> Photography



Macro Photography with Point and Shoot Digital Cameras

Macro Photography using Point-and-Shoot Compact Digital Cameras How-to

Strawberry Seeds — Photo by Linda Kenney

Shot with Fujifilm FinePix S5800 - S800                                                                 Photo ©© Linda Kenney

Small details of a bigger world

The vast majority of what we see every day (and take pictures of) is in the distance range from half a meter to infinity; and so is the standard focus range for typical photographic lens. That is to say that average cameras and lenses are not designed to shoot close-up.
There are times, though, when we cast a glance to the small details in world around us: little parts of our daily lives to which we have seldom paid much attention yet. Whether it is a newly blossomed flower, a rare postage stamp, a leaf in your garden or a dirty fingerprint for forensic evidence, this is what we are going to try an photograph today.
Learn how to shoot macro with just a compact camera.

Indeed the best photographic devices for such a goal are the so-called Digital Single-Lens Reflex cameras (DSLRs) which can mount a rich choice of high quality interchangeable lenses.
DSLRs can boast a long list of useful features and are wonderful tools for any serious photographer. Yet point-and-shoot or other non-DSLR cameras can enable any dedicated individual to create stunningly beautiful and attractive pictures.
All the images on this page are made with non-DSLR cameras.

How to enlarge such tiny details

Bee on a Dandelion — Photo by John Spooner

Shot with Canon Powershot G11                                                                              Photo ©© John Spooner

Well, shortly said: just move close to your subject!
Which might require a bit better and longer explanation.

About any compact digital camera sold today has a built-in Macro mode, which can usually be set by selecting the flower pictograph: this is most usually done by means of a command wheel, a button or other similar camera controls.


Once you set your camera in Macro mode you will be able to shoot at very close distance from your subject, thus capturing and enlarging quite small details and a unique view of your tiny subjects.
Not all cameras can focus at very short distances, though: some are more capable than others at this.
This very page features some examples of what you can do in macro mode with a simple compact point and shoot camera.

Things to take care about when shooting close-ups

The first thing you are probably going to do after switching your point and shoot camera into macro mode is to eagerly look into your viewfinder in order to study and compose your image.
Optical viewfinders of such compact cameras suffer from the parallax error, that is: the eye sees the subject through different optics than the one through which the photo is taken. As the viewfinder is found above (and often sideways from) the lens of the camera, the subject will be partially cropped off.
Instead, switch to the live view mode: you will compose your image directly on the camera built-in LCD screen, which sees directly through the lens, thus avoiding parallax error.
Some cameras also feature a flip-out swivel LCD, which makes composition at odd angles even more comfortable.

Most probably you will get much better results by using a tripod1, by means of which you can:

  • Fumble around your camera settings without loosing the right point of view.
  • Take care of lighting once the camera is placed in position.
  • Avoid shaking your camera during exposure: even the least movement might ruin a photograph when you look at things so close.
  • Carefully focus your picture.
  • Make more pictures of the same scene, in order to process or choose them at a later time; slight variations in exposure, camera settings and/or point of view might be useful to increase success of you efforts
  • Take time and think, which greatly increases good results, usually :-)

Be aware that the bigger your subject will appear, the less easy it will be to have it all in focus. Thus, pay attention to where the focus will be right at the moment you trigger the shutter release. Focusing is a bit tricky in macro as even the slightest change will cause enormous difference in the resulting picture: once you have set the main focus, you can fine adjust it by carefully moving the camera back and forth. At times it will be even easier to carefully slide your subject: mind, it is a matter of millimeters, so be accurate and move slow.
As for the shutter release itself, it is advisable to use a remote release or the self-timer in order to prevent camera shake. The self-timer trigger is usually marked with a simple clock symbol:

[self-timer picture]

Aperture works right the same also in macro photography2: choosing the appropriate aperture can greatly enhance your picture. In case you are shooting at a non-flat subject, your background will preferably be left out of focus, thus allowing for a clean, uncluttered picture. The bad news here is that not all camera models leave you the freedom to set aperture in macro mode.
No matter how you achieve it, composition is undeniably of great importance even if you shoot at the tiniest details of your surrounding world: never forget it and take your time to think with care.

Lighting your small set is likely to be the hardest part of the game. Built-in flash generates too much of a harsh light, which could be tamed by covering its glass with a paper handkerchief or any other diffusing material. Completely blocking the flashlight and using just the bright light of a sunny day would probably be the best idea.
No matter which is your main source of light, eight times out of ten you will find that small reflectors made of paper, crumpled aluminium foil, styrofoam or any other reflective surface will be invaluable in controlling the contrast. Also, you might want to try and shade your whole subject with a light diffuser, thus enjoying a much softer and more controllable light.

Chances are that your specific point and shoot camera has no (or not powerful enough) macro mode or, as it sometimes happens, in order to take a macro picture you have to go too close to your subject, thus interfering with the subject itself or the lighting set. There is a solution, and a very smart one as well: close-up lenses. Find more about such devices at the Close-Up Lenses Macro Photography page.


1 A bean bag is less indicated as it tends to move if you touch your camera. Still it is better than nothing, though. (↑)

2 This is not completely true: at high magnification ratios depth of field extends symmetrically in front and behind your focus plane, while we are used to calculate it one third in front and two thirds behind the focus at normal shooting distances. (↑)

Share this page with your friends on your favorite social bookmarking site...


Picture CompositionImage composition
Learn the most powerful way to train your visual skill. Start now!

Point of View
Always shoot your photographs from the right position.

Free alternatives to Photoshop
Picture editing and photo retouching resources.

Macro Photography
Easy tutorials for beginners from simple compact to DSRL cameras.

Sell Your Pictures
Earn extra money out of your hobby: learn how-to.

Ernst Haas
Master of evocative color photography, and more…