With photography, the term macro is a little misleading. It implies that the image is of something massive, but in fact the opposite is true – the subject is very small. These days, macro refers to any type of shooting where you’re up extremely close to a detail or small object. Over the next couple of pages we’ll give you some useful tips to remember when taking macro photos.

Pick a camera

First off, you’ll need to pick a camera. Digital point-and-shoot models are great, and most will have a specific macro mode that’s capable of extremely close-up photography – some can get as close as just 1cm or 2cm away from a subject. You may also find that your iPhone 4 or 4S does a good job of shooting up close.

If you’re using an SLR and are serious about this form of photography, then it’s well worth investing in a macro lens. Typically, these are fairly large, even if they do have a short focal length.

Understand the macro feature

Some point-and-shoot cameras require that you be within a specific distance before they can focus. Usually, this is in the middle of the camera’s zoom range, so you can’t go into macro mode and then zoom in further to get even closer. It’s likely that you’ll have to be zoomed out a bit. You should note that a camera’s macro mode is usually indicated by a flower icon.

Focus with care

When taking a photo of a small subject it’s important to remember that the area of the shot in focus will not be very deep, which means that your point of focus will be critical. If you don’t focus specifically on the area that you want to be sharp, then it might end up out of focus, due to shallow depth of field. This can be particularly tricky if you’re trying to shoot something that’s moving, such as a flower on a windy day.

If your camera has the right controls, try going to a smaller aperture (a greater f-stop)to get deeper depth of field. Note, though, that even at f/8 or f/11, you’ll still have very shallow depth of field.

If you have Photoshop CS5, you’re shooting a static subject, and you have time to do so, you can take multiple shots – each focused to a different depth – and then use Photoshop to combine these into a single, final image with a deep depth of field. To do this, use the Photomerge feature you’d use for stitching panoramic images.

Move rather than zoom

To achieve a particular crop on your image, move the entire camera in and out rather than making small, fine zoom adjustments. Even a tiny amount of zoom will result in a big change in your final image. Also, if you find that your camera can’t lock focus, try pulling back a little from the subject.

Don’t take just one

Because focusing can be difficult, it’s a good idea to take multiple shots of the same frame. This will give you a better chance of getting an image that’s in focus, with the depth of field you want. Some point-and-shoot cameras have a ‘best shot selector’ option, which automatically shoots a burst of images, selects the sharpest, and then discards the rest.

Don’t block your light

One tricky thing about macro shooting is that you might cast a shadow over your subject. If your camera has Live View, you can probably position yourself in such a way that this isn’t an issue. You may, however, have to stand further back and zoom in to completely eliminate your own shadow.

Another option is to use a flash, though this can be problematic. You may, for example, overexpose your scene and wash out any detail. If your camera has a compensation control for flash exposure, you can use this to reduce its brightness.

Make your own macro lens

If you’re using an SLR with a somewhat short lens (50mm, or even the one that came with the camera), try turning it around and holding it against your camera body. This often makes for a good, cheap macro lens.

Experiment

Finally, remember that macro shooting is just like any other type of photography, in that you need to think about the shutter speed – whether, for example, it’s fast enough for handheld shooting. In addition, view your tiny scene as a landscape, and work it like you would a real landscape shot. Move around, try different angles, multiple compositions, experiment, and explore.