Macro Photography Tips

Close-up (or macro) photography opens up a new world for you and your EOS.
Canon macro photography tips

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Macro is the perfect photographic activity for the autumn and winter months as it can be done indoors as well as out when the days are shorter and weather is less predictable.

Getting going

If you are starting off you can use the standard zoom lens that typically comes with EOS cameras before possibly upgrading to a dedicated macro lens. Use the telephoto to zoom in to maximum magnification and set the Mode Dial on your EOS to the Close-up setting. This adjusts the exposure settings and Picture Style. Learn more about these settings. One thing you will notice is that moving closer to your subject will magnify movement caused by camera shake. The best way to overcome this is put your EOS on a tripod. Now you are ready to begin.

Depth-of-Field and focussing

Focussing on subjects close to the lens makes Depth-of-Field (the in-focus area in front of and behind the point you actually focus on) much narrower. Whatever aperture is set your background will tend to be out of focus but using a smaller (higher f/ number) aperture will allow more of your subject to be acceptably sharp.

For the greatest control and accuracy, switch your lens to manual focus. You will see that small movements are magnified along with the subject. Making gentle adjustments to the focus ring will produce large differences in the area of focus. Using the magnified Live View will produce the most accurate focus control.


It is very important to get the right light for macro photos. If you are working indoors then using the natural light from a window is a good start. Avoid direct sunlight (cloudy light is good) and use a piece of white card to reflect light back onto the subject to minimise any shadows. Moving the card in and out or adjusting the angle can make a big difference.

Ideally your light source will illuminate all the areas of your subject to bring out detail and colour. The Canon Macro Ring Lite and Macro Twin lite flashes are additional lighting systems that will produce the very best even light for macro photography.

Composition and background

Close-up or Macro photography is about detail so it pays to spend time making sure your subject’s setting is right in relation to its background. The background is likely to be out of focus but colour, brightness and general shapes can still distract attention away from your subject.

Taking the next step

A standard zoom lens will give you an introduction to macro but there are special lenses and accessories that will let you get really close-up.

Macro lens

These lenses are dedicated to close up photography and offer 1:1 magnification (1:1 indicates your subject is represented life size on your cameras imaging sensor). They can also be used for other types of photography such as portraits. For APS-C sensors a good lens to start with is the Canon EF-S 60mm f2.8 Macro USM or for full frame sensors the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM. The EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM offers dedicated Hybrid IS which allows you to hand-hold some macro shots. All these dedicated macro lens offer high corner-to-corner sharpness, contrast and image quality.

Close-up lens

These screw to the front of your existing lens letting you focus closer. They take up very little room so are ideal accessory when you want to travel light. There are two types of Canon close-up lenses; the 250D is more powerful than the 500D.

Extension tubes

Another option with your current lens is an extension tube. This fits between your EOS body and lens, allowing the camera to focus closer. There are two Canon extension tubes – EF12 II and EF25 II. The number relates to the length of the tube – the 25mm gives a greater magnification than the 12mm tube. Extension tubes contain no glass, so the quality of your lens is preserved but they need more light on your subject to achieve the correct exposure.

More advanced settings on your EOS

Now that you have invested in a lens or accessory for your macro photography it is worth exploring modes with more control over the exposure settings such as Aperture Priority (Av) or Manual (M).These let you control the Depth-of-Field.

If you are using the camera on a tripod then there are a couple of ideas to make it even more stable. Pressing the shutter button can introduce some shake to your camera. If the exact moment you take your photo is not critical then set the Self-timer to 2 seconds to give time for the movement to disappear. Alternatively you can also use a remote release switch connected to your EOS. This allows you to choose the moment of exposure without touching the camera.

Finishing touches

You will have spent some time getting your close-up shots just right. So it makes sense to shoot in RAW format and use Canon’s Digital Photography Professional (DPP) to make your final adjustments. Using tools such as lens correction, white balance adjustment and cropping can really make your images stand out.


Enter the Macro photography competition

Don’t forget to enter the Macro photography competition this month to stand a chance of winning a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro Lens sponsored by Canon South Africa.


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