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Macro photography opens your eyes to details that you can’t normally see with your naked eye – an insect covered in pearls of dew or a pink flower floating on a shimmering pond, for example. It’s almost like entering a different world, one that’s only open to the tiniest of creatures. This school of photography is miniature. yet mighty. Conquering its techniques—from picking the right lens to picking the best light source—can be a challenge. However, you can join the ranks of extraordinary macro photographers by following these five tips:

1. Choose the right macro lens.

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Macro lenses come in three different focal lengths: standard (50mm to 70mm), short telephoto (85mm to 100mm, and 105mm) and telephoto (180mm to 200mm). Standard focal-length macro lenses, which are the cheapest in price, offer the widest perspective. They include more background and foreground details in your pictures, complimenting your subjects while serving as a visual reference for scale. However, to get true-macro, 1:1 life-size magnification, you’ll have to snap your photos less than six inches from your subjects. That’s a unique challenge when you’re stalking flighty insects and birds.

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Short telephoto and telephoto macro lenses minimize the background by reducing everything around their focal points. Mid-priced short telephoto lenses like the Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro Lens can capture life-size images up to 12 inches away. Telephoto lenses, the most expensive in price, are the most susceptible to image shake, but they can be used at least 24 inches away from your subjects. Moreover, a lens like the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor Lens can produce images up to a 1:1 (life-size) ratio of magnification, making for super macro shots. 

2. Use a tripod with a shutter release cable or self-timer.

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However, even when you use a high-quality tripod, the force from just depressing the shutter button might distort your picture. So, for a sharp, highly-focused image, you’ll also want to use a shutter release cable or your camera’s self-timer. Are you looking for a low-rent shutter release cable? Grab a Remote Shutter Release Cable for Canon Full Frame Cameras. If you’re looking for a wireless shutter-release cable, give the Vello ShutterBoss Version II Timer Remote Switch with 3-Pin Connection a whirl. Powered by two AAA Batteries, it has a four-line backlit LED display and an interval timer.

3. Boost your focal length with extension tubes.

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To attach an extension tube to your camera, simply remove the existing lens. Then use the bayonet mount at the end of the extension tube to attach it to your camera’s body. Because inexpensive extension tubes don’t have electrical contacts, information can’t be passed between the camera and its lens, so you’ll have to use manual mode instead of automatic mode.

4. Experiment with light.
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Courtesy of Martin Amm.

Natural light is great for macro photography. When the sun sinks behind the horizon or is covered by clouds, it’s perfect for taking pictures of landscapes or architecture. That is, when there’s enough of it. You can increase natural light with a Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite Flash. Similar to a fill flash, it’ll reduce shadows and bounce soft, ambient light directly onto your subjects. If you’re short on cash, you can make your own reflector with a single piece of aluminum foil. Simply crunch it into a ball and then flatten it out. Place it on the shadowy side of your subjects to reveal previously hidden details. To get true-macro pictures, your shutter speed should be 1/400 seconds or faster; your aperture will need to be f/16 or lower. However, ambient light can push the boundaries of your camera. To capture life-sized images, you may have to raise your camera’s ISO number, which might result in “chunky” photos.

For this reason, most high-magnification macro photographers turn to artificial lighting. The common go-to tool is flash, especially in low light situations. However, flash produces extremely harsh light. You can soften your camera’s flash by placing a piece of thin cloth over it, making your own diffuser with a piece of craft foam and a rubber band or simply purchasing a professional diffuser like the Foldable Medium Softbox. There is a downside to using a diffuser, though: the lighting is limited to a single direction. Ring lights like The Strobies LED Macro Ring Light are another common and highly controversial lighting solution. They’re relatively cheap and produce decently well-lit photos, but high powered ring lights only add a single stop to an image, which puts them in the same league as reflectors.

5. Improve your macro photos post-production.
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Courtesy of Kristina Buceatchi.

To make your macro photos truly pop, crop them tightly. Viewers should be able to clearly see the details as thumbnails. Most viewers won’t look at the larger images, even when you provide links. After cropping your photos, you’ll want to resize them based on how you plan to use them. If you’re going for glossies, you don’t need to worry about resizing them. If you plan on displaying your images electronically, you’ll want to resize them up to 1024 pixels in width so they’ll download quickly.

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