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Macro Photography: Insects and Plant Life

Lesson 8 of 15

How to Get Started With Macro

Chris McGinnis

Macro Photography: Insects and Plant Life

Chris McGinnis

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Lesson Info

8. How to Get Started With Macro

Lesson Info

How to Get Started With Macro

When you're starting out with macro photography, look around your house for good macro subjects. Anything with color or texture, or anything that's really tiny, can be a great subject. So, go to the kitchen, look on your couch, pull an old blanket out of the closet. Anything that you think might be interesting is worth an experiment. So here, I have some sprinkles spread out on a plate. I have my OM-D E-M1 Mark II outfitted with a 60 millimeter macro lens, flash, and softbox diffuser. I'm also going to add a second layer of diffusion with this packing foam that I can slide over the end of my lens. I like to bend the foam to shape it and wrap around my subject. And then, I could move in and start shooting. I have my flash set to TTL mode, my shutter speed to 200, one 200th of a second, and aperture F7.1. ISO is at and I'm in manual focus, so to focus on your subject when you're in manual, you simply move back and forth. So as I approach my subject, you'll see different areas of the sub...

ject come into focus. When I'm shooting something really tiny, I like to use focus assist to ensure that the area that I want in focus is, in fact, in focus. So if we would to pick a single sprinkle in the center of our frame, there's a light blue sprinkle there, I hit my button for focus assist and I can magnify to 5x. Now, I can move ever so slightly to see when that subject is in focus. And when it is, I push the shutter (shutter clicking) to ensure that I got the shot that I wanted. As you're experimenting with macro photography, don't be afraid to test out different settings and see how they affect your results. So for this test shot, I'm going to change my aperture all the way to the widest aperture that this lens has and that's F2.8. The expected results here at F2. is a very narrow depth of field, very shallow depth of field, and what that means is the sprinkles that are closer to me will be out of focus. The sprinkles further away from me will also be out of focus. So I'm just picking a sprinkle that's in the center of my frame, get it close to focused, press my shortcut for focus assist and that magnifies my subject. When you magnify your subject, you can magnify it seven, five, three, all the way up to 10 and 14 times. I find that 14 times or even 10 times can be a little bit difficult to handle, so for now, I'm gonna look at 7x. I move ever so slightly forward and back, until I see the front texture of the sprinkle in focus. And when I do, (shutter clicking) that's when I fire the shutter. As you can see, the depth of field is incredibly shallow. I did appropriately focus exactly where I wanted it to, but nothing else in the entire photo is in focus, in the back nor in the front. So its important to understand, (buttons clicking) what's in focus and is this the desired result. If the desired result was to have more in focus, then let's do another test. So we go back out to our normal view. We'll go all the way, close down to F16. We'll move in and out slightly. Find our center sprinkle again, magnify. Find that nice texture on the front of the sprinkle. That's exactly where we wanna focus. (shutter clicking) And we take the shot. So now, unlike the previous photo, virtually, everything is in focus or a lot more foreground and a lot of background. So if we were to look closer, this is the center of our frame, but the sprinkles a little further away are still fairly in focus, and likewise, the sprinkles a little closer to me are in focus. (button clicking) That's a pretty big contrast from the shot that was at F2.8 just a second ago. So now, for a little more experimenting. I mentioned that you can get even greater magnification with a macro lens by adding a super macro converter. This is the Raynox DCR- and I have a step ring, so thread this directly onto the end of my lens. It simply screws onto the end of the lens (light scraping) and gives you greater magnification. Remember when using an adapter like this, your depth of field is reduced even further than normal and all of your movements are going to be magnified. Also, your working distance is shorter than with your lens by itself. But as you'll see here, magnification is even greater. So I'm gonna change my aperture to F8 for this shot, which is halfway between the previous two. Find a place to focus, here at 7x. See that texture. As you can see, my vibrations are magnified and amplified versus without the Raynox. (shutter clicking) So here, even greater magnification than the macro lens on its own. Now we've switch over to the STF-8 twin flash system. The light source was above my subject. Now, it's going to be right in front of my subject, equal on both sides. We're gonna do the same type of shots and you'll see the difference of how the change in light source affects the results. And just like before, we come in, we find a place to focus, I press my shortcut. Find focus. (shutter clicking) And take the shot. You'll notice that each of the sprinkles has two highlights in it now versus one with the single flash and this is important to understand, because this maybe your desired result or this may not be your desired result. With the STF-8, I can control each of my flashes independently. So now, I'm gonna turn off flash A, which is on this side, and I'm gonna turn all my power to flash B. We'll take the same type of shot again, again, using magnification to ensure that I get the focus that I want. (shutter clicking) and now, you can see all the light is coming from one side versus uniform across the subject. This type of technique is a great option for dramatic lighting from either side. So let's move on from the sprinkles and on to this cork coaster. So as I mentioned, anything with texture can be a great macro subject. We're gonna shoot this exactly the same. I'm gonna use the single flash again with the same diffuser setup and as you'll see, a whole new surface presents itself when you get in close. (sharp exhaling) So we'll use the same technique and this is the same kind of technique I would use if I was working with a subject in the wild. It's just a lot easier when the subject doesn't move and its on your table. (shutter clicking) This really common household item makes for a really interesting subject. And we zoom in even further. We can see the detailed surface of the cork. In addition to experimenting with different subjects and textures, try different angles. It's really important understand how different angles impact your results because when you go outside, you're not gonna have as many opportunities to experiment and you wanna really be able to predict your results. So, my first shot was from a low angle, I'm gonna come from a top down angle, so the entire surface of my subject here will be in focus. So, I shortcut one to one. Magnify. Move in close. Find focus. (shutter clicking) And take my shot And here, you see the perfectly flat subject is in focus across the entire plane. So let's do a little more experimenting. I'm gonna move on to some different spices. We have some allspice and some coarse salt. We're just gonna mix them together a little bit just to create some contrast and color and texture, and we're gonna shoot pretty much the same way we did before. And we'll vary our angles a little bit and see what kinda results we can get. (shutter clicking) So by mixing the colors and textures, we have a whole different world of abstract texture. You can even see some of the spice picked up on crystals of salt. (button clicking) And then, we can come at that from different angles. We're gonna come from above. (shutter clicking) And you can play with composition, so here, we have some orange spice in between crystals of salt. And I kinda like the way that that color's in the center of the white there. (shutter clicking) Here. And I notice, over to this side, it's more white. I'm gonna come down low, really, really low again. (light clattering) (shutter clicking) And that gives us an interesting foreground with white, dark in the background, and this is all just on the same plate. So, with very little effort and no special equipment, we can do a lot of experimenting and then, take these results and this knowledge, from inside, out onto the field when we're shooting.

Class Description


  • Understand Macro Photography and how to begin shooting it
  • Know what gear to bring and how to set up your camera
  • Find and approach your subjects, even the crawling/flying ones
  • Fast post-processing techniques to keep you on the move


Take a closer look in this beginner’s guide to macro photography and insect photography. Chris McGinnis, will dive into the world of macro photography from understanding what it is to how to shoot it. He’ll explain how to search and capture a smaller world with just the use of your camera. He’ll dive into the behaviors of insects and their relationships to plant life so that you can capture amazing images from your backyard to national parks.


  • Macro Photographers
  • Beginners
  • Hikers


Adobe Lightroom CC 2019




Chris McGinnis is a graphic designer, photographer, and macro photography enthusiast based in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He obtained his degree in graphic design from Moravian College and, after a stint in the publishing world, joined the creative department at Olympus America. Chris currently works as the Senior Manager of Creative Services and oversees all phases of Olympus’ graphic design, photography, and video production. When he purchased an OM-D E-M10 in 2014, Chris vowed to shoot (and share) at least one photo each day for an entire year. After 365 days shooting, sharing, and learning, he found himself more and more interested in the details. He bought a macro lens and has never looked back. As Chris ventured deeper into the world of macro, he soon shifted his efforts toward featuring the beauty, design, and intricacy of arthropods which often go unnoticed.


Andrew Lamberson

I found the class both very informative and very motivational to get started in Macro photography. It is an entry-level class but it explains what you really need to know to be successful. I especially found the information on the value of using flash and how to modify your flash for it to be more effective especially helpful. I am an experienced wildlife photographer and have done some "Macro" with my telephoto lens, but this class motivated me to purchase a dedicated lens. I am really looking forward to spring and finding some good bugs!

Chris Baudec

Great presentation and great motivation in the post processing. I do wish that the would have been made available. After all, this is a Olympus sponsored event, and Oly settings are always welcomed.... and a tad difficult on the learning curve.

Gary Hook

Chris does a commendable job of explaining his techniques, reasons and potential pitfalls to avoid. Very thorough and much more enthusiastic about little bugs than I will ever be :-) but at the end one has a good concept on how to approach the task at hand. Nice closing with his practical examples of 'post' shoot production. One suggestion for inclusion would be some operating tips/techniques with a tripod/macro rail slider. His Olympus is way smaller/lighter than my Canon 5D so my hand holding will be at a minimum. Well done. Thank you