Paul Hill


Macro Photography

Getting up close



Most of our macro shots are taken using one of two lens - either the Canon 180mm f/2.8 macro or the Sigma 50mm f/2.8 macro.    Longer macro lens are available increasing the working distance between the subject and the photographer and can be useful for larger more flighty subjects.  An extension tube (or tubes) can be use to help get even closer to subjects, but with some insects, this increases the risk of them flying before the shot can be taken.  To get the best results an aperture of f/8 or f/11 is ideal, allowing for a greater depth of field, but also putting the background out of focus.

Wherever possible a tripod is used, with the lens mounted on the tripod rather than the camera.  This helps with balance and reduces and movement.  Most of my macro-work in 2020 was done at home due to the Covid restrictions, which meant that I had time to compose images and not rush anything.  I still found that I was getting some movement between the camera and the lens, especially when using an extension tube.  The best way to a void this was to use either a remote release or put the shutter on to the 2 or 10 second timer.  I also decided to look at a way to mount both the camera and lens on the tripod or macro-rail.   This was achieved using the set up below which consists of a 200mm arc swiss rail with a QR plate mounted on a ball and socket head.  The rail was also fitted with two arc swiss quick release plates that could be moved along the rail independently, so that I could set the mount to accommodate any extension tubes used.  The rail could be slid along the mount for approximate focusing, before fine focusing with the camera.

Setting up for the shot

By operating a moth trap most evenings, I get plenty of subjects for macro photography.  My preferred method is to carefully transfer the moth from the trap (where it will have settled on an egg-tray) and reposition it on a twig clamped to one of my lighting mounts. I then position the camera and lens (with flash if required) , composing the image by making small adjustments to the subject - hence the use of one of the Manfrotto articulated arms with a plastic clamp fixed to it.  It's a good idea to get a clean background of a uniform colour in the distance to provide a nice uniform out of focus background, this the isolates the image.  In the autumn, many moths are coloured to match the leaves on the trees, some are coloured to match the lichens and mosses.  Using the clamp I can choose what I photograph the moth on.  See some of the moths trapped during Lockdown below.

Tips and Hints

  1. Get a dedicated macro-lens or extension tubes (or both).
  2. Use a tripod, monopod or support for your camera.
  3. Try and get a diffuse distant background.
  4. Check the background for any distracting highlights.
  5. Consider a ring-flash for some infill lighting.
  6. Depth of field can be critical, adjust your ISO so that you can photograph at f/8 or f/11, but still maintain a reasonable shutter speed if possible.
  7. Use a remote or self-timer to reduce camera shake vibration due to the mirror movement. 
  8. Improve your in-camera composition.

  9. Plan your composition.

  10. Be patient and keep trying.

Macro Photography Workshops