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Why is it Called Macro Photography? Exploring the answer

When photographers take extreme close up photos of small objects, that’s macro photography. This is photography that makes very small things seem enormous. The art form has exploded in popularity over the past ten years as more and more people are able to see its stunning results online.

While describing macro photography as “close up photography” is certainly a great shorthand for describing the technique, it gets a little more complicated than that.

Technically speaking, true macro means the lens you’re using is capable of reproduction ratios of at least 1:1. So what on earth does that mean? A 1:1 reproduction ratio means that what you see on the camera sensor or film plate is at least the same size as the real-world subject.

It’s up to you as a photographer which subjects you choose for your macro photos. With the right camera and lens, you’ll be able to get close to the hidden, the minuscule, and bring focus to its beauty. Making the invisible seem life size is a tricky art, but with a little research, practice and the right macro lenses, your image quality will improve in no time.

macro-example

Why is it Called Macro Photography?

In the normal world, the term “macro” is used to describe something in a larger scale. This is also true for photographers, but it gets a little complicated. Macro photography refers to photography that gives a large view of a small subject. The size and scale here refer to the type of photographs that macro lenses produce.

Your image will be a close, tight shot of usually one small subject. The result is an image where the size of your subject appears much larger than in real life. Hence, “macro” photography.

What’s the Difference Between Macro and Micro Photography?

So then what on earth is micro photography? How is it different from macro photographs? Can I still use macro lenses, or will I need a new camera lens altogether? A micro photograph is an image of a subject that cannot usually be seen with the naked eye.

Unlike true macro images, a micro image is produced by lenses that use a magnification ratio of at least 20:1. This means that what you see through your lens or on your sensor looks at least 20x larger than it does with the naked eye. Micro photography captures subjects that are “micro” -scopic.

So in short, you’ll definitely need different lenses to produce a micro image. A macro lens just won’t cut it!

How Does Macro Photography Work?

Magic. Just kidding, but sometimes it feels that way! Some photographers have been using a macro lens for years before they actually sit down to learn the science of a macro image. We outline the basics below.

The reason you can’t just grab any old digital or film camera, throw some lighting at something and produce a great macro photograph, is that the camera and lens just won’t be able to focus properly at such short range. A macro lens then, uses a focusing distance small enough to reproduce at a ratio of 1:1.

A macro lens uses a minimum focusing distance that can stay sharp when very close to its subject. Make sure you choose a macro lens with the right focal length.

Focal length varies greatly between cameras and from lens to lens. In the field of digital photography, it’s easy to get bogged down by technical terms and terminology. Non-macro cameras can still take stunning close up shots, they’re just technically only macro if this 1:1 ratio is used.

What Kind of Lenses do you Need for Macro Photography?

So we’ve learned that for great macro photographs, you need focal lengths that can hit that golden 1:1 ratio. So what makes a good macro lens? Are most macro lenses the same, or does one brand stand out from the rest? Canon? Nikon? Read on to learn more.

Magnification

To cut to the chase, the macro lens you choose should use 1 magnification. This means you’ll get a magnification of at least 1.0x. Some lenses, like the Canon MP-E 65mm, offer a whopping 5.0x max magnification. It’s worth noting though, that this may be overkill for most photographers.

Some digital lenses are advertised as macro while only offering 0.5x magnification or less. These can still be great for close up photography, but if true macro is what you’re after then it’s best to keep looking. Even in perfect lighting conditions, these won’t focus in the way you’ll need them to.

Stability

Taking macro photos is often a handheld process. This means more vibration and less stable photographs overall. Plenty of modern digital lenses come with excellent image stabilization features. The Nikon AF-S DX Micro NIKKOR 85mm f/3.5G ED VR lens delivers great images with fantastic stabilization.

Focal Length

When you’re getting up close and personal with your subject, your requirements for focal length change. You don’t really need to cover wide angles or capture stunning landscapes in the field of macro photography. What’s important here, is your minimum focusing distance.

The longer this distance, the further away you’ll have to be from your subject, and vice versa. Choose a focal length that works for you. Your depth of field is the area just in front and behind the thing you’re taking photos of that can stay in sharp focus. Depth of field is affected by your focal length.

Think about the type of macro pictures you’re hoping to take and use this to find the right lens.

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Macro point and shoot cameras

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Conclusion

One thing to remember is that ultimately, if you enjoy the photos you take then it doesn’t necessarily matter what other people call them. However, learning the correct terminology and associated kit can really elevate your work as a photographer.

Our goal with this site is to make it as easy as possible for people to get into photography. No matter what camera, lens, or lighting conditions you’re working with, we’re here to help you stay on top of your game.

If you have any questions or product recommendations for us to review. then please don’t hesitate to contact us!

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