How to Shoot DSLR Close-Up Photos

A mix of lenses, distance and manual focus yield great close-up images

Close up of green ant

Angela Heine / Getty Images

One of the great things about using a DSLR camera to shoot close-up photos is that you have a lot of options for adjusting the aperture and other settings to create a high-quality close-up photograph. The DSLR camera also has a few different accessories you can pick from that are designed specifically for close-up or macro photographs, which can help you have even more success.

Micro vs. Macro

Among lenses for your DSLR camera, the terms micro or macro both refer to the same type of lens. Both will perform the kind of photography you want—in other words, making a small subject look big. Macro is the more common term, though, referring to DSLR equipment designed for close-up photography.

For a photo to truly be called a macro photo, it must be shot with a DSLR macro lens, which must have the capability of shooting at least a 1-to-1 ratio magnification. You can think of macro lenses as shooting extreme close-ups.

If you don't want to purchase a macro lens for your DSLR camera, you still can shoot close-up photos by simply moving closer to the subject, filling the frame with the subject. Almost any type of interchangeable DSLR lens will work for a close-up photo.

While a DSLR camera may offer a macro setting, most of the time this actually is close-up photography. When using the DSLR camera's macro setting, you're simply causing the camera to adjust its autofocus mechanism to work with subjects that are very close to the lens. The macro setting doesn't change the way the lens itself works. An interchangeable lens that is a true macro or microlens is required for actual macro photography.

Find the Right Lens

So why would a photographer care if he or she is shooting macro or close-up photos? With an actual macro lens, you can capture far greater details in your photos than you can with simple close-up photography. You also can achieve much greater magnification using a macro lens with your DSLR camera. However macro lenses can be expensive, so unless you plan to shoot a lot of macro photos, it can be difficult to justify the additional cost.

When selecting a macro lens for a DSLR camera, pick a lens that achieves the type of magnification you want. Additionally, make sure it can sharply focus on the subject without causing the overall scale of the photo to be distorted. You may need to test these types of lenses before you buy them to ensure you’re receiving the quality and features you want.

Another advantage of most macro DSLR lenses is that they are fast lenses that can shoot at a wide open aperture (with a small f-stop number). This feature supports a very shallow depth of field, which blurs the foreground and background and produces a sharp focus on the subject, drawing attention to the subject.

Go With the Manual Focus

When you shoot true macro or close-up photography, use manual focus to ensure the sharpest focus possible. Rely on the DSLR camera's autofocus mechanism to attempt to provide a sharp focus, but some autofocus mechanisms struggle with extreme close-up photos. By using manual focus you also can pick the precise point on which you want to focus, which is important when shooting with a very shallow depth of field.