A close-up of a snail on a leaf. Taken on a Canon EOS 77D with a Canon EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM lens.

MACRO PHOTOGRAPHY

How to shoot macro photography this autumn

Capturing the close-up is the essence of macro photography. It highlights textures the human eye cannot see and shows the beauty hidden in the detail. You don't need to travel far to practise macro. Everyday objects take on a new perspective when viewed from close range, so your garden or a local park can be the perfect testing ground.

1. What kit do you need for macro photography?

Many lenses are capable of focusing close up, but only a true macro lens offers a magnification of at least 1:1, or life-size. This means that when the camera is positioned at the closest focusing distance, the image formed on the sensor will be the same size as the subject.

This type of lens has a very short minimum focus distance, which means you can get close in order to capture frame-filling pictures of tiny subjects. For instance, the Canon EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM lens can focus down to 3cm. This lens also features a clever built-in LED Macro Lite to compensate for the shadow created on your subject by having the camera this close. If you have an EOS M series camera such as the Canon EOS M50 or the Canon EOS M6 Mark II, the Canon EF-M 28mm f/3.5 Macro IS STM lens has the same Macro Lite feature.

A Canon EOS 77D with a Canon EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM lens and a tripod lie on long grass.

If you want to get a taste of macro photography before buying a dedicated lens, there are some accessories that can increase the magnification of a standard lens. For instance, if you fit a Canon Extension Tube EF 25 II or a Canon Extension Tube EF 12 II to the rear of a compatible lens, you'll be able to focus closer than normal. You can achieve a similar effect by attaching a Canon 250D 58mm Close-Up Lens or Canon 500D 77mm Close-Up Lens to the front filter thread of a lens instead.

Whichever route you choose for your macro photography, the effects of camera shake will be equally magnified when working close to a subject, so keeping your kit steady with a tripod or similar support can help you achieve sharper results.

2. How to set up for macro photography?

Many EOS cameras have a dedicated Close-up mode, but for more creative control you should set your camera to Aperture priority (Av) or Manual (M). Both of these shooting modes allow you to choose the aperture, which has a significant impact on the look and feel of a macro photograph as well as the exposure.

Aperture priority is the easiest mode to start with, as the camera will automatically set a shutter speed to produce a balanced exposure with the aperture you've selected. When you're ready to take complete control over your settings, switch the camera to Manual.

3. The benefits of the system we used (EOS 77D + 35mm f/2.8 Macro)

A macro lens combined with the 24.2MP sensor on the Canon EOS 77D makes it possible to capture the fine hairs on the legs of this fly and its huge red eyes in pin-sharp detail.

The Canon EOS 77D is an excellent choice for macro photography. The camera's 24.2MP CMOS sensor is capable of recording an incredible level of detail, and its vari-angle touchscreen makes it easy to take pictures from unusual angles, such as a 'worm's-eye view' shot close to the ground.

To make the most of the detail-enhancing power of a macro lens and high-resolution CMOS sensor, it's important to make sure the camera doesn't move during the exposure. Even small vibrations can have an impact on picture quality, so consider using the self-timer to take your images when the camera is fixed on a tripod. The Canon EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM lens has Image Stabilization, which is great when shooting on the move but when fixing to a tripod, remember to turn Image Stabilization off as the internal mechanism that is designed to counteract movement can have the opposite effect when no movement is detected. (Some lenses have a 'tripod-detection' feature, but not all, so it's safest to turn IS off manually, especially for long exposures.)

To further reduce mechanical vibrations, you can activate the camera's Mirror lockup feature via the main menu, or set the camera to Live View so that the mirror is automatically locked in position. You can even take advantage of the Canon EOS 77D's Wi-Fi connection to control the camera remotely via the Canon Camera Connect app installed on your smartphone or tablet.

4. Aperture

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The low f-number means the snail is in focus while the background is softly blurred.

Your choice of aperture affects the 'depth of field' – or how much of your macro subject appears sharp. Low f-numbers such as f/2.8 and f/4 produce a shallow depth of field (only a small area in sharp focus), while high f-numbers such as f/11 and f/16 give you a larger depth of field (more of the subject in focus).

In close-up photography, even a large depth of field can measure just a few millimetres, so there's no room for error when it comes to focusing. The background is likely to be out of focus either way, but using a smaller aperture (higher f-number) will allow you to get more of your subject sharp while a bigger aperture (low f-number) will enable you to focus on a smaller part of the subject and throw the rest out of focus.

5. Shutter speed

The shallow depth of field at this aperture creates a very tight area of focus, so that parts of the leaf itself are out of focus.

When you change the aperture, either the shutter speed or ISO needs to change to maintain a consistent exposure. Changing the ISO can affect image quality, however, so it's a good idea to set your aperture and shutter speed to match your creative intent before changing the ISO.

Here's how it works: as the f-number increases, the aperture in the lens decreases in size. Less light enters the camera as a result, so the shutter speed has to become slower to ensure the image isn't too dark. If you choose a lower f-number, the aperture in the lens becomes larger, so the shutter speed has to become faster to prevent the image from being too bright.

It might seem odd that a low f-number such as f/4 gives you a large aperture and a high f-number such as f/16 gives you a small aperture, but it helps if you think of it in terms of fractions: 1/4 is larger than 1/16.

The shot above was taken at an aperture of f/2.8, which is the lowest aperture setting on the Canon EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM lens. As you can see, the shallow depth of field at this aperture creates a smaller area of focus and beautiful background blur.

6. ISO

Adjusting the ISO sensitivity gives you the freedom to combine smaller apertures and faster shutter speeds.

For the best quality images, try to use low ISO settings, such as ISO 100, ISO 200 and ISO 400. At these sensitivities, the shutter speed may become too slow to get sharp results when you set a small aperture or you shoot in low light.

Increasing the ISO will enable you to use a faster shutter speed, but higher ISO sensitivities can lead to increased image noise – the digital equivalent of film grain. To reduce this, you can increase the strength of the camera's High ISO Speed Noise Reduction. You'll find this option in the camera's red shooting menu.

7. Getting creative

At this aperture (f/2.8), the bamboo stem is in focus but the background is blurred.

One of the advantages of macro photography is that you can create stunning images right on your doorstep. Everyday objects can become fascinating subjects as you show them in a new light, and you're free to experiment with camera settings.

One of the simplest ways to do this is to experiment with aperture. In the example above, the aperture was set to f/2.8. This image has a soft, blurred background but the pole of bamboo in the foreground is perfectly in focus.

Making the size of the aperture smaller means that you can see more of the background detail.

This next shot (above) was taken at f/5. More of the background detail is visible when compared to the image taken at f/2.8.

Reducing the aperture even further means that there is now much more detail visible in the background.

Finally, the image above was taken at the smaller aperture of f/8. The exposure is similar to the other shots, but the background now has much more detail. This shows how small adjustments can make a big difference in the world of macro photography.

Autumn is a great time to practise macro photography. As greens change to browns and nature prepares itself for winter, you'll find beauty in the detail. Step outside your front door and take a closer look.


Written by Ian Wade and Marcus Hawkins

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