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05.31.2012

Macro or close-up photography is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding forms of nature photography. The proper set up and good field techniques will allow you to achieve consistent good results and limit any issues or problems you might encounter in the field. I prefer to do most of my macro and close-up photography in the field, handheld, with a macro lens and flash. Flash brings out the maximum amount of detail and sharpness possible. With flash you can achieve great results even with wind since the flash will freeze the subject. Flash also gives you the power to make good looking even on days than are far from optimum like heavy overcast or harsh full sun.

These are examples of how to improve your photography and open up some new close-up opportunities.

Honey bee hovering over a Calandrinia flower. Sigma 180mm f/3.5 EX APO Macro HSM lens, single flash with diffuser at 1:8 power, handheld, Manual mode 1/250th sec, f8, ISO 500.

This image was made with the Sigma 180mm macro lens, handheld with flash. Photographing hand held with flash gives you the speed for dozens of opportunities in a short amount of time and the ability to adjust your position for different angles and the best backgrounds.

Geranium close up. Sigma 180mm f/3.5 EX APO Macro HSM lens, single flash with diffuser 1:8 power, handheld, Manual mode 1/250th sec, f8, ISO 400.

Positioning the subject off center is more of a dynamic composition and remember to crop but don’t clip parts of the subject.

Honey bee on Calandrinia flower. Sigma 180mm f/3.5 EX APO Macro HSM lens, single flash with diffuser 1:8 power, handheld, Manual mode 1/250th sec, f8, ISO 400.

I always choose the longest macro lens available for the greatest working distance from the subject. This gives room to light the subject and at the same time allows you to stay farther away for safety.

Daisy full frame close up. Sigma 180mm f/3.5 EX APO Macro HSM lens, single flash with diffuser 1:8 power, handheld, Manual mode 1/250th sec, f5.6, ISO 100.

Focus was especially critical in this image since depth of field at this magnification ratio is paper thin.

Calandrinia flower close up. Sigma 180mm f/3.5 EX APO Macro HSM lens, single flash with diffuser 1:8 power, handheld, Manual mode 1/250th sec, f8, ISO 250.

When photographing handheld with a macro lens, the use of a flash brings out sharpness and detail to a level that is almost unbelievable.

Calandrinia image crop at 100% magnification view or actual pixel view in Photoshop.

This image is an actual pixel (or 100% crop) view of the image above to show the level or sharpness that you can expect with proper technique. The level almost seems impossible when you consider this was made hand held.

The 180mm macro's small angle of view makes it my favorite lens for clean smooth backgrounds. Sigma 180mm f/3.5 EX APO Macro HSM lens, single flash with diffuser 1:8 power, handheld, Manual mode 1/250th sec, f8, ISO 400.

Always shoot two subjects at the proper angle so both subjects are on the same plane of focus. Sigma 180mm f/3.5 EX APO Macro HSM lens, single flash with diffuser 1:8 power, handheld, Manual mode 1/250th sec, f8, ISO 400.

More macro close-up photography tips:

  • Photograph early morning and late afternoon for the best light.
  • If you are forced to photograph in bright or full sun always use a diffuser to soften contrast.
  • Slow down look around and use quiet and fluid movements to avoid disturbing potential subjects.
  • Try to shoot hand held since tripods can slow you down and limit your flexibility
  • Balance flash output and exposure for the best images, avoid dark or black backgrounds.
  • Use a high shutter speed to avoid flash ghosting
  • Always use a lens hood
  • Try teleconverters with macro lenses for even greater reach and working distance
  • Always diffuse your flash for more pleasing light

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  1. These are great images and clarity is incredible. Made me a fan.. Thanks for sharing them.

  2. Fantastic images. Information on how to shot macro hand held is excellent.

  3. Good tips, but I disagree on the avoid dark and black backgrounds. For many macro subjects, using essentially no ambient light (relative to flash strength) means the background is a beautiful, undistracting, black. Perfect effect for some. Experiment!