How to Make Macro Photos Sharper

In Photo Basics by Jim Harmer1 Comment

Macro, or close-up, photography is a favorite amongst photographers.  It is amazing to see all of the tiny little details of the world magnified to beyond life size for the human eye to enjoy.  However, photographers commonly run into one issue when shooting macro shots–the photos aren't sharp!  In this post I'll explain why that is and how you can improve the sharpness of your close up photos.

But before that, I need to clarify the term “macro photography.”  Photographers have come to use this as a generalized term for any photo of something small that you shoot up close, but true macro photography means that the object being photographed is the same size in real life as the lens magnifies it to be on the imaging sensor of the camera.  In this article, I'll be using the term macro to mean close up photography in general, as the sharpness issue is not unique to macro photography.

Four Essential Techniques for Tack Sharp Macro Photos

1. Do not shoot from the close focus distance

Every lens has a close focus distance, which means the closest the object of focus can be to the lens while still being sharp.  If you have ever held your finger up very close to your eye, you have seen this phenomenon occur.  Your eye simply is not capable of focusing on an object too close to it, and a lens works the same way.

The most common mistake I see from the macro photos sent to me for feedback from my online photography class students is that the photographer focused right up to the close focus distance.  The problem with this technique is that the lens cannot focus quite as sharp when pushed to the limit of where it can focus.  If the photographer scoots the lens back just slightly from the subject, the resulting photo will be significantly sharper.

It is true that by scooting back, the object does not look quite as large in the frame, but what good is a close object if it's blurry?

2. Shoot from a Tripod

When shooting up close at fine details in something smaller than life, you must understand that any camera shake at all can cause significant blurring of fine detail.

If you have ever held a laser pointer and shined it on a wall across the room, you understand how shaky the human hand is.  When it is holding a camera and moving the shutter button, it becomes even more shaky.

When shooting flowers, insects, or anything else up close, remember to always, always shoot from a tripod and your photos will sharpen up quite a bit.  This removes camera shake from all the potential causes of a photo that isn't sharp.

3. Be sure the wind doesn't ruin the photo

If you follow tip #2, you can be certain that camera shake does not cause your sharpness problem. However, that still leaves open the possibility that your sharpness problems are caused by the object itself moving.

I most often see this problem when shooting flowers.  Even a slight breeze can cause a flower to move around rapidly, and it should be no surprise that such movement could destroy the sharpness of the photo.

4.  Shoot with a sharp lens

It can be frustrating for photographers to hear that they need to buy more gear to get the photos they want.  I do everything I can to avoid giving that answer, but there certainly are times when you do everything you can to solve the problem only to find out that the sharpness is not your fault–but is the fault of your lens.

The 50mm f/1.8 lenses offered by both Canon and Nikon are very inexpensive and both of them are sharp even close up to the lens, so that may be a good option for close up photography on the cheap.

Do you have a tip for getting sharper photos close up?  If so, leave a comment and let other readers know!


About the Author

Jim Harmer

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Jim Harmer is the founder of Improve Photography, and host of the popular Improve Photography Podcast. More than a million photographers follow him on social media, and he has been listed at #35 in rankings of the most popular photographers in the world. He blogs about how to start an internet business on IncomeSchool.com..

Comments

  1. Thank you for the tutorial, Jim!

    I have been photographing macro for years. I learned some things through the hard way after trial and error. However, I do not believe that one can’t use the closest focus distance, which for example is 30cm, to do macro photography. Only when it extends the closest focus distance, then he may cannot do any photos at all, because if he or she shoots on one shot let’s say he/she may can’t press the shutter button fully, which is expected. So, in short, I think that the closest focus distance exists to offer 1:1 magnification on macro lenses, like the Canon 100mm f2.8, which I own.

    I am although very delighted to find out that you have also experienced the problem with the wind. I very often go to my garden to take photos of the flowers there and there is a breeze or even strong wind that ends up to no shooting at all. There is just no way to focus on the leaf or the flower.

    Tripod is an excellent option for 1:1 magnification as your hands are shaky in such close distances. The tripod is even more appreciated when your shutter speed can’t be fast enough and the rule of thumb (shutter speed the same or bigger than the focal length) cannot be applied due to lighting conditions.

    I can’t come up with other useful tips for sharp photos except of the post processing which on the other hand requires sharp photos from the very beginning. So I think this tip is not a tip at all.

    Thank you for your help.

    Morpho

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