Tids and Bits About Close-Up and Macro Photography

For the last year or two I’m reading just about anything that I can get my paws ON about photography to enhance my skills.  Wow!  I never thought it would be so broad and deep, but I’m not getting cold feet and I know I won’t be out of the woods for a very long time.  I’m a patient person and will easily adjust to the waiting game.

At this time my concentration is about close-up and macro photography.  Even though people think they are the same thing, there certainly are not as you will find out when you read my following research on the subject.  If close-up or macro photography, is not your cup of tea, that’s oka.  Just click another link and keep surfing the Web, you never know what you will find which will make your day.  On the other hand, if you’re hooked to he hilt on the subject, keep reading on.  I’m sure you will find something you might just put into practice.  Here we go.  It’s a bit extensive, so please bear with me.  Okay?  🙂

I’m currently reading an e-book about close-up and macro photography, to dig deeper into the subject.  The title of the book is “Understanding Close-Up Photography:  Creative close encounters with or without a macro lens,” penned by professional photographer, Bryan Peterson.

In the introduction of his book, Bryan Peterson describes close-up or macro photography as follows:

“If there is any constant in the world of close-up photography, it is this:  Flowers are like snowflakes, no two are exactly the same when viewed through any combination of close-up photography equipment.  The closer you focus on a given subject, the more that is revealed, and it is with these revelation that the “drug” that is close-up photography maintains its constant and unrelenting hold.  You begin to consider adopting a belief in reincarnation or reaffirming your lapsed reincarnation beliefs as you soon realize that your appetite, your hunger, your insatiable desire for more “intimate encounters” is truly vast and deep and that “there can’t possibly be just one lifetime, because I need to come back for more—much more.”

The world of close-up photography does serve up a bounty of texture-filled images:  feather, human skin, animal fur, wood, rocks, sand, leaves, thorns, berries, broken glass, ice, frost, and even pond scum.  It is often the texture within a close-up photograph that awakens our senses the most, whether that texture is “felt” as soft or hard, rough or smooth, dull or sharp, or hot or cold. Intimate encounters are all about getting close, in many cases closer than you ever thought possible.”

“The human need and drive for intimacy is very strong.  It is, for some, a lifelong need.  It is all about connecting, about feeling we are a part of something outside of ourselves, and it is in close-up photography, that we can, if only for a moment, be a part of something that most people have otherwise not noticed.  This is what makes it so special.”

Now let’s go directly to the point.  What is exactly macro photography and how is it different from close up photography?

First let’s define “macro”, since there seems to be a lot of confusion about this one very important term.  Macro is derived from the Greek word “makros”, which means “large” or “long”.  Macro photography involves long exposures (long when compared to conventional photography).  Exposure times of 1/15 of a second to 1 second are often the norm when shooting macro images, since in conventional photography, exposure times average between 1/60 and 1/250 of a second.

The technical definition for macro photography, is photography that is at 1X magnification (life-size) or greater, and I couldn’t agree more with that description.  This means that, in a side-by side comparison, the actual size of the subject and the size that it seems on the sensor is exactly the same.

Only 1X, often indicated as 1:1, meaning a one-to-one ratio or greater, qualify as true macro shots.  Anything less than that should be defined as close-up photography, not macro photography.

To get 1X or 1:1 magnification, which you need for true macro photography, you need to buy a dedicated non-zoom macro lens.  Macro lenses come in a variety of fixed focal lengths, ranging from 50 to 200mm.  Some macro lenses focus down to 1:2, but extend to 1:1 via an optically matched adaptor at an extra price.  A handful go beyond 1:1 into super macro-photography territory.

If you have a zoom lens that says it’s a “macro”, don’t believe it.  Sure it’ll get you close, likely to within 1:3 magnification (that is ⅓ life-size on the film or sensor, but technically, true macro is considered 1:1 magnification—life-sized or higher.

When talking about macro photography, the word that I keep coming back in order to describe macro is “transformative”.  Macro photography transforms common place objects into extraordinary images.  It’s a ton of fun and a great way to explore and transform the world around you.  The right macro lens will create that macro magic.

Below is a look at some top macro lenses, arranged by focal length:

SHORT MACRO (30-50mm)

These short lenses are primarily designed for smaller-sensor cameras.  Shorter focal lengths mean greater depth of field, which can be worked out to your advantage.  Another big advantage is that in most cases, these lenses are less expensive than longer lenses. The disadvantages are a shorter working distance, which means you can’t shoot moving subject—butterflies—, and you have to take care so the camera and lens don’t block the light source because you may be working at less than six inches to get 1:1 magnification rate.

A recommended lens in this category is the Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 macro.  It is compact entry-level macro lens which focuses to 1:2.  A 2X multiplier will bring it to life size.  This lens can be had for $299.00 at Amazon; and a Canon life-size converter EF macro lens has a price tag of $269.00 also at Amazon.  If you add the cost of both devices, it will bring to price up to $568.00 which exceeds the cost of a dedicated macro lens with a true magnification rate of 1:1.  I recommend you to save your money and opt for a  true macro lens


The most common focal length for macro lenses give you a somewhat more comfortable working distance of between 9 to 12 inches for a 1:1 magnification ratio (depending on which focal lens you are using), and in most cases, these lenses are also well-suited for portraits, since the focal length is more flattering when photographing faces.  Wide range of prices starting at around $450.00 for consumer-level optics.

Some of these lenses are multipurpose, meaning that you can use them equally at home shooting macro shots, portraits or available-light photos.

Some of the best macro lenses in this category are as follows:

  1. Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 USM.  Floating optical system can focus down to life-size 1:1 magnification rate.  Price:  $469.00
  2. Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5X.  Low cost alternative fast macro lens.  Price:  $1,049.00
  3. Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM (AF).  Inner-focusing to 1:1 magnification ratio.  Price:  $549.00
  4. Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 L IS USM (AF):  Inner-focusing 1:1 magnification rate plus a convenient image stabilization feature for unsteady hands.  The quality of this lenses is absolutely outstanding.  If you have the money, this is the lens to buy.  Price:  $849.00

TELE-MACRO (150-200mm)

With a working distance of foot and a half to two feet for 1:1 magnification, tele-macro lenses let you get up close to hard-to-reach subjects and skittish creatures who don’t want you to invade their space.

They are generally more expensive, require larger filters, and are somewhat bulkier than standard macros, but they will let you get closer.  A tele extender will allow you to double your working distance when you need to.

Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 USM:  1:1 magnification floating system which will avoid the front element from moving.  Price:  $1,399.00.

Which is the best lens for you?  It will all depends on your photographing needs, and of course, on the depth of your pockets.  Best of luck in your next new lens selection process.

If you have read up to here, I tip my hat to you, for it means that you are dead serious about peaking inside those magic worlds where we don’t normally go.  If you want more information to calm your thirst and hunger, maybe the following YouTube video will stabilize your appetite.

Okay.  I’m tired.  Let’s call it a day.


4 thoughts on “Tids and Bits About Close-Up and Macro Photography”

    1. I decided to write this article mainly for my own use. I wanted to have as much information about close-up and macro photography in one place that I could use as a ready reference in the future. At this moment, this is the area in photography I’m more inclined to.

      I want to have a decent gear and this information is intentionally included in the essay.

      I’m glad you are using the same information as a reference source as well.

      Thank you Barbara. Hope all is well on your side.



  1. We are having beautiful sunny weather the last few days with temperatures around 54 degrees Fahrenheit. We have to do more leaf raking and burning this afternoon. Good exercise!

    This post will be a wonderful reference for the future 🙂

    1. On this side of the world, we’re experiencing a dark, rainy day. It’s been drizzling since this morning. Expecting heavy rains after midday. Temperature at this moment (12:07 p.m. -5GMT) is 82 degrees Fahrenheit.

      No fallen leaves on our yard. Trees are green and very much alive. We aren’t expecting snow anytime soon. Maybe in the year 3,000 A.D. 🙂

      Yes, I also like to write for the future. As a matter of fact, this blog is about my life while I was alive on Mother Earth. In many ways it’s the story of my life if you look back about five or six years ago. At 68, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge.

      Take care, Dear Barbara.


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