Introduction: Macro Photography: an Essential Skill for Good Instructables

Picture of Macro Photography: an Essential Skill for Good Instructables

Macro photography is the key to good Instructables that deal with anything close-up. Although this skill should be known to every Instructabler out there, it seems like few actually do know it. Learning how to take good macro photos is learning how to make a better Instructable.

Step 1: Cameras

A good camera is the key to good photos. Here is a brief list of types of cameras and how well they do in terms of close-ups:

Cell Phone Camera: Most people have these. Unfortunately, though, they take cruddy macros. They're good for normal photos, like you and your friends, but for anything closer than a foot away, they generally stink.

Webcam: Due to the manual focus ring, these types of cameras can sometimes take excellent close-ups. The problem with these is that the resolution of photos is quite small, and the quality is usually quite low. Good macros, bad photos.

Normal Camera: These cameras are, of course, the best at macro photography. That's one of the things they were made for. A good camera can cost a little over $200, but you could probably get away with one that's a little cheaper.

In this Instructable we'll be using a normal camera.

Step 2: The Magical Flower Button

Picture of The Magical Flower Button

This amazing so-called "flower button" is what puts your camera in macro mode. It's essential to know how to use it in order to take good macro photos.

On most cameras, there is a button with a flower by it, or the selector wheel has a flower on it. This is what puts your camera in macro mode, which allows it to focus on very close objects. This is to ensure your photos don't come out blurry.

When you want to take a close-up picture, press the macro button or turn the dial to the flower.

If your camera doesn't support macro, you may still be in luck. As long as it has zooming capabilities, you can take macros of sorts.

How to take good pictures while in macro mode is discussed in the next step, while taking macros with zoom is explained in the step after that.

Step 3: Taking Macros

Picture of Taking Macros

For our example subject, we'll be using a green LED.

Taking a picture in macro mode is just like taking a picture in normal mode. Just get real close, hold the button down halfway to focus, then press it all the way to take the picture. If you're too close, the camera won't be able to focus. These are cameras, not microscopes!

You can tell when it focuses because the camera will make a small sound, and there will be a green box on the screen.

Now onto taking GOOD macro pictures. The first image is an ideal shot. The lighting is just right and it's not blurred.

Here are a couple pointers that you should remember when taking macro pictures:

1. Have good external lighting. There should not be too much light, but there shouldn't be not enough. Picture two shows too much light. The camera tries to auto-adjust to that, thus skewing the colors. The picture after shows an exaggerated version of not enough light. Obviously, you can't really see much.
The fourth picture shows using the flash in a dark environment. It's way too bright, especially in close-up situations.

2. Try not to move the camera when taking a picture. This will result with something like photo five. Blurry pictures do not look good, and if it's trying to show something like a label, you wouldn't even be able to read it. To make sure you don't move the camera when taking the pictures, hold your breath while you take the shot. Also, try to prop your hands on something, to make sure they don't move. Don't hold your arms out in midair, or they'll be shaking too much to take a decent picture.
Pictures six and seven show attempts to take photos while in normal mode. They are ridiculously blurry, and not very good to look at. In the last photo, you can see how the camera tries to focus on things more than a couple feet from the camera, which is why the pen is in focus and the LED is not.

3. Don't take only one shot! You probably won't get the perfect shot on the first try! Keep taking pictures until you get a good one. This is a digital camera, remember? You're not wasting film! :P

Good lighting and steady hands are the key to good macro photography. Keep taking pictures until you get just the right one. The next step explains how to take close-up pictures by zooming in from a distance.

Step 4: Close-Ups by Zooming

Picture of Close-Ups by Zooming

If your camera doesn't have a macro feature, or the macro doesn't work well, you can still take close-up photos with zoom capabilities.

A tripod really helps with this method. When you're zoomed in, a small shake of the hand means a lot of motion blur.

Mount the camera on your tripod. Place it a reasonable distance from your subject, and zoom in to it. Focus the camera, and take the picture. The second picture was taken at 7.2x zoom.

Unfortunately, this method is hard to get just right. You need to constantly move the camera to find just the right distance in order to focus the photo properly. But if you can master this skill, it can be just as effective as macro.

Step 5: Take Better Pictures!

Picture of Take Better Pictures!

You should now be on your way to taking better macro photos! Better photos = Better Instructables! Thanks for reading, and please remember to comment!


Yonatan24 (author)2016-03-18

I think you need a white background...

tonybest (author)2015-08-25

wow!!!! I never knew this and thank you for this info!!!!!!

Tihomir G (author)2014-05-15

Sometimes with high enough levels of zoom, pushing the shutter button can move the camera enough to blur the picture. If that happens, the self-timer comes to the rescue. It will take the picture a few seconds after you push the button, when the camera is absolutely still. (No, you don't have to rush to squeeze your finger into the scene! :-)

spylock (author)2013-02-16

Thats good,kinda like firing a weapon,breathing.another good tip I had not thought of.

Xthinker (author)2011-06-13

so thats what its for!!!!!!

JasonYMN (author)2010-08-05

Thank you. I never knew about the macro button.

Wildcat_drvr (author)2010-08-01

Thanks! My camera(Kodak z650) has a "close-up" setting but it's 28 inch(70mm),didn't know "flower" setting was good for even closer! Thanks again!

osvcoira (author)2009-04-04

I can´t understand what kind innstructanble is it, this is only an old and basic photography concept, fine yes!! but nothing original. Excuse my english.

rrrmanion (author)osvcoira2010-07-06

1) he said it was a basic concept, and he thought people still hadn't mastered it, thats the point in this instructable, 2) i still, regularly read magazines and books on photography, because some books, some magazines, explain it better or explain something that hasn't already been explained, there are lots of different so basically, different people learn and understand and explain differently.

egbertfitzwilly (author)osvcoira2010-05-01

By this thinking there should only be one book on any subject.

abhishek727 (author)osvcoira2009-08-02

"Excuse my english" fine yes!! but nothing original. BTW your English is excused!!

zaiedishaq (author)2009-06-16

I want to add 1 more pointer that i used to do when taking macro pic, 'Hold your breath while zooming and pressing the shutter button'. It may sound weird but it works. I always took macro pictures for preparing Work Instructions.

rrrmanion (author)zaiedishaq2010-07-06

also, it may be useful to invest in a tripod, though not essential, it is still worth it as it can be useful in other situations too

rrrmanion (author)2010-07-06

where you say normal camera, i think you should put in brackets compact camera, then add another section with SLR camera, the best cameras you can get really , but these often require a special macro lens.

diolola (author)2010-05-14

Good instructables, but can you tell me exactly how to make a yellow square and word tag inside a picture upon pointing at that square?

1up (author)diolola2010-05-15

You click and drag on the picture you want to add one to while editing your Instructable. ;)

diolola (author)1up2010-05-15

ok, thank you very much for the response,
more power to you.

dale283 (author)2010-05-13

One thing to remember,  just because it is basic to you does not mean everyone knows it.  We all start from zero knowledge.  If it's basic in your view  move on to more challenging things.  Just be glad someone was willing to teach those that follow.

Back in 1969 I was learning my life long love and trade.  I worked in a union shop.  The old guys were not willing to share on an open basis their knowledge.  There was not much written and easily accessible about being a machinist.  Everything I have learned over the last 41 years I cherish. 

No matter at what level you are in education, even a novice can surprise you with their in site.  Basic is good too.  If you look at the pics you know this subject needs attention.

Ebay posters need help in taking pictures too.

thelandlord (author)2009-07-27

Another idea that works well for me... Use the self-timer to make a couple of seconds delay between the button-press and the picture. This works especially well with shots where you've set things up carefully but keep twitching the camera as you press the shutter button.

abhishek727 (author)thelandlord2009-08-05


abhishek727 (author)2009-08-05

Thanks for this. I would like to add that adequate lighting - read strong lighting - is essential as the camera's inbuilt flash is turned off in the macro mode and the camera simply would not focus on a poorly lit subject. I tried taking a macro shot at night with room lights on (two tube lights and a cfl bulb) but the results were always blurred. Then I tried the same shots in natural day light and got excellent results.

shadowfluid (author)2009-06-12

Can you say, "deserves a feature"?

stonechild (author)2009-06-01

I liked it. Just what I need at this point.

hacedor (author)2009-06-01

this should be well known

emac (author)2008-04-07

one tip is to TO BE CAREFULL WHEN USEING SLRS. me mom has two slrs and i can take better pictures with my canon g-7 of flowers and such at close range then with the slr........ great instructable though

gschoppe (author)emac2008-04-08

that highly depends on your lenses and skill... for almost any photo, a $100 Point And Shoot camera will take a better shot on auto than an SLR will take with either the wrong lens or an unskilled user... SLRs are designed to give better control and options, the exact opposite of utter simplicity... they will give a better shot, if they are used properly... however, if you just grab the camera with whatever lens is on it, and jam down the shutter button, a P&S; camera will likely do better. my 2 cents

yea,i agree too, slr's are for expressing art in the form of photography also. I think most people can agree.

emac (author)gschoppe2008-04-08

I agree..... i really need to get my mom to by a close up and tele photo lens any ideas????

gschoppe (author)emac2008-04-08

i own canon's, so my suggestions are based on the Rebel line, if you are not a canon user, please disregard. the canon 55mm f1.8 is a pretty inexpensive prime lens with great quality... you can pick one up for <$80 USD... if paying more to get more is ok with you, the 55mm F1.4 is mor like $3-400 USD, but the quality is amazing for the price. for closer work, there are many 10-15mm lenses that give good quality, but you spend more.. for telephotos, a 70-300 or 100-300 is a good idea. Canon's EF 70-200mm f/4.0L USM is the absolute best under $1000 USD, but its $579 at best. Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 APO DG Macro lens is a steal at $219, but remember that as a macro lens, the DOF is quite narrow. all prices are based on B&H; photo.... also, please remember not to buy store brands, no matter what the sales rep tells you. for the same or slightly more money, you can get much better lenses from Nikon, Canon, Sigma, or Tamron. also, a lens is an investment, don't buy the cheapo option unless you have to... a good lens can be resold years later at almost the same price, so even if you plan on changing cameras in the future, buy good lenses for you current gear

emac (author)gschoppe2008-04-08

thanks for the great tips ill forword them to my them to my MOM

gschoppe (author)emac2008-04-09

just as an example, my flickr gallery is at

emac (author)gschoppe2008-04-09

GREAT shots.......

hojop25 (author)2008-11-01

good old macro :)

Chriz M (author)2008-06-23

I have a Kodak Z650, which on wide angle macro, doesn't blur the back ground as much as I like, but if you zoom in fully, then use macro, you get a much better blur.

AndyGadget (author)2008-04-09

Great Instructable. I would add that if your camera allows it, set it to minimum aperture (highest F number) to maximize the depth of field, and also use a mid-toned background otherwise you may find you can never get the exposure right.

maruawe (author)2008-04-08

Good tutorial On my camera the macro is still not as close as I would like, to bring it closer I use the lens from a pair of reading glasses(275-350) This works for insects and small objects also I have a small light that is set at a 45 degree angle on both sides with a piece of silk over the bulb....

GorillazMiko (author)2008-04-07

Awesome job! Man, I was going to do macro mode, but I thought we couldn't do it because there are already other Instructables on it. But still, nice job, and I like your house. ;-) +1 rating. +1 vote.

LinuxH4x0r (author)2008-04-07

Great ible! I have a 3.2 mp canon a75 and can take better pictures than most people that have 7 mp cameras. Great job

mrmath (author)2008-04-07

Finally? There have been others here before this one.

About This Instructable




Bio: Sometimes my Instructables are few and far between, but I try to make them as well as I can. Hopefully you can be inspired or ... More »
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