Due to other commitments, everyday life and having to take photos of other subjects (for a variety of reasons) macro photography isn’t something I get the chance to do a lot of, but I do occasionally get to have dabble in it.
When I do get the chance to get the macro kit out my first target subjects every time are insects, arachnids and other mini beasts. I do take close up photos of other subjects, however there is something about scrabbling around on the floor looking under rocks and vegetation looking for various insects. It is something I used to do as a kid (albeit without a camera) and I have never really grown out of it. With insects being my primary target for macro photography it is only sensible my macro photography kit is particularly suited for this, although it is more than adequate for taking macro and close up photos of other subjects as well.
And the camera I use for macro photography is.......
When I first started out with macro photography I used a crop sensor Canon camera, and whilst the images I managed to capture with it were good I still wanted a full frame dslr camera. The Canon 5d mark II was top of the list, however by the time I could afford to buy one it had been replaced with the 5d Mark III and this was way too expensive for me.
Fortunately, Canon released the 6d, an affordable full frame dslr camera priced around the same as the old 5d Mark II. With the 6d being the only real full frame option for me I pulled the trigger and ended up buying one, and boy am I glad I did.
When it comes to macro photography full frame cameras are the way forward and the level of detail they capture is simply jaw dropping. A full frame camera is the only tool for macro photography, and if you are looking to buy a new camera for macro photography I highly recommend a full frame. If you shoot Canon the 6d is an excellent buy, and whilst I have no experience of other camera manufacturers I assume the full frame Nikon equivalent of the Canon 6d is just as good.
My Canon 6d doesn’t have the same burst rate as the Canon 7d it replaced, neither does it auto focus as quickly, but then I am more than happy to sacrifice these for the increased image quality. Besides, the burst rate of the 6d is still just over 3 frames per second, which is more than enough for my macro photography needs.
My macro photography lens of choice
When I first started out in macro photography I used the Canon 100mm f2.8 lens, and I have to say it was an awesome lens. The lens was super sharp and the level of detail it recorded was amazing, picking up things you can’t see with the naked eye. Using the Canon 100mm macro lens I could see each individual hair on a fly’s leg, I could see the beard on a dragonfly and I could see each eye on a spider.
Macro lenses are available in a variety of focal lengths including 50mm, 60mm, 65mm, 100mm, 150mm and 180mm.
I wanted a macro lens I could use to take macro and close up photos of still life and insects, therefore I needed a lens with a good working distance so I could get up close and personal to insects before they scuttled away or flew off. Whilst the 180mm macro lens gives the longest working distance they are big and heavy lenses and unwieldy for hand held photos. 180mm macro lenses are fine on tripods but when taking hand held shots it is a different matter altogether.
The working distance of 50mm and 60mm macro lenses isn’t enough so these were no good for what I wanted, which is a shame because they are the cheapest option. The 100mm macro lend was the best compromise between working distance and size/weight, and that is why I bought the 100mm f2.8.
When Canon released the 100mm f2.8L IS lens I simply had to have one. Even though I was very happy with the 100mm f2.8 I wanted (scratch that - I needed) image stabilisation, L series build quality and L series image quality so I traded in my 100mm f2.8 lens for a 100mm f2.8L IS macro lens, and boy am I glad I did. The 100mm f2.8L IS macro lens is, without a doubt the sharpest lens I have ever used and perfect for detailed close up photography. I am sitting here trying to think about the negatives of this lens and I can honestly say that I am struggling. In fact, the only thing I can think of is the cost, which is considerably more than the 100mm f2.8 macro lens but it is worth every penny. For a full review of the Canon 100mm f2.8L IS macro lens check out this article.
Macro photography lighting
Lighting is important with all photography genres and macro photography is no different. Being so close to the subject results in lower light levels and some kind of artificial light source is essential to add a little bit more illumination when needed.
When I first started out in macro photography I used my Godox Ving 860 speed light, and whilst this is an exceptionally good speed light (and one I highly recommend) it wasn’t the best flash for macro photography.
The Godox Ving is too powerful, even when set on the lowest power and it would often over expose the subject. When the Godox Ving was sat in the hot shoe there were times when I couldn’t light the subject because the lens put it in shadow. Using the Godox Ving off camera eliminated the problem but it was still too powerful for macro and close up photography.
Because of the issues using a standard speed light I decided there was only one thing for it, and that was to invest in a macro ring light. There are typically two types of macro ring light available, a continuous light (which is either on or off) or a macro ring flash (which works the same way as a standard flash). A continuous light would scare insects and make them scuttle away or fly off before I could get close enough to take a photo, so the only option was the macro ring flash.
I shoot a Canon so the obvious first choice was the Canon macro ring flash, but it carries a high price tag. When I buy lenses I have no problems spending extra on genuine Canon glass but when dealing with a macro ring flash that’s different. The lens actually makes a difference to the photo where a flash doesn’t. The flash simply throws more light on the subject, and it really doesn’t matter who makes the item that throws out the light. As long as it works with my camera it’s all good.
After doing a bit of reading I found a macro ring flash that was a quarter of the price of the Canon ring flash. Yep, I could buy four for the price of one if I wanted to. The macro flash I found had all the features I needed including full manual mode, ETTL (essential for photographing insects), and the ability to change the lighting ratio between the two tubes. This macro flash had all the features the Canon had and all for a lot less money.
The macro flash I ended up buying was the Yongnuo YN-14EX, which is based on the Canon MR-14EX. The Yongnuo looks like the Canon, fits to the camera the same way as the Canon, has the same features of the Canon and works in exactly the same way as the Canon. The only difference between the two units is the build quality. The Canon unit is, as you’d expect, better built but only marginally. I generally prefer better quality and will pay for it, but the Canon isn’t so superior over the Yongnuo that it demands 4 times the money!
The Yongnuo YN-14EX was a bit of a gamble purchase (it is made by a Chinese company, I had to get it shipped over from China and I have been stung in the past with cheap Chinese goods before) but it is a gamble that has paid off. The Yongnuo ring flash is an excellent bit of kit and, if you are serious about your macro photography, a product I highly recommend. For my full review of the Yongnuo YN14-EX feel free to check out this article.
Other macro photography equipment
Other than the above (and the usual lens cleaning stuff, extra memory cards and a spare battery) I don’t take anything else with me when I go out shooting macro images. I know many photographers take a tripod and a remote shutter release (even for insect photography) however I find this slows me down and by the time I have set everything up the insect is long gone. The other issue with a tripod is getting it in the right place for good composition. This is a big issue when taking macro photos of insects, and sometimes flowers and other stationary subjects for that matter.
“Using a super zoom lens for macro photography” is an articles proving you don’t necessarily need a macro lens to take macro and extreme close up photos. In fact, there are times when a super zoom lens will be more useful.
“Macro photography - shooting insects” is an article dedicated to shooting macro photos of insects, mini beasts and all other tiny critters. If you are looking for some tips and tricks to improve your insect shots this may well be what you are looking for.
“Best macro lens for Canon cameras” is an article detailing the best macro lenses for Canon shooters currently available. If you are considering buying a macro lens don’t make your final decision (and part with your hard earned cash) until you have had a look at this.
“Macro photography on the cheap” is an article that shows you don’t have to spend loads of money to capture awesome macro photos.
“The best flash for macro photography” is an article dedicated on flash lights, speed lights and lighting for macro photography.
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.