Tips For Photographing Our Wonderful Remarkable Tiny World

Just in time for summer’s first long weekend one of JSGB’s featured photographers, Jason Foley, shares his tips and techniques for photographing the remarkable tiny world that exists at our feet.

Bee in black and white

Photo credit: Jason Foley

What exactly is Macro Photography? Think of it as extreme close-up photography where your subject matter appears larger than life in the photo that you have captured.

To better explain this, I will use my typical camera and lens setup for macro. The sensor on my Canon EOS R is a Full Frame sensor, measuring 36mm across and 24 mm high. My go-to macro lens is the Canon EF 100 mm F2.8 Macro. If I was to photograph a stamp that measured 36mm wide and 24 mm high, moving my lens to the closest distance I could achieve while maintaining focus, the stamp would perfectly fill the frame from edge to edge, top and bottom. This is called a 1:1 magnification ratio, and it’s where true macro photography begins.

Fly on leaf by Jason Foley

Photo credit: Jason Foley

When I print that image of the stamp, it would appear larger than life. Now translate that to something like a flower or an insect. You’re revealing details not easily visible to the naked eye, and the experience can be quite moving.

One of my earliest captures was of a tiny jumping spider as I see them frequently at our cottage.  Under extreme magnification, this little critter appeared to have; dare I say it, personality? I could easily make out its eyes, gazing up at me with the same level of curiosity that I had for it.

My fear of insects slowly began to dissolve, and I feel a much deeper connection with them now. Yes, I even chat with them while I’m walking along the shore, photographing them as they go about their day. Tufts of hair can be seen on the heads of impossibly small Damselflies.

Pollen on stamen by Jason Foley

Photo credit: Jason Foley

The inner structure of a dandelion appears as a forest of alien trees. Intricate patterns are revealed in rocks and gemstones. The complexity and diversity in all of nature is truly awesome, and equally fragile. Macro Photography has taught me how to better coexist with our tiny neighbors.

Macro photography isn’t limited to living creatures. I have taken close-up images of soap bubbles, coffee beans and the inner structure of old watches! I mentioned 1:1 magnification as the point where true macro photography begins. I have a lens that can achieve a 5:1 magnification, revealing complex structures in snowflakes, or the curvature of water created by surface tension between it and the thorn of a thistle. Truly remarkable stuff.

New to macro? Here are some quick tips; my go-to settings (mostly manual) are often something like this:

Surface tension by Jason Foley

Photo credit: Jason Foley

F8 provides a sharp aperture for my lens that allows a bit of depth of field.

For shutter speed, a general rule is 1 over your focal length, or 1/100th of a second in my case with the 100 MM lens.

I tend to shoot a bit faster at 1/200 second to freeze motion.

I then set my ISO to AUTO, which will allow the camera to adjust to lighting conditions.

I use manual focus, and focus with my hands and feet, moving closer to and further from the subject. Autofocusing systems, while very good, can struggle to keep up with a fast moving subject like an insect that is perched on top of a leaf which is moving in the wind.

Soap bubble by Jason Foley

Photo credit: Jason Foley

Lastly, I shoot in burst mode while moving the focal plane forward and back across the subject. This will increase your chances of getting a keeper where the main area of the subject matter is in focus (the eyes of an insect for example).

As you progress, you will learn about advanced techniques like focus stacking that really take your results to the next level.

Happy shooting!

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