6 tips for close macro photography with telephoto lenses

Macro photography is the art of capturing fine details of very small objects that may not be visible to the naked eye. Technically, to fall into the “macro” category, the subject should be captured at a 1:1 reproduction ratio.

Macro lenses are specifically designed to minimize focus distance and bring the photographer closer to the subject, thereby improving reproduction.

Honeybees photographed with a macro lens

Several techniques are available to help achieve the required magnification without dedicated lenses (extension tubes, close-up filters, and reverse rings). A less common technique, however, is to use something you probably already have in your bag: a telephoto lens.

Telephoto lenses offer extremely high magnification but usually have a larger minimum focus distance. This pushes the photographer further away from the subject, thus reducing reproduction. Some telephoto lenses offer 1:1 magnification (true macro) when combined with camera systems that use smaller sensors. However, telephoto lenses are usually limited to close-ups with close macro reproduction.

Using telephoto lenses for this kind of work has several advantages over dedicated macro lenses, which are a direct result of maximum and minimum focal lengths. As the working distance from the subject is within 1 meter, the risk of interfering with the subject during composition is greatly reduced.

A macro shot of a seagull

In addition, given the extra distance between the camera and subject, you’re less likely to cast a shadow on your subject. And you have a lot of freedom to use natural light and flash to illuminate your subject’s lighting.

Working with such precision with telephoto lenses is not without its challenges, so here are some tips to help you maximize your chances of getting close macro shots with telephoto lenses:

1. Due to the extremely long focal length, there is a higher risk of sharpness reduction due to camera shake. Therefore, you must use a tripod and remote shutter release to limit camera movement.

Tripod

2. Even on a tripod, the image is affected by a camera shake. Try using a tripod collar for telephoto lenses. In this way, the lens clips directly onto the tripod, reducing the chance for the lens to wobble. If not, use the “1/ focal length” shutter speed rule to help capture a sharp image.

3. Pay attention to the depth of the field. Using extreme focal length at such close distances can reduce the depth of field to a fraction of a millimeter. Therefore, to ensure that the subject is always clear, use a small enough aperture to ensure that the depth of field extends throughout the subject (some websites and apps can help you do this).

4. If you want to capture your subject clearly from front to back, make sure it’s parallel to your sensor. At extreme focal lengths, the depth of the field is so narrow that you may not be able to use more than a few millimeters. So position yourself accordingly to maximize your chances of capturing a clear image.

Water droplets captured with a macro lens

5. If your telephoto lens has AF/MF switch, please switch it to manual focus and manually compose/focus. You may find that the minimum focus distance decreases when you focus manually. This means you can get closer to your subject, which increases magnification.

6. Use an extender to increase the focus while maintaining the same minimum focus distance. This will allow you to significantly increase the magnification of the object without having to move further. Increasing the focal length in this way has an impact on the shutter speed and aperture you choose, but as long as you take this into account, you can successfully use a magnifying lens to improve reproduction.

Close macro photography with a telephoto lens usually does not magnify the subject as much as with a dedicated macro lens. But you’ll be able to test the water and see if macro photography is something you like without spending any extra tools.

If you think macro photography is for you, then by putting this technique into practice, you’ll learn a lot of excellent field techniques that will be beneficial when you have time to pick up a dedicated macro lens.

caterpillar

FAQ:

Can you do macro photography with a telephoto lens?

Using a telephoto lens for near-macro photography will typically not allow you to magnify your subject as far as if using a dedicated macro lens, but you will be able to test the water to see if macro photography is something you enjoy, without having to splash out on any additional kit.

What is the best option for a lens in taking a macro photograph?

Extension tubes. Another good macro lens alternative is to use extension tubes. These hollow tubes fit between the camera and lens and reduce the minimum focusing distance, thus increasing the lens’ maximum level of magnification.

What is the difference between a macro and a telephoto lens?

A telephoto lens brings distant objects closer, like looking through a telescope. A macro lens is designed to focus on small objects that are very close to the camera (actually the sensor).

Can a 50mm lens be used for macro photography?

50mm lenses work best in capturing typical macro shots. However, these types of macro lenses have their drawbacks. 50mm lenses make subjects appear half “life-size” since they usually feature a 1:2 ratio, and require shooting at a much closer distance. But a 50mm lens is a must if you want a general walk-around lens.

Do you need a special lens for macro photography?

Macro photography can be one of the most satisfying types of picture-making. A macro lens is designed for taking close-up pictures. If you want excellent quality and true macro magnification, you will need to invest in a special lens. The most common lens is in the 100mm focal range.

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