What is macro?

The Photography Fundamentals roadshow has reached stop 'M', where we're taking a very brief look at macro. We've kept it brief because otherwise it would become an incredibly detailed exploration of the subject that wouldn't so much be an introduction, which is the guiding principle behind the Photography Fundamentals series, but a tome. Although we think of macro photography as being the art of caprturing tiny things, it's not quite that. It's actually about capturing things very close. When you photograph little things, like ladybirds or lily pollen, you obviously want to get in close to fill your frame and get the best detail. This is probably why we associate 'macro' with 'small'. You could, however, have a macro shot of a skyscraper. It wouldn't be the entire skyscraper, but a very detailed, up-close section of it.

Reversed 28mm lens

Getting this close usually requires a specialist macro lens to achieve a photo, although there are ways around this using extension tubes, bellows, reversing rings, and other bits of kit. As for a macro lens, the technical definition is of a lens that can record an image on a camera's sensor that's the same size as the object being photographed. It has a magnification of factor of 1:1. Similarly, if the image of the subject on the sensor were half the size of the actual subject, the magnification would be 1:2; if the image on the sensor were a quarter of the size of the actual subject, that would be a magnification of 1:4.

That strict definition of what it takes to produce a macro image has loosened over time and lots of people are happy to say that 1:10 magnification counts as macro. Simply: you're really close.

Que? (Macro)

All of that magnification means that macro photographs frequently have very shallow depths of field.


  • Macro photography is extremely close-up photography
  • The strict definition of macro photography is an image with a magnification factor of 1:1 - the subject will be at least the same size in real life as it is recorded on the sensor
  • The looser definition of macro photography is of images with a magnification of 1:10. It's still close!

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