You Say 'Macro'. I Say Maybe...

What ever you call it, macro photography (taken with a macro lens or a micro lens as one manufacturer calls their macro lens) is NOT simply a close-up image. What’s the difference between "close-ups", "macros", and "micrographs" (also known as "micro-photographs" or "photomicrographs")

A ‘close-up’ refers to any image zoomed or cropped into a detail such as the close-up of the woman’s lips or the golf ball and club. Another example: Take a photo of a fly in a bowl of soup. It will be evident in the image that the viewer is to meant see the fly but in the context of the soup. A correct characterization of the image would be ‘close-up of a fly in a bowl of soup’. A macro shot of that same fly would show the details of its eyes and the viewer would have no clue as to what the bug was floating in. Once the fly is fished out of the soup and placed under a microscope and photographed, a micrograph is created.

True macro photography can only be achieved by using a macro lens. Many lenses, especially telephoto ones, enable zooming in on details or with extensions can be used to achieve a nearly macro shot. Many images on Dreamstime have been labeled 'macro’when they are actually close-ups. The introduction of the confusing label, ‘micro’ photography when ‘macro’ is meant comes from one manufacturer referring to its macro lens as a ‘micro’ lens.

© Parrus

Technically a macro lens needs to produce an image with a 1:1 ratio and is used to show minute detail in insects, flowers or any other object that one wishes to magnify. There are adaptors that will allow you to use standard telephoto lens to get very close up such as the Reverse Lens Adapter on a 18-55 zoom lens as was used for the next to last image here of the fly’s eyes by Photowitch

Macro images are interesting when they show extreme details of a subject that are complex and intriguing when magnified. Macro details of insects reveal an incredible anatomy and macro shots of plants show us a world within a flower. A macro shot of a piece of wood? Not so much. Using an expensive macro lens is generally wasted on objects that have a uniform construction that extreme magnification will not enhance visually.

The use of a camera attached to a microscope creates a photomicrograph.Depending on the magnification of the standard microscope, the resulting image can be an image of an insect that actually shows more of the animal than a macro image but when the maximum magnification is in play, structures at the cellular level can be observed. If a camera is attached to an electron microscope an entirely new world opens up to reveal life on the level of a virus and smaller.

© Errog

Tips on how to create macro images and work-arounds for those without the proper lenses:

The $10 do it yourself macro photo studio from Stobist: here

Tips on insect macro photography here

Another that is way too complicated for my comment is here

Telling the difference between close-up and macro photography with examples

Photo credits: Monika Wisniewska, Andrew Barker, Carolina K. Smith M.d., Eryk Rogozinski, Mav888, Alexander Ryabchun, Photowitch, Socrates, Starfotograf.

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We aren't talking about macrostock or microstock but micro or macro images. One is a business model the other a technical term.


Surely maybe......^_^
I havn't a macro lens,but I still can make some "macro" images.I love this subject,and gonna dive into it.


The only confusion I see is people misusing the terms. Micro stock is what Dreamstime sells. Macro stock is big images that are expensive. Macro and micro are used in lots of places, not just photos. (EG) macro and micro economics. Simply means small and big.

CONTEXT is very important.

I would think macro lenses where invented for the commercial sector like the ring flash.

For instance. A plant scientist might want to catalogue a plant species and would be interested in the molecular structure. They would use a microscope photo and list "micro" images.

A botanist might want to catalogue the shape of the leaves, stems, and flower buds. They would use a macro lens and list "macro" images.

For a normal photographer, a macro lens would document "micro" shots using their macro lens compared to their landscape portfolio.

So context is very important.


Yes Pinfoldphotos, I agree the three images that you have listed are not 'macro' images in the truest sense of the word. But they are pretty nice images and I suspect that they were approved because although not purely macro, they are extreme close-ups.


Interesting article, and timely given the current assignment. Given your differenciation between "close up" and "macro" photography, I would suggest that there are a few accepted for the assignment which are not macro shots at all. For example:

Would you agree?



Great articles and advices, Ellen! My favourite kind of photography...


Great - great blog! Thanks for posting it. I really enjoyed reading it and it is good to get reminded of these things.


Macro ... hummm, I do a lot of that :)
In fact my camera almost always has a macro lens on and a teleconverter to go a little bit further.

When we were all using film there was some kind of technical definition for macro and micro.
Macro was something like going to 1:1 or at least very close to it.
Micro was going beyond 1:1 to 1:2, 1:3, ...

1:1 meant exactly that the image you'd get on the (35mm) film is the exact same size of the thing you photographed.
If you have half the size on film you have 2:1, twice the size is 1:2

Digital cameras came and mixed up a little these concepts. If you have a fullsize sensor it has almost the same exposure area of the 35mm film and same definitions apply.
Most DSLRs have half-size sensors thus we should apply the 1.5 digital factor to it.

My camera is one of those, so the 1:1 lens becomes 1:1.5 and this multiplied by the 1.4 teleconverter get me close to 1:2 ... and I do get those details in insect's eyes :)

When talking about close-up I understand that this is more a composition/context definition than a technical definition like macro. As you said there are close-ups that are not macro ... and I can think of some macro that are not close-up.



sorry about the one paragraph being repeated. I'll have it taken out later when the team can get to it.
Thanks for pointing it out.


Nice article for me. Since I have always been interested in the micro world. With my new and first DSLR coming in soon, I have ordered this lens - "Tamron 70-300mm Di LD Macro Lens for Canon EOS" I wont right now judge the lens but as far as I know that its a telephoto lens with a macro switch. Not a pure macro lens, but still I feel I will be able to do a lot with it with the above article's help and happily at a price of $130


macro and micro photography always enchant me as a viewer.
however, neither of these genres has ever made me feel like making them.
i supposed i am just too involved with making "reduced-size" images of "life size" objects, than to have any urge to make "life size" images of tiny or minute subjects.
for that reason, i have certain associates i visit to admire their macro and micro works, and they in turn, visit me to admire my images of "big things" (ships, ancient architecture , isolated food presentations, etc)


Thanks for such a compreensive article.
So true, people do commonly misuse both terms.


"macro images are interesting when they show extreme details of a subject": this phrase of yours is a very good definition of macro photography.
I liked very much your article!


Great text and guide... Two same chapters repeat one after another, so you can delete one.

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