What is Macro?

Posted: August 2, 2016 in Uncategorized
What Is Macro?
We think of the term “macro photography” as filling the frame with small subjects.
Shooting within a close distance to the subject.
There are three styles that fall into the “macro photography” category.
We simplify it by lumping all three under the one term “macro photography”
If I’m shooting multiple subjects or larger subjects along with it’s surrounding area, we are really shooting “close-up” photography. The majority of what I shoot would fall into this category.
You see in this image, I’m framing multiple subjects that covers a large area. You can shoot this with your traditional macro lens, or in many cases your standard lenses, depending on the minimum focusing distances of the lens. The minimum focusing distance of my Tamron 18-270 lens, or my Tamron 16-300 lens, would allow me to shoot this subject. So I don’t necessarily need a macro lens for this shot.


If I wanted to shoot this same subject, but move in for a closer shot of just the rain drops, I pull out my macro lens, which is designed to focus in closer, and get us into that 1:1 “macro” range. Once we hit that 1:1 minimum focusing distance of our macro lens, we are now working in the next style, “macro”.


This is also “close-up” photography. I’m shooting a large subject with a surrounding area, and this was easily done with my standard Tamron 16-300 lens.


If we can shoot close-up photography with our standard lens, then why do we need a macro lens? You don’t need a macro lens, if you are only going to shoot “close-ups”, but if you need to get in closer then the “close-up” range, then you will need a macro lens, unless you want to add on extension tubes to your regular lens, which will allow the regular lens to focus in closer and into the macro world.
Even though a regular lens will focus into “macro” ranges with extension tubes, the tubes are a big inconvenience, as each tube only works in a certain range, and you will have to add and subtract tubes as you change distances from the subject, causing you to have to take off the lens each time you change tubes, and also exposing the camera’s sensor to dust when you change tubes. A big hassle, so much better just having a macro lens.
If we are shooting a combination of close-up and macro styles then it’s best to carry a macro lens because it will cover both styles, “close-up” and “macro”.
Here is a section of a small feather shot in the “macro” 1:1 range.
How do you know when you are in the 1:1 range of your macro lens?
It will be when you are shooting in the minimum focusing distance of the macro lens.

These Stamens of a flower are in the “macro” 1:1 range.


As we cross over into the magical land of “micro” photography, it becomes a very tricky area of macro. We are now moving past the 1:1 range into the 2:1, 3:1, 4:1, 5:1 magnification.
This style is when you see an image posted of tiny bugs heads filling the frame. I never do “micro” as I’m not really after bugs, and the very minute areas of the subject I tend to shoot, would become very abstract, and not good sellers for print sales.
With the very high magnification needed to produce “micro” images, it becomes very difficult to work with because of the extreme shallow depth of field. This is one area not for the faint of heart.
I have only produced a couple “micro” images.
This image below is a tiny part from the center of a Gerbera daisy. As you can see the depth of field is very little, so most good “micro” photographers do what is called “focus stacking” where they shoot many shots at different focus points and then use a “focus stacking” software like Helicon Focus to merge all the sharpest parts of each shot into one fully focused image.
It can sometimes take up to 50 shots to get all the points of focus through out the subject, so that’s what kind of shallow depth of field you can expect.
So how do you get into that “micro range”.
You can do what I did and find a 50mm standard lens and a reversing ring that will screw on the front of the 50mm to the front of your macro lens.
You could use extension tubes or close-up filters added to you macro lens that will allow you to focus in closer to the subject.
Canon makes a macro lens called a MP-E 65mm. It will go from “macro” 1:1 range, up to 5:1 for your super “micro” world.

Here is another example of working in the “micro” style. This tiny section of a dragon fly wing, and I added some extension tubes onto my macro lens for the higher magnification.

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  1. Jack Larson says:

    As you well know, about 90% of what people call macro, really is close up photography. I really like my Nikon 105mm f/2.8 Macro lens. It is 10 yrs. old and is adequate for almost all of my close up and macro needs.

    • Mike Moats says:

      You are exactly right Jack, most of the images we see posted in the macro forums online are all close-up and very few that are true macro.

  2. Freddy Kietzmann says:

    This was excellent!!! Thank you.

  3. Bill H. says:

    This “lumping” it all together, only serves to perpetuate the confusion of three distinct types of photography. BTW, Micro is 10:1 and higher. Macro is 1:1 to 10:1 as you well know. You don’t call a picture of dirt, “flower” photography, just because they have a close relationship. The camera and lens manufactures also fuel the confusion by putting the word “Macro” on everything. I’m guessing it simply helps sell to the unknowing novice.

    • Mike Moats says:

      Bill all you say may be true technically, but you are way out numbered in the thought process. Look at any photo site labeled “macro photography” and you will see 99 percent of what is being posted is not macro, but technically close-up, but those people posting still refer to their images as macro. We are all out here just having fun and not worried about being that technical, and not interested in measuring everything that we shoot to see which category it fits into, we’re all happy just calling anything shot in a small area “macro” even if it doesn’t fit the technical terms. You need to contact Nikon and tell them they shouldn’t call their macro lenses – micro lenses, or the other manufactures that fuel the confusion as you point out, it’s not some diabolic plan to fool the public, they are like most of us, just not worried about being that technical.

      • I completely agree with Bill H. I have used Nikkor lenses for 45-years, and I still have explain ‘Micro’ labeling to photographers. And stamping ‘Macro’ on zoom lenses that can only acheive 1:3 or 1:4 magnification is a marketing technique to sell lenses to trusting, novice photographers.
        Citing macro websites that accept close-up photography as ‘macro’ does NOT justify mis-labeling close-up as macro. There are several macro websites that provide friendly education to differentiate macro from close-up, such as the True Macro-Photography Forum on UglyHedgeHog.com: http://www.uglyhedgehog.com/s-102-1.html

      • Mike Moats says:

        Doug, why is it so important that people should have to keep the different style separated or label them. As I pointed out to Bill, we’re all just having fun. Is it that bad that someone calls a close-up image a macro image. It’s obvious that the manufacturers don’t take the terms serious enough to label some of their lenses in the correct terms, why should we care or worry about it. I think it good to point out to people that there is different styles, but I don’t have a problem with people that don’t label their images correctly. My Macro Madness Geeks photo group on facebook has about 600 members posting and pretty much none of the images posted are true macro. If you ask me close-up photography should be called macro because that’s what everyone’s really shooting and that’s what most people think is macro photography.

      • Bill H. says:

        So, I guess we can say that sports, wedding, portrait, boudoir, nude should all be called “People photography” simply because they all involve people? The photography website that I am familiar with, have distinct sections for each category and the few that do include both macro/close-up call it “Macro and Close up” or completely separate the two. I do agree that fun is the most important aspect, though seeing someone that is completely confused by the mislabeling isn’t fun. The fact that so many people are lumping the three together only shows the extent of the situation.

        I do not expect this to change but, I do think the differences should be made clearer.

  4. Sabina Bowers says:

    Thanks. This was really helpful.

  5. It is about time that you explained the correct definition of true macro. I have been disappointed in your continued use of the term macro to describe close-up photography. Anyone, and nearly any lens can capture a close-up photograph. True macro is a discipline that requires specific techniques and specialized equipment. Good education is key to the proper use of macro lenses &/or extension tubes, so please emphasize this in your workshops.

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