Macro photography is certainly one of the most challenging and most demanding genres of photography. In addition to very specific gear requirements, you also need to deal with tricky conditions such as shallow depths of field, long shutter speeds and tight working spaces.
The following list of macro photography accessories will help you understand better what kind of gear you really need in order to make some striking photos of flowers, insects and similar subjects.
1. Macro lens
The word macro is nowadays basically synonymous with close-up photography, but it’s important to make a distinction between macro and close-up images. Typically, those lenses which are labelled as ’’macro’’ can reproduce small objects at up to 0.5x life size on a camera’s sensor.
However, those premium macro lenses can go further, enabling full 1.0x or 1:1 magnification at their closest focusing distance. It is the exact point at which we pass from close-up images to real macro.
Generally speaking, macro lenses with a focal length of between 90mm and 105mm are most popular. They are quite affordable and they have a rather convenient minimum focus distance of roughly 30cm.
2. Reversed lens adapter
Amazingly, it’s possible to take macro images without using a macro lens! All you need to make this come true is a reversed lens adapter. Using this kind of adapter is surely the simplest and most affordable way to get really powerful macro images.
This adapter is a very straightforward accessory and it does exactly what its name says – it allows you to mount your lens reversed onto your camera body. In the reversed position, the lens acts like a high-quality magnifying glass.
If you have a standard prime lens such as 50mm, it can become a great macro lens alternative!
3. Extension tubes
These tubes are another accessory that every macro photographer should become familiar with. Extension tubes work by increasing the extension of lenses – they look like hollow and opaque cylinders that can fit between the lens and camera mount. They allow you to move your lens further from the camera and closer to the subject.
Extension tubes aren’t expensive and they are true lifesavers for those on a tight budget. There are many inexpensive extension tubes on Amazon or eBay.
It’s also important to mention that extension tubes work best with lenses of short or medium focal length. They aren’t really effective with telephoto lenses.
When it comes to lighting in macro photography, there are plenty of options. You can shoot in daylight using only available light, but you can also introduce flash on or off the camera or use continuous light from LED lights or reflectors.
In case you decide to use a speedlight for macro photography, bear in mind that you’ll have to use various light modifiers in order to get the most out of your flash. The best way to use speedlights is definitely off-camera, which means that besides light diffusers you’ll need radio triggers, a TTL cord or a PC sync cord.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for more advanced lighting options, the most common one for macro photography is the ring light. This type of light can illuminate your subject evenly and it’s well known for its soft and diffused look.
5. Light diffuser
A light diffuser is an absolutely necessary accessory for outdoor macro photography that takes place during the daytime. Shooting macro images in the direct sun can be quite frustrating.
Diffusers allow you to get rid of harsh sunlight and shadows, which results in a balanced soft light and consequently better images. There are countless options when it comes to light diffusers and some of them are available for under $10.
However, if you want to get a truly reliable light diffuser for your macro photography, you should try a compact softbox or a dome diffuser.
These diffusers work great even when the light source is really close to the subject.
A bellows system is an interesting piece of equipment that is extremely useful in macro photography. It allows you to vary macro distance by increasing or decreasing the bellows extension. The bellows must be mounted on a tripod to work properly.
This accessory works exactly the same way as extension tubes, but it’s even more powerful. The collapsible bellows is placed between the camera and the lens and it allows the photographer to move the lens even farther from the camera than several extension tubes would!
To put it simply, a bellows system allows you to focus at extreme magnifications, no matter what kind of lens you have.
In case you want to learn more about macro photography, feel free to explore the following links:
thank you for this beautiful and extensive list.
I’ve been doing macro photography for a while now, I still need some of the gear. So it’s not necessary to buy all this at once, but it is a good idea to prioritize it for yourself and buy it over a period of time.
Of course there is a lot more to look at than just the gear. Stuff like settings are so different than for example other types of photography. Even with a small aperture like f16 you sill get that creamy bokeh for example.
So some extra tips for macro photographers.
– Get your subject in focus more easily with a small aperture (or large number)
– Raise your ISO enough
– Be patient
– Use a tripod
– Set your camera on continuous with faster insects
Thank you for sharing this nice list! I should make work of those extension tubes soon!
Thank you Jasenka for a great read and helpful advice.