Macro photography is one of the most interesting types of photography to get involved in. For some photographers, the thought of certain types of photography causes a little anxiety.
Being unfamiliar with how certain photo jobs are done, these photographers might wonder what the best macro photography settings are, and how to set up the camera for the best results.
So below are some camera settings I use myself and also some examples of some other photographers to work from.
Ok, let’s get stuck in!
Best Macro Photography Settings + Tips & 5 Examples In 2023
The following settings are just to give ideas about what works well for macro photography. The actual settings will vary depending on multiple different factors.
I’ll assume the focal length of the lens will be in what would be equivalent to the basic macro lens offered for 35mm SLRs, the 40mm, 50mm, or 60mm macro lens.
- Shutter speed: 1/125 – 1/500
- Aperture: f/8.0, f/11.0
- ISO: 400
- Focal length: 50mm (in 35mm format)
- Exposure mode: Manual, if automatic either shutter priority or aperture priority, but not Program
- Focus mode: Manual, or the focus mode that won’t fire unless in focus
- Image format: Full-frame, APS-C, or MFT
- White balance: Shoot in RAW, auto white balance
Again, these are not set in stone, but are a good starting point. The exposure triangle and varying conditions will change several of these settings.
Below you will find some more macro photography settings that many other photographers are using.
- Shutter speed: 1/200
- Aperture: f/7.0
- ISO: 1000
- Focal length: 85mm
- Shutter speed: 1/200
- Aperture: f/8.0
- ISO: 100
- Focal length: 100mm
- Shutter speed: 1/100
- Aperture: f/5.6
- ISO: 800
- Focal length: 300mm
- Shutter speed: 1/1000
- Aperture: f/2.6
- ISO: 800
- Focal length: 200mm
- Shutter speed: 1/200
- Aperture: f/8.0
- ISO: 100
- Focal length: 65mm
Why I choose the above settings for macro photography
Shutter Speed: I chose a shutter speed that will allow for is to hand hold the camera without introducing the problem of unsharp images due to camera shake.
A lot of camera shake can be eliminated by holding the camera properly and having a comfortable stance.
A faster shutter speed may be in order when taking macro shots of small animals or insects whose rapid movements may cause image blur due to subject movement.
Aperture. The f/stop will be related to shutter speed and ISO as part of the exposure triangle. Another function of the lens aperture is to vary the depth of focus.
The closer you focus, the shallower any range of depth of field will be. So, with ultra close-up macro work, the depth of focus can become a distraction.
Using smaller apertures gives greater depth of focus, but also impacts the shutter speeds used. More depth of focus will cause the issue of longer shutter speeds. It’s a constant dance in macro photography.
ISO. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive to light the sensor (or film) is, thus enabling smaller f-stops and faster shutter speeds.
Why don’t we simply use the highest ISO all the time, then? Because the higher the ISO, the more digital noise there is.
In the film, higher ISO has courser grain. Both of these conditions degrade image quality.
ISO is part of the exposure triangle. Changing one affects the other two. Finding the right balance can be a challenge at times. Which is why lighting accessories are important to know how and when to use.
Focal Length. You may wonder why I chose the Nifty Fifty as my preferred macro length. A shorter lens will introduce distortion effects.
A longer focal length may allow more distance for the same magnification ratio. The normal range, 40mm, 50mm, and 60m offers the best all-around mix and compromise of features and usefulness.
That would apply to the Full-Frame format focal lengths. If your camera format is APS-C or MFT, apply the crop factor to come up with the equivalent focal lengths.
Exposure Mode. One thing is certain, I don’t use Program, or full automation, when taking macro photos.
If choosing the amazingly accurate exposure automation of current cameras, having control of either the shutter speed or the f-stop is desirable.
In rapidly changing lighting conditions, the quick response of a modern exposure meter can be quite useful.
If choosing to shoot in manual mode, bracketing is a good idea. And you have to get close to the correct exposure in the first place by using some sort of exposure meter.
When using flash, the off the film plane exposure automation is hard to beat. I still prefer to set an aperture I consider optimal, though.
Focus Mode. Manual is a good idea if you have the ability and skill to correctly focus in the limited focus plane.
When deciding to use focus automation, using only one AF point and single-shot automatic will usually give best results. Some cameras have special macro focus modes.
You might check that out ahead of time in order to become familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of that mode.
Format. All things being equal, the larger the format, the greater the quality. All things are never equal, however. The smaller formats of APS-C and Micro 4/3rds (MFT) are fine formats.
The smaller formats have some advantages in regards to size and price. Smaller than MFT won’t give the quality results you want, larger than Full-Frame will exponentially increase camera and lens size and costs.
White Balance. Shooting in RAW is preferred for macro photography. RAW files have much more information in them than JPEGs do, allowing for lots of freedom and versatility in post-processing.
With RAW files, you can change the white balance profile in post.
If you choose JPG files, adjust the white balance to be as close to ambient lighting conditions as possible.
If the light is changing rapidly, say due to cloud cover changing to full sunlight and back, or following a subject indoors and out, then auto white balance might still be the way to go.
If you want to learn more about macro photography, these are some other great resources:
- Macro photography tips from Canon
- Macro photography for beginners
- Everything you need to know about macro photography
Tips on how to capture stunning macro photography images
In order to make good macrophotography images, you first have to master your craft and the art of photography.
Sure, as mentioned above, you can let automation control some of the settings.
But, you still need to know and understand exactly what those settings and processes are doing. Only by knowing the craft inside and out can a photographer truly be a master of that craft.
Another important factor for capturing stunning macro images is knowing the intended subject inside and out.
For instance, if you are wanting to get that perfect photo of nectar dripping out of an exotic jungle orchid, you need to know what time of year and what time of day that is most likely to happen.
Even when obtaining specialized equipment for a specific purpose, I like to be completely familiar with its use and operation of it before taking it out to shoot.
Yes, I like to play with my cameras and lenses! What can I say, I really enjoy being a photographer.
Tip #1 – Get Close
Really close. It’s going to be a higher quality image if you don’t have to enlarge via the computer to get the ultra close up view you’re wanting. Filling the frame as much as possible avoids the quality degradation of enlarging in post.
Getting that close, however, you will run into the issues of depth of focus and high magnification camera shake.
So, you’ll get better results if you’ve gotten lots of practice on similar subjects.
Tip #2 – Use a Macro Lens
Close-up filters will get you close. Plus, there are a lot of other methods for achieving close focus, such as reverse mounting a lens, using extension tubes or bellows, or using a zoom lens with “macro focusing” capability. Nothing beats a macro lens, though.
I’m sounding a bit like a gear snob here, but a lens designed for macro use is definitely better for these images than any work around with other lenses.
They are corrected for close up imaging and also have physical properties that make it easier to obtain the highest quality images of macro subjects.
Tip #3 – Tripods and Monopods Are Your Friends
Because of the limitations already discussed in regards to focus, exposure, and image blur or unsharpness due to subject or camera movement, using a camera support system of some sort.
When a tripod is not a viable option, a monopod or even a clamp might be usable.
Tip #4 – Shoot a Lot. Film is cheap
Especially now since film is usually a digital sensor and some form of storage medium. Vary the focus point, use different combinations of the exposure triangle, shoot from different vantage points.
Using a program such as Adobe Lightroom makes image file comparisons go smoothly and quickly, so it’s not like you’ll be wasting time choosing from among frames.
Tip #5 – Learn New Tricks
With digital imaging came new capabilities, or at least new ways of using established methods. Some tricks and tools are really useful.
HDR, exposure bracketing, and focus stacking are some of the digital tricks to learn for amazing macro photography results.
Tip #6 – Look At Everything As a Macro Subject
You will be surprised at what you can find in your backyard, office, or workshop that will make a great macro image.
Sure, some of it is simply playing around, but photography is as much fun as it is a craft or art form. Looking at everyday objects as a potential macro subject trains you to look for new ideas.
Tip #7- Study Up
One of the better aspects of living in the digital age and the online world is that there are lots of ways to find out information and get an education.
YouTube videos, photography message boards, online schools, and social media are fantastic for serious photographers.
In a basic Google search, the first 217 hits I got were all useful and beneficial websites, groups, and books for sale.
Take a close look at Macro Photography.
Macro images open up a fascinating word to be viewed in a new light. Creating those images can be as complicated or as simple as you want it to be.
Whether you are an absolute beginner or part-time amateur, or a serious hobbyist or professional, there is a macro world available for you to make art from.
With the digital cameras in use today, the settings aren’t likely to ruin more than a few files. As was said back in the day when 35mm film SLRs were the basic equipment choice, “Film is cheap.”
Especially so now with digital files does that thought hold true. If you chimp your files, in other words, review them on the camera viewscreen right after exposure, you can easily catch any exposure, composition, or focus errors.
Of course, you could also leave a modern camera in automatic modes, for exposure and focus, and let the amazing technology in them do a lot of the computations for you.
There is nothing wrong with using the automation of a modern DSLR or mirrorless camera. They are really good at what they’re designed to do.
There are a couple of things you may want to control, even if you have the camera in one or more automatic settings.
If wanting more depth of focus because of the shallow focus in close up photography, you may wish to use smaller apertures.
If you’re hand-holding the camera and are concerned about camera shake degrading image sharpness, you will want to control shutter speeds.
Give it a try today!