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Macro Photography for Beginners
Part One of a Series
Text and images copyright Tom Hicks, all rights reserved

What is macro?

Macro, by definition, is photography at 1x magnification and above. Anything less would be defined as "close-ups" rather than "macro". 1x magnification or life-size, is usually written as 1.1. Life-size means that the subject you are photographing appears the exact same size on film as it does in real life. Therefore if a fly is 15mm long, then the image of the fly on film will also be 15mm long. 35mm film is 24mm x 36mm, or approximately this size:

Example of 1.1 image

Part 1 of this series is how to take macro or close-up shot with non dedicated macro lenses. I will try to cover lenses that you may already have in your bag. This series will not go into a lot of depth, but will take a no nonsense approach to capturing the shot.


The first lens to be addressed will be the 50mm f/1.4 or f/1.8. This lens is probably one of the most used lenses ever made and is a must have for photographers of all types. The 50mm lens is capable of Macro shots with the help of both close-up lenses (diopters) and extension tubes.

Diopters or close-up lenses are simply magnifying glasses that you can screw onto the front of a lens to increase object size. These type lenses shorten the minimum focus distance for the lens in use and are available in my different powers -1x, 2x, 3x, 4x, 5x,-10x. They are offered in both single and double element. The double element type will give you the best reproduction simply because of their superior optical quality.

Canon’s 77mm close-up lens, the 500 D

Extension tubes

Extension Tubes

Extension tubes are simply spacers that you put between the camera and lens to move the lens farther away from the film plane, thus increasing magnification. The more extension, the closer you are able to focus and the more you increase image size.

Here is a set of Kenko tubes, one of the more popular brands:

Individual extension tubes

Extension tubes stacked for storage


Let’s first take a look at an image that was captured with the 50 mm with no extension or close-up filters used. This image was taken at the lens minimum focusing distance.

In this next image you will see the same subject captured with the canon 500D close up lens or diopters attached. Lens to subject working distance is 8”.

For this next image we will add a 12mm extension tube to the above combo , this will give you a working distance of 4” this is getting close to the bare minimum distance where you can still use natural light without to many shadows created by your presence or the interference of the lens creating the shadows . If one wishes to get closer by adding more extension then a flash will be helpful in getting light to the subject.

In the last example the 50mm lens used with the close-up lens and tubes is capable of Macro type photographs.

This next image was taken with the 12mm tube attached to the camera then the 50mm lens and finally the 500D on the front.

The last image was taken with a Canon 1.4x teleconverter attached to the camera then the 12mm tube, the lens and lastly, the 500D on the front of the lens.

I will discuss the addition of extenders in another article. Until then have fun with your macro adventures. I hope this shows you how easy it is to get macro shots without having a dedicated macro lens.

Tom Hicks

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Macro for Beginners Part I
Tom Hicks

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