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How To: Macro Photography Made Easy
by Chris Gampat -  11/2/2012

Macro photography can be one of the funniest things to do as you try to document the miniature world that often eludes the human eye. If you are really into macro photography, there are many ways to make your images even better with some organization and careful thought to achieve your final creative vision.

Here are the essentials that you'll need to get those images.

Macro Magnifier Adapter or Extension Tubes

One way to get into macro images without breaking the bank is to consider a macro magnifying optical addition for your current lens. These little filters attach onto the front of your lens where the filter thread is. They are usually extremely affordable and can deliver some very nice images with the right light; more on that later.

For the best results, it is imperative that you keep them clean. Purchasing a lens cleaning solution and a couple of micro fiber cloths will help to ensure that your images come out sharper. The only trade off though is that sometimes these adapters don't offer you the best image quality you can get.

Another way to do this is to use extension tubes. These tubes go in-between your lens and the camera and have different magnification aspects. Some magnify the image by 2x. When you use these, keep in mind that you'll only be able to use these at certain distances away from your subject. Your camera can have a tough time autofocusing sometimes, so the best idea will be to use manual focusing on your lens and to also use manual exposure mode.

Macro Lens

The absolute best way to get better images is to forego the adapters and tubes and instead purchase a macro lens. Macro lenses let you focus extremely close to your subject; often much closer than extension tubes or glass adapters can. The reason why they can also give you better image quality is because there are no extra optics being put in front your camera lens. The lens can do it all!

Macro lenses range in prices and optical quality. Usually, the larger aperture lenses (such as F2.8) will deliver the best image quality. Either way, your lenses will need to be drastically stopped down (around f16 to f32) to get anything in focus at macro distances.

If you're looking to shoot macro subjects for the long term, consider a lens with optical stabilization built in.

As you get more experienced, you'll also start to discover that the image you want might not be what the camera's exposure meter is telling you to use.

A Sturdy Tripod with a Ball Head

If you choose to forego a lens with stabilization built in, then you'll need to invest in a very sturdy and steady tripod. If you have a home studio setup, then you should get a tripod with rubberized feet to help keep it steady.

To ensure that you can dial in your exact angle, a ball head is also often one of the best options because it allows you to set your camera to a specific angle and will keep it steady in some position if you lock it in. Good ball heads also have built-in bubble levels.

Lights

If you're stopping your lens down to f32, you'll need some extra light. Sure, you can crank your ISO settings up, but then your image quality will degrade due to image noise. The only solution then is to add more light. Some of the options you have are:

Backgrounds

One of the best ways to emphasize your subject is to use backgrounds that aren't distracting or that take away from your subject matter. Black, white, or gray backgrounds are often some of the best to use. A simple box with the front cut open and with white paper pasted down can often work more than well enough.

Paper backgrounds can be the easiest to keep clean. However, cloth backgrounds can work just as well, but you'll need to keep them smooth and ensure that they don't reflect light back up to your subject in the situations that they are shiny.

Otherwise, lightboxes are often very affordable.

Editing

Sure, you can get great images in the camera but sometimes you can make them even better with software. Often, all you'll need to do is a little bit of tweaking with clarity bumps and sharpness increases. In general, it is also much better to look at your images on a larger screen than it is to look on the LCD screen of your camera. Plus, you'll be wowed by what you can get if you just change the white balance a little bit.

If you really want to get technical, consider tethering your camera to the computer via USB cable. You can set Adobe Lightroom up to automatically import your images as they're shot so you can work on them right there.

In conclusion, a macro setup can require lots of elements to create your final image, but in the end they will all be worth it. Whether you're photographing little bugs, coins, vinyl toys, or the intricacies of your watch, you'll get to document a little world that few really get to see up close and personal.