Moving to Macro – The Definition and More

f11 1/100  ISO 200

This post is part of a series on different ways to get in close. It shows the whites and lights of Fall in the garden and fields.

How Do We Define Getting in Close?

First it is good to define Closeup photography. Even though it is a subjective definition, it does have some accepted guidelines.

f7.1 1/1600 ISO 1000 A photo from Summer shot with the 105mm macro. This image is not soft like the rest of the white and pale photos, but Fall calls for its own kind of compositional treatment I think. It is a softer, gentler time of year with the clear light. More on using high ISO in a later post on macro work.

In this case, it is based in lenses dedicated to macro work, specifically in this post, a Micro Nikkor 105mm, my go to bug lens. Busier bugs get a zoom lens, though.

The closest this lens can focus is to one foot. This is important too, because if you get closer, the lens will not focus well if at all. Many make the mistake of getting in closer than the lens can handle and the result is an unintentional blurry image. Want to know more?


f13 1/100 ISO 100 You can see a lot of detail in this image if you click to enlarge. I love these high key images. The washed out look of high key is a feminine look. Only a small portion of the image is well focused even at f13.

What is the difference between Macro and Micro?

All Nikon lenses are Micro Nikkor lenses. Other manufacturers are designated as Macro. When I shoot with each subsequent lens and supporting equipment, I will show you what is in the camera bag. This post, I only used the Micro Nikkor 105mm, f2.8 on the Nikon D7000. It is strange, but Nikon calls their lenses Micro when in fact they are Macro at 1:1.

What is Micro Photography?

Anything larger than 1:1 is Micro photography. That is what one considers when magnifying like adding an extension tube or diopter.


f11  1/100 ISO 200

What is a Closeup Photo?

A closeup is an image anywhere from 10:1 to life-size.

Macro is a 1:1 magnification, determined by the macro lens, a prime lens.  Meaning, if you photograph a small object at the lens’ closest focal distance, the subject will be the same size as the image projected onto the camera’s sensor. Viewed on a computer screen or turned into a print, there’s levels of detail revealed that are unmatched by other types of lenses used for closeup work.

f8 1/200 ISO 100 Shots this tight of individual florets need to be on a tripod, which this one is not, but you can still see selective detail none the less. Without scale, it is difficult to judge the small size of the pedicels making up the wild carrot.

Macro lenses are very sharp lenses. In the last post, I shot some landscape shots and they were very sharp. These lenses will shoot to infinity, which is like shooting the exact scene you are seeing, not smaller or bigger.

f11 1/200 ISO 100

What is the Depth of Precise Focus?

One thing you will notice about true macro photography, only a small area of a subject is in sharp focus. All in focus will lie in a narrow band.

You may only have a half-inch of focus depth around f11 that is in precise focus, at f32 maybe less than three inches of depth.  It takes some getting used to in order to focus on that small area. Another tip for well focused shots… use a tripod. I keep making this point bold too, at least until you get a handle on going without.

I bet many of you have noticed limited focus depth using other lenses or macro settings in your own garden photographs and wondered why. It is based on the lens’ focal length, how far you are from your subject and the f-stop you are using.

Try moving back a bit and more will appear in focus. Move in tight, and there is less distance of focus. More on this later. There are numerical ratios that apply to how this works. Real simple to remember for reference too.

f6.3 1/100 ISO 100  

See how above, less than 1/2 inch of focus is not very much on this milk pod? Very little is in sharp focus at f6.3, just some of the silky hairs.

In the last milk pod image of this post, I was not as close to the subject as in this shot above, plus it was taken at f7.1 with a pod and seeds more in the same plane of view, similar to the bee above.

This is very important if the subject can be parallel to the camera lens and be small enough to ‘fit’ into the area of focus. You can see too that there is much more available light on the last milk pod and the bee. Plus, in these windy conditions of the pale Fall images illustrated today, a tripod would have helped greatly.

I purposefully shot white subjects because the exposure is a bit trickier in sunlight.  I added this image above to illustrate all these points.


f10 1/100 ISO 100

Here is the simple focusing tip I said I would share, learned on Kelby Training. Based on focusing SLR film cameras, it is a three-step process, more and you are over compensating.


Manually focus by completely throwing the subject out of focus, then go right PAST perfect focus, then quickly right back into focus.

Doing it this way avoids optical accommodation. When you keep trying to get it perfect by going back and forth repeatedly, the eye says to the brain it is focused already, now stop, when in fact it is out of focus slightly.

How many of you experience this? You think you have the shot only to upload them and find a completely blurry image. This tip is for all cameras that can be manually focused, but is especially important with zoom lenses and macro lenses. They seem to be the ones most people fuss with.

Another tip for those considering purchasing a true macro lens, one that is a prime lens dedicated to macro, start learning to use it with a tripod. They are very hard to focus in the beginning when not accustomed to them. It took me a while before I could manually focus the lens consistently.

Autofocus is not recommended on closeup shots. I will get into why this is so later on focusing and depth-of-field. The only photo here that was shot using a tripod was the dahlia. Compare that to the hand-held image of the Ironweed, both at f10.

Little Bluestem Grass

f5 1/100 ISO 100 with a little wind blown bokeh. Want the skinny on bokeh? See my last post in the comments. Experiments with Plants asked me how to get it.

Beyond the focus area, you have intentional blur, depth-of-field and even bokeh. And Depth-of-Field gives your photos character and mood. It also gives a richness of detail and texture you cannot see unless looking very close.

When you see a closeup and much of the image is well focused, it is likely a photo that was taken with a non-macro lens, like a zoom and cropped in tight to look like a macro image. Tightly cropped photos are not true macros. It is unlikely you could print them at large-scale.

You will not necessarily have the nice, smooth transition of depth-of-field in a tight photo and too much is in perfect focus which lets you know it was a zoomed in image. I will show those too. I use my zoom lenses a lot for closeup work and do get some nice DOF, but it is based on camera settings, focal length and wide aperture.


f10 1/80 ISO 320 Camera on a tripod.

So how do you go about shooting a macro shot?

What is recommended, is to shoot in Manual to control where that focus point is located. How precise it is will determine the look of the photo. I like soft images, even some high key, so often will overexpose a bit.

Goldenrod Seedhead

f4 1/250 ISO 100

So, What is Life-Size?

To give you an idea what life-size is, I placed a penny inside a slide mount. The penny, although round, fills the frame. When more pennies virtually fit the frame (the white space, background or negative space), you have differing ratios, like 4:1 or 10:1.

Life-size shown in a slide mount, meant to simulate your camera sensor, taken with the Micro Nikkor 60mm lens and flash.

FYI, I use a DX camera and that has a smaller sensor than the FX professional cameras, like what was the format of a SLR film camera. Hint, hint, hint…. the smaller sensor crops the image which is good in macro work, so even when I get my FX camera, I will likely still use the D7000 for closeup work. Plus I use FX lenses on this camera which gives me a 1.5x bump of apparent focal length. All cool stuff to know if you have a DSLR that accepts pro lenses.

f7.1 1/100 ISO 100

One thing I learned about cameras and lenses, is the best of both that you can use, is the ones you are comfortable with. When you are most comfortable with your equipment, you are more creative. So, before purchasing a macro lens, try it out in the store. You will see it is different to use and you will never use it if you don’t think you will become comfortable with it.

As I mentioned in the introductory post to this series, I am not a pro and do not pretend to be, but have been photographing for a long time. I always feel sometimes that even non-pros can offer advice that the pros might overlook as being too routine. But, by all means, seek out the advice of pros. They may explain in more detail, but it also may be a bit more technical.

My next post on macro work on Monday will be taking you to all the sites where I learned much of the information and listing photographers that I follow and learn from. Some you may know, others you may not. Some are specific to macro and others are not. Some you may follow too.

It is hard talking about this subject without adding the techy stuff, and I do have posts upcoming for more mainstream camera work. I know that many use point and shoots and I will use mine too in a post. There are some tips with that camera as well, so stay tuned.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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51 Responses to Moving to Macro – The Definition and More

  1. You are my inspiration and photography guru! Amazing! I want to study macro photography over winter in preparation for next spring – I shall be studying your posts very closely! Thank you for sharing all this information! 🙂

    • So very kind Emma. The next post will really interest you. I am listing all the links to sites that are great professional photographers and many of them offer advice to help out people like us. After that, I hope to add the extension tubes in the mix in the following post. Too bad there are no bees to photograph. There is not one moving thing out there right now, but next week is warm weather, so we will see.

      • My feelings too, just got an extension tube but the bees and other insects are all hiding away now. I’ll look forward to the post on extension tube too as I still find focusing difficult to master, and the next post sounds awesome!

        • I think I mentioned in your last post how difficult extension tubes are to learn. I find them useful, but not as much in the field without the tripod, which I rarely take with me. It is too hard to chase around bees with a tripod. I so much rather shoot the insects than the flowers.

  2. A very useful post. It’s the one thing I really want to invest in this Christmas, a better macro lens for my Nikon. I’m just so hard on my lenses, so I’ve been holding off. They get covered in dust, or worse yet, propolis from the bee hives (which, by the way, is very difficult to get off!) I typically tend to carry more multipurpose lenses, and then tuck a 2x or 4x macro filter in my pocket. Not because it gives a great image per se, but sometimes, in the garden, I never know if I’m going to shoot a bug on a petal, or a hawk overhead, and I’m usually too lazy to carry more than one lens! Bug, I put on the filter…hawk, I take it off. Sort of the lazy person’s approach to macro photography I suppose 😉 There are times though, with more purposeful photography, that I’d like to have the enhanced clarity from a quality dedicated macro lens. Maybe I’ll have to whisper in Santa’s ear this year, that or leave him some extra cookies as a hint!

    • It is not being lazy, but being smart. In my last post I only took the macro lens and really needed my wide angle for some of the shots. I did not see any hawks luckily or I would have really been disappointed since I usually always have a zoom on trips to the Falls. I too use the diopters or macro filters. They come in really handy for even closer work. I am just starting to get the patience to shoot images like my bee photo in this post. I find I like getting them in flight more, but feeding is a fun shot too. You and Emma get photos in the hive. I would love to get some photos like that. I know a well known bee keeper here in our area, but never asked her if I could photograph her hives. She does not wear the bee attire and I would never approach a hive unless I was covered head to toe.

  3. debsgarden says:

    I really enjoyed this post, as well as your previous one. The images are wonderful. I truly admire your photography skills. I’m afraid I haven’t taken the time to learn what all my great camera can do. Thanks for lots of helpful info. I crop a lot of my shots to get close-up images. It’s good to know the difference between that and macro!

    P.S. I hope you are feeling better!

    • Cameras can do so much now a days, even the small ones. I often do the cropping when I am using lenses other than my macro lens. I really did not fully understand the distinction until I took these classes over a year ago. I never learned it in photography classes in college, or never saw it in photography books. It takes learning from real people to really get an understanding, plus find out the shortcuts that the experts know from years and years of experience. That is the greatest thing about Kelby Training. You see it as they go through photographing with the right equipment, lighting and how to photograph the subject in the most advantageous way. My favorite classes were with Moose Peterson, a famous wildlife photographer. I even talked with him and he is such a nice guy.

  4. Andrea says:

    You know i’ve always been a fan of your photos! And i am reading thoroughly all these posts on macro, this is the first time I’ve read about that effect on the brain of the fidgety focusing. I guess that is my biggest mistake, but i don’t know until when will i be able to focus with just that single strategy: turn slightly more than the actual focus and then return, maybe a bit difficult to make as a habit! A question: What is the relationship of the width of focus with the lens size. What I mean is Does a 35mm prime macro lens versus a 60mm prime macro lens have difference in width of focus at f3.5?

    • I am not sure of your question, but the difference is in focal length. Meaning on my 60mm I can be 6″ from the subject (too close for skittish insects) and the 105mm I am 12″ away at my closest point. They are 1:1 meaning what you see in life will be what is on your camera sensor in a 1:1 ratio. Not bigger or not smaller. Like my bee. She filled up the frame to 100% of her size. A pro may explain this better, I know I am doing it in a more simplified way. When you say wider that would be a wide angle lens. Close in like that, they distort.

      • Andrea says:

        Your reply is very useful for me too, as I don’t know that! In addition I would like to know how different are the two lenses in terms of the width of focused area in the subject, as areas not in focus anymore are blurred or bokeh. Sorry for my ignorance, haha!

  5. flora says:

    amazing pics! I am an amateur when it comes to photography ,,my equipment is a simple nikon handy cam ..but I still love taking photos of the world around me ! love your pics!

    • “The world of closeup photography is one in which is alive, and very accessible to everyone with a camera. By this I mean finding a world you may not know existed and using what you have to capture it.” I said this in Interested in Macro Photography? and it is oh so true. There are so many ways to get in close and even small cameras do it very well.

  6. shobhnaa says:

    I must say you photography of nature is just amazing….. i got enchanted by these pics. And the close-up pics are so nice that I really have no words to praise…. i’ll be in touch to follow you 🙂

  7. Thank you for a most informative post. This is one that I will read and read again until I get to grips with close up photography. I have just done a Flower Friday post using close up lenses which I bought recently as a stepping stone to a macro lens that needs saving up for. I am now going to practise with a tripod. I used that for the first time a month ago and loved it.

  8. So much great, useful information. Thanks for sharing it, and your stunning photos.

  9. This is a lot of helpful information. Love all of your macro/micro shots. Whatever they are called they are splendid!! I liked the penny a lot too.

  10. Alistair says:

    I love to see and read what you have to say about all this techy stuff regarding photography Donna. Although I get the results I want from my point and shoot, and the little adjustments which I make from an online editor I can still appreciate what the experts have to say..

  11. Indie says:

    Even your post might have been a little technical for me 🙂 I’ve read a photography book that explains about apertures and focal lengths and such, but for some reason I can’t seem to make it all stick in my brain. At some point I would love to take a photography class. I do have fun playing with my lenses though. I definitely still have to use a tripod with my macro lens – my hands are just not steady enough. Thanks for the tip for manually focusing!

  12. I am a doer so it is hard to wrap my brain around this unless I have a camera to use the info with, but it is amazing all that goes into this…I will be back to reread as I need time to digest it all…great stuff Donna

  13. HolleyGarden says:

    Great information, and it all seems to make sense. My husband is always telling me I need to learn to manually focus, but I don’t see well, so everything seems blurry to me. (Most of the time, I’m just hoping the camera is focusing on what I want it to.) Even so, this information is useful to me. And maybe I’ll give manual focusing a try. Thanks for making us a little braver in experimenting with our photography.

    • From Nikon’s site. Can I adjust Nikon DSL viewfinder so that I do not need to wear my eye glasses when focusing?
      “Users who wear eyeglasses to correct their vision can find it difficult to focus through a viewfinder with glasses on. Nikon DSLR cameras feature a built in adjustable diopter correction system. This means it’s not necessary to attach a lens to the camera to adjust the diopter setting. Simply look at the focus indicators through the viewfinder and at the same time turn the diopter adjustment knob, the correct setting is found when the focus indicators appear to be in focus and sharpest.”

      • HolleyGarden says:

        Oh, thanks! That gives hope to us four-eyes! 🙂

        • It really works too Holley. My vision is very bad from all the years of small and precise work of architectural drafting by hand, then all the years of computer drafting. I have my diopter dial on the camera set all the way to the + side and it allows me to see clearly. Any worse and I would be off their chart and have to affix a prescription lens to the viewfinder.

  14. That is very interesting about how the brain overcompensates.Maybe that’s why I have been disappointed in my clarity lately. Thanks Donna.

    • I found that interesting too. I was one that fiddled with the focus back and forth too many times. My vision is bad like I mentioned to Holley, but this trick seems to work good for the most part, especially when using a tripod.

  15. Carolyn says:

    My husband tells me I should slow down long enough to learn to use my camera correctly. Maybe with Winter here, that may happen. Once in a while I get a really great shot. It would be rather nice to know why it happens so I can do it again.. Still digesting your tutorial. You are sweet to share. I enjoyed your milkweed seed pics… I do think I caught a rather magical moment with a seed pod that is for now my header. But then, they are magical little creatures anyway, aren’t they?

    • I did see your header and you did capture a beautiful, magical moment. Your husband really has good advice. Knowing the camera is key. Photography is exactly captured moments, and they happen so quickly, so not having to think about settings or lens changes is a useful thing. Once one’s brain wraps around the settings they become automatic, it allows you to capture images far more consistently. You then only have subject and composition to think about. I myself am much better, but still have to analyze a scene a bit to get the best exposure. I sometimes set the camera to bracket if I am unsure.

  16. Victor Ho says:

    Great post again. Good shots. My current macro lens is an older manual focus Nikon 100mm macro. So it’s manual all the way. I don’t use it often but your post has me thinking it’s time to get it out again.

  17. Wow…wow and wow again! You are an amazing photographer and the photos are beautiful and an inspiration. I love to go out and photograph the garden and have tried macros but am still definitely learning. Thank you for the great tutorial.

    • Thank you much, Lee. It is very different working with macro lenses. I have had the 60mm for a long time and as I said in the post, it took me a long time to feel comfortable with it. I need lots of practice because focusing is so much harder, especially when not using a tripod. I have extension tubes and adding them to the mix makes it all more difficult. Eventually, like I mentioned too, it all comes together and will seem old hat. What I really need is a good tripod, one that does not have any movement when shooting. That will be my Christmas present I think.

  18. Thanks for all these great tips! I have noticed your point about putting the subject out of focus, then moving to focus and just beyond, and then back again. It’s especially helpful now with presbyopia. Unfortunately, I always have to wear reading glasses now when snapping photos, but the new, larger viewfinders help. Thanks for sharing all your knowledge, Donna.

  19. So much great information. Will have to reread it in bits and pieces to fully digest it. Was going to email you…got my lens to focus in manual without the noise. Found a web site Q & A. They said to turn the lens to 55, then turn it a little further. It was ‘stuck’. Doing this ‘unstuck’ it. No other explanation, it works now.

  20. You make a good point about being comfortable with your equipment. I am comfortable with my Nikon CoolPix5000. Photos shot using the close up function come out very well. I always manually set the focus before I press the shutter though.

  21. So much to absorb in this posting, Donna, that I am going to have to read it through several times. I’m having problems with my tripod — I think it should hold my camera completely still, but the camera wobbles when I touch it. I don’t know if I am doing something wrong or if there is something wrong with the tripod. I would like to use it more often as you suggest. P. x

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