First, what does <macro> mean?
Macros are essentially photographs depicting very small objects, very close and magnified. Like an insect, or a flower, part of a plant, showing lots of detail that escapes the eye when walking past.
There is actually <real macros> and <close-up-photography>. What most of us label as macro, is more often than not actual close-up.
The difference is in the gear. A real macro uses a lens with a magnification factor of at least 1x1 or higher, anything below that is technically close-up.
1x1 means, if you have a rice grain, 10 mm long and use a lens with 1x1 factor, the image of the rice grain will also take up 10 mm on your sensor.
Real macro lenses are pretty expensive. Many lenses carrying the name <macro> are actually below 1x1. But close-ups aren’t any less impressing.
I don’t own any dedicated macro gear myself, so I make do with what’s at hand:
First, any lens needs a minimum distance to the object you want to photograph.
This is what makes the magnification factor difficult. Say you have a nice big zoom lens, so you could just zoom in on an object till you have it as close as you like. Good plan, but, say a 150-600 mm lens (my biggest one), needs some 5-10 meters distance on 600 mm. Hard to even see a bug at that distance.
So, a long lens might not be the way then. But there is a way to overcome such issues, without investing too much.
Extension tubes. They enhance, physically, the distance between lens and sensor (or film in the old days). They fit between your lens and the camera.
The result of this is, you can go considerably closer to the object you want to photograph, but the tubes also flatten the depth of field - DOF considerably.
I found, for my personal setup, a fast 50mm Canon prime lens the best solution. The one I got is the EF 50mm F1.8. This is actually my cheapest lens, I think it’s under $250 new. There is also a F1.4, but this one is considerably more pricy and it’s less sharp on the edges.
You might find that the kit lens that came with the camera is actually sufficient, but I suggest for a start, you set it to around 50mm. You can later experiment with that.
I also use a mid-price set of extension tubes. Metal, and all the contacts of the camera properly forwarded to the lens. The price should be around $100 for a set of 3. Extension tubes contain no optical elements whatsoever, they are just tubes.
You would also want to use a tripod. On such a small scale the slightest movement shows – this can be a cool effect though.
Any macro or close-up also needs more light, partly because being very close to an object casts your shadow on it and partly because of how optics work.
So you have a camera with a sufficient lens, extension tubes, good lighting and also a hopefully still object. The rest is pretty much experimenting. Aperture wide open flattens DOF to a millimeter size or less, which can cause a nice creamy bokeh effect. Not using a tripod can cause some motion blur which can add interesting effects.
The angle on the object can cause some cool spatial effect.
Closing the aperture will widen DOF, showing more of the object itself, but will also need more light.
Focusing can be pretty difficult in such a setup. I found it easier to turn off auto-focus. You can actually focus via changing your distance to the object, which is quite useful if you shoot handheld. Just go closer till the part you want is in focus, then hit the trigger. On a tripod you can use manual focus.
I hope this helps some of you. As we are still in lockdown for a while, this sort of photography might help to keep you busy, and it’s perfectly safe as you can do it at home.
Here some of my late experiments:
Here the lens and extension tubes I use: