Friday Foto Talk: Macro & Close-up Photography, Part I   13 comments

The morning’s first light hits a blooming balsamroot in the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.

I’ve been doing more macro and close-up photography lately.  It’s something I’ve always loved.  The details of the natural world just fascinate me.  I like small critters.  Some of them are so feisty!  And I love wildflowers!  Yes I know I don’t look the part, but why can’t a big ugly guy like to play in a field of flowers?

I think I also like the challenge of macro.  All that bending and stooping kills my back.  The wind blowing flowers around frustrates the heck out of me.  Butterflies flying off just as I’m about to press the shutter button.  Things like this are what I live for!

Blooming mule's ear is covered with dew in a southern Rocky Mountain meadow.

Blooming mule’s ear is covered with dew in a southern Rocky Mountain meadow.

So I thought I’d do a few posts on it, starting this week.  A caveat:  I’m not trying to be exhaustive or complete.  To explain all the things you need to think about and do while getting close with your camera would take an entire book!

First off, is there a difference between macro and close-up photography?  Though the answer to that is yes, you really don’t have to worry about it.  Essentially, true macro is done very close to your subject and with high magnification.  Generally it uses a dedicated macro lens.   Close-up photography comes in when you move a bit further away, with less magnification.  It can be done with extension tubes, close-up filters, or while using the macro settings on some lenses.

A caterpillar cruises along looking for his lunch.

A caterpillar cruises along looking for his lunch.

Why do macro and close-up photography?

  • It’s fun!  You can spend hours in that “flow” state where you lose track of time.  Afterwards you have that pleasant and incongruous feeling of having worked hard, but you feel strangely refreshed.


  • This is a great way to shake things up, to break out of creativity ruts.  Awhile back I did a post on ways to keep your photography fresh.


  • Close-up photography teaches observation skills.  When you’re always on the lookout for macro opportunities, you naturally start looking low as well as at eye level, you shift your focus close as well as far, you think small- as well as large-scale.
The spectacularly whorled and lichen crusted wood of a juniper tree in New Mexico.

The spectacularly whorled and lichen crusted wood of a juniper tree in New Mexico.

  •  You don’t need perfect light for this. Yay!  While light is still an issue, as it always is in photography, with macro you can afford to be much less rigid about what light is acceptable, especially when compared to traditional landscape photography.


  • You get a deeper and more complete appreciation for nature doing macro & close-up.  I often want to take those fellow photographers aside and show them this other world that they’re walking right over on the way to yet another traditional large landscape.

That’s it for now.  Next week we’ll dive into all the tips and techniques for successful close-up and macro photography.  Have a spectacular weekend!

Mount Hood, Oregon, at sunset.

Mount Hood, Oregon, at sunset.


13 responses to “Friday Foto Talk: Macro & Close-up Photography, Part I

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  1. astonishing, magical

  2. Great post Mike! Love the caterpillar image and the mule’s ear.

  3. One of the wonderful things about macro photography is being able to admire the colors, textures and patterns of the images. You capture all of that so well. Like the shot of Mt. Hood too. Just back from visiting your great city and state. Took your advice and made it out to Short Sands and the woodland walks around the beach. Stayed up on a bluff overlooking Mosier and drove all around Mt. Hood. The forest fires made the visiblity poor, but the sunrises and sunsets awesome. Hoping to make it back real soon. Many thanks for the great advice, Michael. All my best, Melissa

    Melissa Shaw-Smith
    • Thank you Melissa! I am so sorry it was smoky during your stay. Hope you can come again, and maybe sometime in spring or late September (both are great times to go). Also hope the people were friendly.

      • Me too! And yes, folks couldn’t have been nicer. But having grown up in Ireland I don’t underestimate the notion of a winter of rain! I think that’s the only thing that would keep me away.

        Melissa Shaw-Smith
  4. Looking forward to learning about macro from you, Michael!

  5. Love the caterpillar!

  6. I’m so glad you’re doing this series on macro. Would you please cover info about using a macro rail. A friend gave me one. Thanks. Love the photos.

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