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Macro Photography: A Beginners Guide

Macro photography can take you into a whole new world of images, photographing tiny subjects full of amazing details that you may never have noticed otherwise.

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So what exactly is macro photography?  The technical definition of a macro photograph is that it is one in which the subject appears life size on the film or digital sensor – so that for instance a coin which is one centimetre in diameter will be reproduced at exactly that size on the film/sensor.  However, in fact the term macro is often used much more loosely just to mean a close up photograph.

There are lots of different ways in to macro photography, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.  I’m going to look at three of the most popular ways here:

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1. A macro lens:  this is in many ways the easiest option, as a macro lens will retain all the usual functionality of metering, exposing and so on, and will generally produce a high quality image.  The downside is price – expect to pay upwards of £500 for a good macro lens.

2. A close-up lens:  also known as a supplementary lens, this actually resembles a filter rather than a macro lens.  These screw into the filter thread on your lens, and allow you to focus more closely.  They come in various strengths, normally specified in dioptres, with the higher numbers giving more magnification.  The advantage of these is price – you can get sets of 4 lenses for as little as £8 on Amazon.  The disadvantage is quality – they won’t produce as sharp an image as a macro lens.

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3. Extension tubes:  an extension tube is literally a hollow tube that fits between the camera and the lens.  This allows your lens to focus more closely.  Because extension tubes don’t contain any glass, they won’t affect the optical quality of your lens at all.  However, there will be a slight loss of light.  It’s also usually a considerably cheaper option than a true macro lens.  However, depending on the make, you may sometimes lose some of your camera’s automatic functions such as autofocus.

If you’re unsure which macro photography option to go for, and have never tried macro before, it might be an idea to start with the inexpensive close-up lenses.  Then, if you get hooked, you can go for one of the more expensive options!

If you are interested in learning more about Macro Photography consider taking Heather Angel’s 4 week online course Macro Master Photography Course

Geoff Harris

I am a photography journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill, Steve McCurry and the late Mary Ellen Mark. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time.

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