Micro Photography: What To Know & How To Nail It

Have you ever gone out to spend time with nature and paid attention to the minutest details around you — the ones that suddenly make things seem so much more beautiful? When you delve into micro photography, you come to know just how complex and beautiful the world around us really is. 

So what is micro photography, exactly?

snowflake in micro photography
Source: Pexels

When people say “micro photography” (or search for it!), it’s not always clear what the term entails. Various definitions that pop up are often centered around close-up photography, macro photography, and micro photography. So if you attempt to categorize micro photography strongly as a separate genre, you’ll be in for some confusion. However, in terms of definition and practice, let’s take a closer look. 

It is best to distinguish the three categories of close-up, macro, and micro photography by identifying the image magnifications they encompass in the resultant photograph. 

Close-up photography is any photography where you have to zoom into your subject, such that their magnification is greater within your frame but less than 1:1. Please note that you’re not likely to achieve a 1:1 or greater magnification without an appropriate macro lens. 

Macro photography is when you have magnifications of your subject that are similar to real-life or larger, up to a 10:1 magnification. Many camera makers have lenses designed to reach such magnifications. 

Micro photography is when the magnification goes much higher between the 10:1 range and the 20:1 range. We’re speaking of the microscopic level, where the final image is magnified 20 times the subject’s size. It isn’t easy to achieve magnifications like these without investing in a specialized rig or coming up with your own hacks, like this photographer here

But when you want to understand it functionally, remember that the line between macro and micro photography is blurred. It is helpful to remember it this way – enabling micro objects to be seen at a macro scale is the kind of photography you are trying to achieve

So if you want to get into micro photography, how do you go about it?

bee micro photography
Source: Unsplash

So you’ve decided to dive into the world of micro photography. We have a few ideas on how to best achieve your goals.

Mastering close–ups

Using your regular DSLR, try going around and clicking close ups of as many subjects as you can. Nature is full of them, and you will never really tire of getting incredible shots all around you! Most photographers first begin exploring this world by shooting plants, food, and bugs.

Fiddle with the “macro” settings on your regular DSLR lens

These are usually not true “macro” settings but will help you play with magnifications that are larger than just zooming in. Practicing achieving a certain amount of detail with such pictures is useful from time to time. When you go into greater magnifications, you will struggle to recognize good subjects and get used to perceiving and framing at that scale. You can thus develop an eye for detail with enough practice.

Invest in a good macro lens

Don’t just go by the name. Hilariously, leading lens makers name their lenses differently. Nikon calls its macro lenses by the Nikkor Micro name, while Canon’s lenses with a similar range of specifications are labeled Canon EF Macro. The key is to find lenses that help you achieve a good 1:1 magnification or higher and actually focus at a very close distance.

Practicing with a macro lens

Macro lenses have a shallow distance to focus and give you a sharp image, around a foot away from the lens on average. Regular lenses have a larger focusing distance to capture more of the background as well. 

What does this mean?

  • It means that you will have to get really close to your object to get sharp focus and shoot. Hopefully your subject is not a creature that will get offended/scared, or one that might bite you. 
  • It means taking extra efforts to stabilize the camera, because even the smallest of shakes can be registered. 
  • It means mastering manual focus can be really beneficial, since autofocus on such close subjects can be unreliable, depending on your equipment.

A good micro lens will allow the photographer to achieve incredible detail, such as the texture of a flower petal or even the fine eyes of an insect.

How do you go about it in practice?

strawberrries micro photography
Source: Unsplash

Here are a few tips to take into account when you practice micro photography.

Identify a good subject, and then prep it if you can

Not all objects and settings make for good photography subjects. This takes loads of practice and a good eye. Some suggest starting with food. And try stepping out into nature to look for small interesting things to photograph. 

Visualize your shots beforehand

If it is a live creature, please be very, very careful. When you are magnifying other objects in micro photography, many unpleasant details may come to light. So either be extra careful while cleaning up dust, scratches, and other wear and tear, or find a subject where such issues are not seen. This is a little difficult when you want to photograph small products, such as jewelry. Visualize what you want to achieve, and it gets better with practice. 

Manage lighting sensibly

A well-lit macro photograph is a complete delight. But editing lighting for a high–definition picture can become a nightmare if your initial settings aren’t right. The problem with small subjects is that a little light will flood the frame, so having small point sources of light, like a tiny LED flash, or other ways to manage, such as a ring light for your lens, can help. Use your discretion, and try visualizing the intensity before getting into it. Your subject may not sit still in the micro photography arena, and you may lose an opportunity. A butterfly may fly away, or an ice crystal may melt. 

Check the background and your set

In micro photography, anything beyond your subject can blur out by default, but that doesn’t mean backdrop items can’t be identified by viewers. You can pick up unwanted color, bokeh, or elements, and the results may be unsatisfactory at the end of it. So clean rigorously, check the background, and ensure it is colored well to match what you are clicking. 

Post production

flower micro photography
Source: Unsplash

It may be obvious, but we will state it nevertheless – post-production in micro photography can come with its own set of challenges. When you are dealing with a high level of detail, it will not be easy to simply “edit” out flaws in your pictures. If your images are meant to be used in a technical context, accuracy will be paramount. In which case, having the right focus and sharpening the right elements matters. Adobe Lightroom is a popular tool for editing images after photography. But use it sparingly, and trust your eye. After all, you are the person holding the camera! 

Capturing this gorgeous world in super-high definition

Micro photography reveals a world you only envisioned in fairytales like Thumbelina or the popular film series Honey, I Shrunk the Kids!. We get to see incredible detail and can truly begin to appreciate the amount of complexity the world around us possesses. Having such a worldview is not something even all of your photography peers can claim to have, and it is something to truly cherish in your journey to capture all things beautiful and small.

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