One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is what kit I use for my macro images, so this week I thought I’d explain and share a few tips along the way.
The main piece of equipment that will impact your macro photography is what lens you use. I have a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM which is fantastic and has a close focus distance of 30cm making it particularly good for flowers and smaller, less active invertebrates.
Of course there are a great number of lenses available on the market which are brilliant for macro subjects. If your budget won’t stretch as far as a new lens though, there are other options too.
Extension tubes are the simplest in my view. These are basically hollow tubes which fit between your lens and camera body, that move the lens further from the sensor to enable closer focusing and therefore greater magnification. You can get a range of sizes and they usually come in a set which you can either use individually or stacked as necessary.
I’ve also tried a close-up filter which works in a similar way to you or I wearing glasses by altering the focusing distance of a normal lens. Some are available with a thread to fit directly to your existing lens, but I use a Cokin filter system which enables me to use my filters across all my lenses by attaching them to the lens with an adapter.
Many people will argue that a tripod is essential for macro photography. While there are instances in which I will use mine, I prefer hand-holding for my images. I find that it gives me greater flexibility and this is particularly true if you’re chasing around after a butterfly for example! I tend to use a tripod for lower light situations where I can’t get away with a higher shutter speed.
Many will also state that a flash is essential and it’s true that I do use my Speedlite 430EXII the most for macro work but even so I don’t use it that often. When I do, I make sure that I have a diffuser for it though, as I don’t like harsh lighting on natural subjects if I can help it. What I don’t have is a fancy ring-flash or any elaborate lighting rigs – they simply aren’t necessary for what I’m trying to achieve.
The same can be said for sunlight too; on a bright day many macro subjects can lose colour and clarity in your images if under direct sunlight. To counteract this, I use a pop-up white diffuser or translucent reflector which softens the light and allows for a more vibrant shot.
I also use a reflector to help direct more light onto my subject, particularly flowers. I have a double sided gold/silver pop-up reflector which fits in a pocket so even if I’m just out for a walk with my camera and don’t want to take the full kit, I have a tool to give my images a little extra oomph! The images below show the effect of the reflector on a houseplant. The left-hand shot is without any reflector, the centre image shows the silver side of the reflector and the right-hand panel shows the effect of the gold side.
Finally, I’ll share with you a trick that I learnt from a lady in her eighties who also loves macro photography: carry a couple of clothes pegs! This is a slightly more unusual one but it really can pay off. Think of moments when you want to hold a piece of grass or other foliage out of the way to get a clear view of your subject; when you want to move a flower into a slightly different position to create a cleaner background; to enable you to get a better view of an invertebrate on the other side of it or to take advantage of the light. Clothes pegs offer an opportunity to do this without damaging the plant in question. They can also be used to hold a reflector in position and leave your hands free to take the photo. I tend to stick to bright colours so I don’t lose them and have one which is a soft grip peg for delicate subjects.
That’s the lot, I don’t use any other equipment but I’m pretty happy with the results I achieve. Here’s a recent macro image to remind you of the sort of photograph I end up with. If you have any further questions about this post or any of my other gear feel free to get in touch!