Small F Stops and Macro Photography

macro photography tips

Anyone who takes many photographs will eventually hear the words “aperture” and “f-stop”. These are terms that refer to the exact same thing on the camera – the aperture is the opening in the lens that allows a controlled amount of light to strike the sensor and it also creates the depth of field in the image.

The depth of field in any photograph is the area of the picture which is in sharp focus, and anyone interested in macro photography (very deep zoom imagery) is going to always have to consider the depth of field and the f-stop.

Let’s first look at how f-stop settings affect a traditional photograph. If we use a lower f-stop, such as f/2.8 we are actually opening up the aperture to its largest degree. This means that the subject will be in sharp focus, but the foreground and background will be blurred. If we do the reverse, however, and shut the aperture down to f/22, we are flattening the image and making the overall scene generally focused instead.

So, when considering the f-stop of a macro photographic subject, we must consider the depth of field, which is actually almost non-existent. If the photographer wants the entire subject in good focus, this means they will want to use a higher f-stop number, such as f/16 or more.

This, however, does create the need for a slower shutter speed to let in enough light for the exposure. Unfortunately, lighting for macro photography can be incredibly challenging, and this is because any on-board flash units, or even shoe mounted flashes, are unable to light the subject. This is due to the fact that there is not enough distance between the camera and the subject, and the flash will actually shoot over the subject without lighting it at all.

The solution used by most macro photographers is to set their f-stop at a higher number, set the shutter speed to a slower speed than normal, and mount the camera on a tripod. Most photographers will also use their timer to prevent the triggering of the shutter from shaking the camera and ruining the image, or use a remote trigger to prevent the camera from being shaken in any way.

Generally this results in a great macro photographic image, but if the lighting is still a problem there are some solutions available. The most popular is a special macro photography lens that has two small lighting units built into it. This allows the subject to receive direct lighting while not affecting the settings on the camera. Alternately, many photographers use their traditional, on-board, flash units but place reflectors above and behind the subject. This floods the scene with light, but can also require some experimentation and test shots to get the best and most controlled results.

About the Author

Amy is an multi-award winning photographer from Australia. She teaches enthusiast photographers how to take beautiful, professional photos in easy, plain English. She has a monthly photography emagazine and ebooks to help you create stunning images every time.

Comments (31)

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  1. Mike says:

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  3. Karl says:

    Macro Digital Photography: Some Concerns

    We have always found that looking at objects from another perspective is fascinating. This is because of the fact that we often discover new things just by looking at a familiar object from a different angle or focus. This might be the reason for people’s fascination with digital macro photography.

    Digital macro photography is an art. There’s no question about that. It takes the genius of an artist to take something so ordinary and something so dismissible and turn it into something that just captures an aspect of life. For that is what art is. No art ever claimed to contain all the truths of life. Art is a reflection of the world through the eyes of the artist. By looking at a piece of art such as digital macro photography, we get to share the perspective of other people and that can be a very powerful connection.

    Another thing about digital macro photography you should know is that it is not easy. You need to consider a lot of factors in order to produce great photographs. What are these factors?

    1) Skills do you actually have the skills necessary for digital macro photography? Do you have the eye for beauty that would be appreciated by people who view your photographs? That’s not all you need. You also need to have a steady hand. While taking digital macro photographs, even barely noticeable movements of the hand can ruin your picture.

    You need to have the skills to use a camera properly. You need to be able to adjust the camera in order to take the picture that you truly want to appear. Sure, you can actually edit a digital macro photograph using the computer, but why should you give yourself more work than necessary?

    Some people have the necessary skills naturally. However, it is still important to hone these skills by taking classes or attending workshops. Remember that digital macro photography is all about showing things in different ways. Because of this, you need to accept the fact that other people may see your work differently from the way you see it. A fresh eye never hurts.

    2) Equipment you also need the proper tools in order to express your talent. The proper tools can help you a lot if you want to achieve the effect that you want. Remember that although there are tools today that claim to be usable for any type of photography, you should try to find equipment that’s specially made for digital macro photography. This is because such equipment can definitely bring out the best in your skills.

    The right equipment is essential because digital macro photography needs a lot of work in order to be perfect. If you have the right tools for digital macro photography, you will be able to achieve your goals and show your pictures the way that you want them to be seen.
    3) Subject everything is interesting when viewed in different ways. However, some subjects are more interesting than others. Some objects, when you choose them as subjects of digital macro photography, manage to amaze you with the amount of things you do not know about them. Great subjects of digital macro photography reveal worlds beyond what you can see with the naked eye. So choose your subjects wisely.

  4. Bob Johnson says:

    A great piece – thank you so much for posting it. I would definitely recommend thet every one else should have a look at it.

  5. Nice site, nice and easy on the eyes and great content too.

  6. Wow! what an idea ! What a concept ! Beautiful .. Amazing …

  7. I think, that you are mistaken. Let’s discuss it.

  8. refi plus says:

    Wow! Thank you! I always wanted to write in my site something like that. Can I take part of your post to my blog?

  9. thanks for the help in this.

  10. UpsTek says:

    good quality post thanks

  11. Romeo Patmon says:

    It above my understanding!

  12. Nia Tarazon says:

    this is a really interesting article about macro photography and Aperture. I found that when I was shooting macro photography just recently I couldn’t get the right aperture for the digital camera I was using.nothing looked right and now I know why. I really enjoyed reading this, I have bookmarked your site and signed up your RSS feed so I do not miss a thing.

  13. Great job Amy. Love your ebooks too! They really changed my photos for the better.

  14. Kate Thomas says:

    Does macro mean you have to get another camera?

  15. Jake Toben says:

    With lower-end point & shoot cameras, B&W or sepia mode can often capture a more pleasing range of tones and especially ambient light than color mode does.

  16. It was interesting. You seem very knowledgeable in your field.

  17. I truly appreciate the information given so freely on this blog, thanks for the good read!

  18. Tom says:

    I always thought you were limited to using a low f stop number or your macro shots wouldn’t turn out.

  19. Hezuli says:

    I have always had difficulties working with small f stops and macro photography, but this cleared it up for me, thank you.

  20. Andrea says:

    Hi Amy, I am really enjoying your photography website- thank you!

  21. Gracie says:

    I really enjoyed your article and your videos too. I was searching for digital photography techniques and help and was lucky to be lead stright to your site! I’ve subscribed to your RSS and can’t wait to start getting information!

  22. David says:

    Well written content like this today is far too rare, and thank you for putting in time and effort into your wonderful website.

  23. James says:

    What is the purpose of this article if you don’t mind me asking?

  24. Lucile says:

    I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.

  25. Robyn says:

    This is the best website on digital photography on the internet.

  26. Fabio says:

    I never knew about small F stops. I never knew what an f stop was until coming here.

  27. Carry says:

    Great! Thanks for post

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