Extreme macro photography

efore digital photography came of age, a goal of mine was to photograph insects revealing detail that couldn’t be seen with the naked eye. I had seen photos of flies showing their compound eyes and hairy bodies. I experimented with bellows and close-up lenses but unable to get the level of detail I desired.

Digital photography opened a whole new avenue to explore the field of macro photography.

Great advancements have been made in small sensor technology in the past few years. The advantage of small sensors is that incredible depth of field can be achieved compared to the 35mm format.

Key equipment for extreme macro photography

In addition to a small sensor powerful zoom camera, two other key pieces of equipment for successful extreme macro photography are needed: an achromatic close-up lens and an electronic flash with a bounce card. Why and how to use them correctly are explained in this article.

Sensor size

Researching macro photography I found that photographers using small sensor cameras with powerful zoom lenses and adding a close-up diopter lens were capturing detail I couldn’t achieve with a digital single lens reflex camera. Cameras with larger sensors are superior in just about every-way compared to small sensor cameras except when it comes to Extreme Macro photography.

Close-up lenses

There are two types of diopter close-up lenses that attach to the front of the camera lens: Single element lens and multi-element lens also known as achromatic close-up lenses.

The single element close-up lenses are not as sharp on the edges. These lenses usually come in sets of 3 or 4 with various diopter strengths. I find achromatic multi-element lenses are the sharpest and do not cost much more.



Lighting plays an extremely important part for successful Extreme Macro photography. When shooting at very high magnification levels, available light usually doesn’t work well. Success depends on three variables:

  1. Shutter-speed:  needs to be fast enough to stop camera and subject movement.
  2. Aperture: a small aperture yields better depth of field.
  3. ISO: a major factor with small sensor cameras since image quality degrades quickly at higher ISO settings.

To achieve these important variables, a flash must be used.

Diffusing the flash in some way will help keep the light softer and more natural appearing. There are many ways to accomplish this. I  use an external flash unit with a bounce card to reflect the light indirectly onto the subject.

Depth of field

Depth of field is one of the major challenges that macro photographers face shooting in the field. Technology advancements now make incredible magnification possible when a powerful zoom lens is combined with a razor sharp achromatic close up lens.

Depth of field is the amount of image that is in focus in front and behind the subject. When shooting tiny insects at high magnification it can translate to having part of an eye in focus and everything else out of focus.

Three variables that effect depth of field:

  1. Lens aperture, a wide open aperture (f2.8) will give you a shallow depth of field, a small aperture (f11) will relate in a  deeper depth of field.
  2. Sensor size plays and important part in depth of field. A larger sensor will have a shallower depth of field. With a smaller sensor, depth of field is much greater, a real advantage in Extreme Macro photography.
  3. Magnification plays a major roll in affecting depth of field. The higher the magnification the shallower the depth of field will be.

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