When you’re shooting macro photography, the most important setting is usually aperture: if you only want a tiny fraction of your subject to be in focus, with everything else blurred, you’ll need to set a very wide aperture; if you’d rather have more of the subject in focus, you’ll need to set a narrower aperture.
The temptation is to set as wide an aperture as possible as a matter of course, but if you’re shooting close-ups, depth of field is so limited that even at relatively narrow apertures such as f/11 or f/16 the background will still be blurred, and much of the subject may be blurred, too (learn more about depth field and how to master it).
By setting aperture priority mode and experimenting with a number of different options, you can control how much, or how little, of your subject is in focus.
This is why it’s important to use a sturdy tripod, because at narrow apertures the required shutter speed may be too slow to shoot handheld.
If you’re using a tripod, you can set your camera’s optimum ISO (100 or 200) for every shot, safe in the knowledge that you won’t have to worry about camera shake. If you’re hand-holding, you may need to bump up the ISO to 400 or above, and this will inevitably result in more grainy images (learn when to increase ISO).
When it comes to focusing, autofocus is fine as far as it goes, but at very close range macro lenses have a tendency to hunt for a focus point, and will sometimes fail to focus.
The answer is to switch to manual focus and to use the focusing ring to focus in on the exact edge you want to focus on (learn how to perfect manual focus so you get sharp images every time). Focus can also be fine-tuned in live view if your camera has it.
That just leaves exposure, which is best evaluated using the histogram. Macro images often have backgrounds that are darker or lighter than the subject, so if this is the case, set spot-metering mode, and tweak exposure compensation as required (learn when to use spot metering).
For more macro photography tips, download our free macro photography cheat sheet.
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