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Macro (Close-up) Photography

The best way to do macro, or close-up photography, is with a macro lens.

However, they cost a couple hundred dollars or more.

You may not want to spend the money for a lens that you'll use only occasionally.

Also, a macro lens may often languish at home because of it's weight and bulk.

There are several alternatives.

Zoom Lenses

Most zoom lenses, when set to the most telephoto focal length, get you close, but not close-up.

A few lenses may have a close-up setting that gets you closer, but still, not close-up.

Reversing Rings


A reversing ring is used with 50mm lenses.

Remove your lens from your camera, attach the ring to your camera, and then attach your camera lens to the ring—backwards.

Focusing is done my moving the entire camera back-and-forth.

You have to use the manual exposure mode (M).

They cost around $10.

Close-up Filters (Lenses)


These filters often come as sets of three or four filters of different magnification strengths called diopters.

You can also buy individual filters that may be of higher quality, but most people are satisfied using a set.

Simply screw them onto your lens to convert it to a macro lens.

The directions explain how to use two filters in combination to increase the magnification.

Close-up filters cost from about $30 to $60.

Achromatic Close-up Filters

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Nikon Close-up 5T Nikon Close-up 6T
(1.5 diopter) (2.9 diopter)

Achromatic, or double-element filters, are made from two lenses cemented together.

The advantage of achromatic close-up filters over the above close-up filters is better optical quality.

This is because because the chromatic aberration of each lens cancels the chromatic aberration of the other lens.

Most manufactures offer filters of different magnification strengths.

For example:

Brand Diameter Diopter
Canon 250D 52 or 58mm +4
Canon 500D 52 or 58mm +2
Canon 500D 72 or 77mm +2
Nikon 62mm +1.5
Nikon 62mm +2.9

Most achromatic close-up filters cost about $80 to $100, with a few costing much more.

You Can Skip this Technical Discussion

The optical quality of achromatic filters is much better because the chromatic aberration of each lens cancels the chromatic aberration of the other lens.

Chromatic aberration is when a lens does not focus all of the colors of light on the same plane.

When a lens displays chromatic aberration, a colored fringe appears around the subjects in a photograph.

In an achromatic lens or filter, the chromatic aberration from two of the three primary colors is corrected.

All three primary colors are corrected in an apochromatic lens or filter.

The multi-coating of lenses and filters is another way to correct for chromatic aberration.


Depth-of-field decreases as you get closer to the subject.

Very little will be in focus.

So, use a small lens opening, such as f/16, to get more depth-of-field.

You can do this by:

1) Setting your exposure mode to the flower icon.

Or . . .

2) Setting the lens opening yourself using the A or Av exposure modes.

You can also use a digital point-and-shoot camera.

The small sensors used in these cameras create more depth-of-field.

Small Lens Openings = Little Light

If you use a small lens opening to get more depth-of-field, there is very little light going through the lens opening to the film or sensor.

At f/16, for example, the lens opening is physically small, so there's little light reaching the film or sensor.

You may have to compensate for this lack of light by using ISO or shutter speed.


If there isn't enough light to photograph with a small lens opening, such as f/16, you can:

1) Use a high ISO film.

A high ISO film, such as 800, is more sensitive to light.

2) Set the ISO on your digital camera to 800 or 1600.

These settings are more sensitive to light.

If your digital SLR camera has a noise reduction feature, make sure it's on when using higher ISO settings.

Shutter Speed

If you use the A or Av exposure modes to select a small lens opening, such as f/16, your camera will select the shutter speed for you.

Because there's little light going through the small lens opening, the camera may select a slow shutter speed, such as 1/8th of a second.

The shutter stays open longer, letting more light reach the film or sensor.

However, because the shutter is open for so long, you can't support the camera.

You'll get camera shake.

You'll need a tripod.


Generally, use a tripod if the shutter speed is lower than than 1/60th of s second.

Of course, many macro photography subjects are out of reach of a normal tripod.

Tripod systems are available with arms for placing your camera near the ground, and so forth.


Clamps are useful for holding reflectors, and for keeping flowers from moving.


Armature wire, a flexible aluminum wire used for clay sculptures, may be a less expensive substitute.


Many macro photographers use a flash (or multiple flashes) off of the camera with extension cord.

With lots of light from the flash, they can use small lens openings and low ISO settings.

This Is Getting Complicated



So much for being easy!

Try some macro photography without a tripod and flash.

You can still get some great photographs.

If You Pursue Macro Photography

You'll want to get two, expensive, items if you pursue macro photography.

Macro Lens

These lenses allow you to get closer, with greater optical quality than the above methods.

Right-angle Finder

A right-angle finder allows you to look through the viewfinder from above.

Your camera manufacturer may make one, as does Hoodman and Adorama.


Focusing Rail

A handy device is a focusing rail.

If you do a lot of macro photography, you'll quickly find that moving a tripod into position is difficult.

A focusing rail allows you to move the camera a few inches in each direction, and to fine-tune focusing, easily.

An inexpensive focusing rail is sold by Adorama camera.


Camera and tripod manufacturers make focusing rails, and they're available from Kirk Enterprises and Really Right Stuff.