedlight System.
6. Extension tubes
Let’s say you want to photograph a snowflake. Unfortunately, a snowflake is too small for even a macro lens to fill the frame with your photo. You can solve this problem by attaching an extension tube between your camera and the lens. This way you can get much closer to your subject.
Extension tubes are simple tubes without any optical elements, and they are available in different sizes like 14mm, 28mm, etc. You can also get extension tubes with autofocus capabilities.
Remember that extension tubes reduce the light entering the camera and you need more light to work with them.
7. Focusing rail and bellows
If you’ve improved your macro photography skills and want to take it to the next level, you can invest in things like a focus rail and bellows. A focus rail attaches to your camera and lets you focus precisely on parts of your subject. You can control your camera on the x and y axis. In addition, they are calibrated in centimeters, which allows you to focus exactly to the millimeter.
A bellows is a cross between a focus rail and an extension tube. You can achieve magnification with precise control.
8. Focus Stacking Software
While not exactly a piece of equipment, we have to include focus software in the list because it can bring your macro shots to life like nothing else. Adobe Photoshop is our favorite software for focus stacking. You can read our detailed instructions for focus stacking here.
Additionally, some focus software comes with automated focus rails that can control your camera and shoot at different focus distances. But, again, these are pro-level gear, and you don’t have to worry about that until you’ve mastered macro photography.
Take your macro photography to the next level with the right equipment
Macro photography can be rewarding for those who love nature and all the mini creatures that call it home. But it’s not easy, you have to be ready to enjoy photography in the undergrowth.
Specialized equipment for macro photography can leave a big hole in your wallet. But the good news is that you don’t have to store them all at once. Instead, start slowly and add one at a time as you progress. Remember that a great photo is not made by fancy equipment, but by the skilled photographer behind it.
What is Focus Stacking? The ultimate guide to making your images super sharp