Without a doubt, macro photography has been an unexpected joy for me with photography - it allows you to see the world in a whole new way, and appreciate the beauty that can be found everywhere if you get close enough! Although it is certainly fun, macro also brings a whole new set of challenges to the table too.
If you are just starting out into the world of macro, here are 10 tips to get you going...
1) Explore Your Surroundings
The beauty of macro is that beauty or an interesting shot can be found just about anywhere. Take some time to explore your surroundings - start in a room and try not just to see the big picture, but really drill down to finding the details. Look for items with intricate details, or patterns or textures.
2) Close Down Your Aperture
When you are that physically close to your subject, your depth of field becomes crazy shallow, so you will need to shoot at apertures that you don't perhaps normally shoot at, such as F8 or F11. I generally start around F8 and then move from that depending on the subject, my distance from it, and how much of the item I want in focus.
3) Watch Your ISO
Because you are going to be working with smaller apertures, you are going to be allowing less light into the camera, so you can find yourself needing to bump up your ISO to pretty high numbers just to get a decent shutter speed. Remember that high ISO's introduce noise or grain, and therefore are not great for working with subjects when we really want crisp, clear images.
4) A tripod is good investment!
A way around this is to use a tripod, which allows you to use slower shutter speeds that you can get away with if you are handholding the lens, and therefore allowing you to reduce your ISO. You don't really need to get an expensive one - check out my guide to buying a tripod. If you are going to use very slow shutter speeds, consider using a timer remote to fire the shutter.
5) Keep Yourself Steady
If you do not have a tripod (or like me, just can't be bothered digging it out of the cupboard) then you can still use slower shutter speeds - you just need to learn how to brace yourself! If you can, set the camera on a steady surface, and tuck your elbows in to stop your natural sway. Hold your breath for a second whilst you push the shutter too - the movement from your breath can be enough to knock off your focus.
6) Get into the Light
Again, the biggest challenge with macro is using these smaller apertures, so if your subject is in dim lighting, then you it's simply adding to the problem! If you can, take your subject and move it much physically closer to a natural light source such as a larger window or door, or even take it outside! You can buy special macro ring lights to add light to your subject (a normal pop up flash or basic speedlight won't work here) or a continous lighting system. (I have neither of these things - I use natural light all the time!)
7) Use Manual Focus
If you are working with quite a shallow depth of field, you need to be quite specific about the area you focus on! Sometimes, just being that phyiscally close to the subject, and having such a small area in focus can make it difficult for your lens to auto-focus. If you find that your lens is "hunting" but latching on to the area you want in focus, then consider switching your lens to manual. Simply move the ring out of focus, then move it until the area you want appears sharp and clear. When using manual focus, a tripod is very handy - just your bodies movement can shift focus!
8) Check Your Focus at 100%
Your subject can look perfectly in focus when you view it on your viewfinder or in editing, but it may be slightly soft - zoom into 100% to check focus is razor sharp on the area you want. There's nothing worse than a "soft" macro shot!
9) Shoot from different angles.
One of the wonderful things about macro photography, is that (unless you want to shoot bugs etc) your subject ain't going anywhere! Really take your time to move around your subject and shoot from different angles - from above, parallel to your subject, or along the lenght of it - you can get some really interesting and ususual shots just by changing your vantage point!
10) Experiment with Aperture
Although I have said above that you need to use higher apertures than normal, you can sometimes get some really interesting shots when just a tiny area of the subject is in focus, so don't be afraid to play around with your aperture settings!