Last Updated on April 2, 2021
In this article you will learn what is the difference between macro, micro and close up photography.
There is considerable confusion on this subject based on the amount of questions I receive by uncertain photographers. But have no fear, today you will learn the difference between these types of photography.
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What Is Close Up Photography?
Close-up photography is a loosely used term in the photography world. It can apply to any time a subject is photographed from a close distance in order to capture more detail than the human eye generally sees.
Close-ups can be taken in nearly any style of photography. From close ups of animals in wildlife photography, to stars in astrophotography, to the face of a singer in concert photography.
When shooting close-ups, almost any lens can be used. Just get closer to your subject or zoom way in on them. Which technique you use depends on your subject. So if shooting a close up of an insect, you will get up close for your shot but if shooting an object in the night sky, you’ll have to zoom in to get your shot.
But due to focus distance limitations, some lenses may not be able to get close enough for the shot as it will make your subject blurry.
Close Up vs Macro Photography
First thing to understand is that the size of an image, when shooting regular photography, is formed in the camera sensor smaller than it is in real life.
So for example, when taking a picture of a large house, the sensor image is only around an inch tall whereas the house is obviously much larger. Many sensors utilize a ratio of 1:1000. So as you get closer to a subject the image size within the sensor becomes smaller the closer you get.
This shrinks the ratio of the sensor image to that of the real subject and eventually you can get the ratio to 1:1 meaning the senor image is the same size as the real life subject. This is usually called life size or X1 magnification.
1:1 Ratio is the point at which we go from calling it regular photography to calling it macro photography.
When discussing macro photography we are referring to times when the image size within the sensor is the same or larger than the subject itself. When looking for a lens capable of this you will usually find the word macro listed on the lens.
Authentic macro lenses must create an image within the sensor that is at a minimum the same size as the real life subject. But it will usually be able to produce images larger than the actual subject at ratios up to 10:1. That means it is 10 times the size of the subject.
To get any higher than that a microscope will need to be used, which is generally no longer referred to as macro photography.
That means the macro magnification range is from x1 to x10.
What Equipment Do You Need For Macro Photography?
There are a number of items you will need to really get the most out of macro photography.
One of the most cost effective ways to get into macro photography is to use an adapter ring. This simple device goes on the front of your lens so it can be fit on backwards. It does make it impossible to use your automatic lens controls as it breaks the connection between your lens and your camera body as the lens will now be backwards.
The reversing ring will make your aperture wide open since the lens is no longer directly connected to the camera body. The reversing ring will also take away your ability to utilize automatic metering.
For this reason, if you use a reversing ring to do macro photography you must have a camera that supports full manual mode.
This will allow you to make adjustments to shutter speed and ISO for optimal image quality.
One important note is that you can use a crop sensor lens on your full frame camera when using a reversing ring as it will let you get x4 magnification for ultra close-ups.
If using a ring is not your style there are still more options for you. You can get close ups even with your lens still attached by using a filter thread on your standard lens. Filter threads can be secured in sets of varying magnification called diopters.
A filter thread can simply be screwed on to your lens in order to achieve more magnification. These can be combined with other filters for creating really cool effects.
There are also close up screw on lenses available but I do not recommend them as they significantly reduce your image quality.
When attempting to get closer than the focusing distance your lens can handle will create blurry images. This occurs when the light entering the sensor is so close that the lens attempts to focus on it instead of the subject.
This problem can be fixed by using an extension tube. These handy little things move the camera lens away from the image sensor which will improve the focal place allowing you to capture images without blur.
The downside is that by moving the focal plane it effects the amount of light that enters the sensor. This means that your images will be a bit darker than they would be without the extension tube. The effect is similar to a two stop down change but no other image quality loss occurs.
Extension tubes can be stacked to get even closer and can usually be used to get you all the way to macro ratios.
All the above tools are great for testing out macro photography but if you are interested in taking your image quality to their best levels then a macro lens is the way to go.
All true macro lenses will get you to an image ratio of 1:1 without the need for further attachments. A quality macro lens will also allow you to focus on infinity making it possible to use it as a prime lens as well.
For example, the photo below was captured using a 60mm macro lens shot in hand with my Nikon D750.
It is possible to achieve higher magnification by stacking attachments onto your macro lens. But there are lenses that achieve anywhere from 1:1 to 5:1 magnification without any additional attachments.
Keep in mind that you will have to adjust your distance to subject with higher magnifications to keep your subject in focus. This can be best achieved by using one of the best tripods for macro photography with a focusing rail.
Micro vs Macro
Micro photography refers to anytime you are shooting subjects at magnification higher than that of macro photography.
As stated earlier, you cannot get a lens capable of handling microphotography. Macro ends at x5 magnification and anything beyond that requires the use of a microscope. Microscopes will allow you to reach magnification levels anywhere from x7 up to x100.
If you are interested in microphotography, the great news is that microscopes capable of achieving great images can be purchased for less than a macro lens. Most photographers interested in microphotography use an inspection microscope and use a ring light to get the proper lighting.
There are even microscopes being produced that offer a built in camera but the image quality is generally much worse than can be achieved with a cheap DSLR camera so I do not recommend them.
So to recap; close-up photography is a general term for taking any photo closer than would normally be done. Taking a close up usually just means taking your shot from a short distance to your subject. Most any lens can be used to achieve a close-up.
Macro photography refers to taking much closer images in a ratio of 1:1 to 5:1. This means that the image in the camera’s sensor is at least equal to the actual size of the subject.
And micro means any photograph taken at magnification higher than that of macro. A microscope must be used to achieve this.
And there you have it. Now you know the difference in Close-up vs Macro vs Micro.
For more photography tips and guides read these articles