Macro photography is an exciting segment of photography and can be very rewarding if done properly. Below, I’ve listed a few things you will need to get started with notes about each one.
1. Macro Lens. Many cameras let you set your focus so that you are very close to your subject, a macro lens lets you focus much closer, and should let you get to a 1:1 ratio where your subject is exactly the same size as your image. Most lens manufacturers produce Macro lenses in a 100mm or 105mm length, and some also make 150mm or 200mm lenses. The advantage of the longer lens is that you don’t need to be as close to your subject in order to get the 1:1 ration. This can be advantageous when shooting wildlife or subjects that move. Most underwater housings have ports for 100/105mm lenses.
2. Tripod. Because you are focused so close to your subject, your depth of field will be very small. To help counter this, you will need to shoot at f16 or higher which means your shutter speed will be very slow. This mandates a tripod. A tripod will also help when setting up your shot. Removing any center columns and mounting your head as close to the tripod collar will help you get as low to the ground as possible. Some tripods let you invert the center column and lower the camera all the way to the ground. This is helpful, but can be awkward because your camera is upside down. Some tripods are designed so that their legs will extend out flat, which is perfect for macro photography.
3. Flash. With a small depth of field and large aperture, you will need to add in as much light as possible to your image, and this is where your flash comes in. You can use a normal flash that sits on top of your camera, or a ring flash that attaches to your lens and gives you light from all angles. Alternatively, you can also find a bar that enables you to use two flashes (one on each side of your camera),
4. Remote Cord for Your Flash. Attach one end of the cord to your hot shoe on your camera, and the other to your flash, and voila! You can now move your flash where you like. Try using your flash at different angles and power settings to produce different effects.
5. Reflectors. Reflectors are flexible, coated discs that are usually colored and can be aimed to reflect light where you want it. I usually carry at least one small one in my bag specifically for macro. They fold up into almost nothing and lie flat for easy packing. I like one with a ‘soft gold’ coating and often place it under flowers to reflect light up underneath the flower. This usually brings light onto the stem and base of the flower adding depth. It is a subtle thing, and can bring your images to that next level.
6. Flash Diffuser. These soften the light from your flash, which can help give your images a more natural look. Most diffusers are white, but you can also put colored film over your flash to bring specific colors into your image.
7. Remote Cord for Your Camera. Some cameras use a cable release while others use a wireless remote. Either one will let you trigger the shutter without moving the camera. Given the very slow shutter speeds, these will help to reduce motion blur. Alternatively, Some cameras have a 2 sec timer, which can also be used to help eliminate camera movement.
8. Extension Rings or Tubes. These are rings of varying thickness that you attach between your lens and the camera. They don’t have any glass in them, but should have electronic connectors. They let you focus even closer than your lens normally would.
9. Macro Focusing Rail. As you focus the lens, the magnification changes. In some cases it may be best to set the focus and move the camera until you have the desired subject in focus. Mount your camera on the focusing rail, then mount the rail onto your tripod. The rail enables you to move the camera in very small increments to bring your subject into focus. Really Right Stuff sells an excellent focusing rail.
This may sound like a lot, but once you have some of this equipment in your bag, you will find yourself reaching for it all of the time. It may take some practice to coordinate the tripod, flash and reflector, but once you have it down, you will see your macro images improve dramatically.