Most of you seemed to find my “Equipment Options for Macro Photography” fairly useful, so I thought I’d follow it up with some more macro equipment. Last time I focused on the lens options — so this time I’ll focus on all the other stuff that’s also used in macro work. Basically, I’m talking about anything that doesn’t attach to the front of the camera body, so these are things that can be used for any type of camera.

Tripod

THE TRIPOD

Camera shake is more prone to occur while shooting macro, due to the high magnification levels. A tripod is the best way to battle shake issues — and a good tripod is almost critical. Look for something sturdy enough to hold up during a breezy day, and something flexible enough to get into tight spots. In macro, you’re working up-close so it’s nice to have a tripod with independent leg angles and lengths. Also look for a tripod that can get real low and/or invert the center column to get right on the ground. The tripod in the picture is the Slik Pro 700DX tripod with independent legs that are adjustable to 3 different angles. The center column is two pieces and it can be inverted, so it can reach really high and and really low. I chose to buy one of these mainly because of their rigidity and sturdiness. It’s practically indestructible.

Tripod Head

TRIPOD HEAD

Almost any good tripod head will do fine for macro work, just as long as it’s sturdy and predictable. The slightest movement in the head can cause your entire macro composition to be thrown out of whack. Leveling indicators are nice to have, but aren’t completely necessary in most macro work. If you’re concerned about being level, look for a head with two tubular levels rather than a bull’s eye level (though most ballheads have a bull’s eye). The tripod head in the picture is a Slik AF2100 Pistol Grip Ballhead. I picked up one of these when I bought my tripod, and I absolutely love using it. It’s very sturdy while locked, and very easy to operate when released. I like using this head because I can aim and lock the camera with one hand while I manually focus with the other hand.

Slider Rail

SLIDER RAIL

Often times when shooting macro photos, you focus the image by moving the camera rather than using the focusing ring on the lens. On a macro lens, the focusing ring changes the amount of magnification, and thus the composition of the subject. Macro shots also have a very small depth of field (unless you stop the lens WAY down), so the slightest movement can throw the image out of focus. A macro focusing rail (or slider rail) sits between your tripod head and your camera, and acts as a precision moving platform for your camera. You can find them in single-axis or double-axis (as shown in the picture) models. I don’t have one of these yet, but it’s probably my next piece of macro equipment I’ll buy.

Beanbag

BEANBAG

Sometimes tripods just can’t get you where you need to be — like on the ground. A beanbag is a good way to stabilize your camera on top of other objects or the ground. The nice thing about these tools is that they conform to the camera resting place and the camera so you don’t have to worry about your camera falling off of something or getting dirty or wet from the ground. Most of them are small enough to fit in your camera bag, and they typically don’t weigh much. I keep meaning to pick one up, but it keeps evading me. At around $10, it’s hardly worth NOT getting one.

Ring Flash

RING FLASH

When shooting at close distances less than one or two feet, a traditional flash just won’t work. You end up with half-covered lighting, shading from the lens, and harsh directional lighting. A ring flash mounts to the front of the lens and directs light straight at your subject. Some ring flashes even have the capability to turn down or turn off certain sections of the ring in order to give slightly directional lighting for higher impact. Ring flashes can also be used in non-macro photography, and I’ve often heard of them being used for portrait work in conjunction with other studio lights. I don’t have one of these either, but it’s next on the list after the slider rail. The downside to these flash units is that they cost just as much as a traditional flash.

Reflector

REFLECTOR

If you can’t afford a ring flash right now, a small reflector might be a good thing to have handy. A reflector can be placed near the subject to redirect available light. You can find these in all different sizes and colors, but for macro work you really shouldn’t need anything bigger than 24 inches in diameter. Most of the reflectors you find will fold down to about 1/3 of their expanded size, making them easy to pack in your camera bag. Again, this is one of those things that I keep saying I’ll pick up, but I keep forgetting. They’re a handy all-around tool to have in your bag.

Angle Finder

ANGLE FINDER

When working near, or on the ground, it’s really hard to see through your viewfinder. On SLR cameras, that’s the only way to see your subject since most don’t have a live LCD display (it’s that darned mirror that gets in the way). Fortunately you can attach a right angle viewfinder to the camera’s existing viewfinder so you can look straight down into the camera rather than straight through it. The one I’ve shown in the picture is purely optical, but there are digital models that have a flip-out LCD screen that shows what’s in the viewfinder.

Shutter Release Cable

SHUTTER RELEASE CABLE

Even when using a tripod or beanbag, your camera is susceptible to shake and blur. At a very minimum, you should use the short time-delay function on the camera to lock the mirror prior to taking the picture. That can get to be tedious sometimes, especially when you just want to take some shots! A shutter release cable allows you to trigger the shutter without touching the camera. This helps prevent camera shake and it also prevents the tripod head from shifting when pressing the button on the camera.

Head Medicine

HEAD MEDICINE

Macro photography can be very straining on your eyes and body. Long periods of staring through the viewfinder at strange angles and positions will really drain you. You’re looking for that fine line between in-focus and out-of-focus, you’re making dozens of tiny little adjustments to get the composition right, and you’re usually not sitting comfortably in your recliner while doing these things. It’s probably a good idea to carry some head medicine and pain killers in your bag to keep your stamina up during your day of shooting.

So these are some of the common items found in a macro photographer’s bag, but I’m sure there are a few other obscure pieces of equipment I’ve missed. The thing about these tools is that most of them can be used for other forms of photography, so if you decide to buy them you’ll probably be using them more often than you think.

Did I miss any major items? What other tools do you use for macro work?

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Different clothes! You probably have old, shitty jeans for doing housework or garden work, change into those.

Do your macro work in old, crap clothes that you can afford to get giant grass stains on the knees when you spend all afternoon macroifying things in your backyard.

June 14, 2007 2:07 pm

No doubt! It never fails, you can almost always expect to end up crawling around in the dirt and grass when doing macro.

June 14, 2007 7:05 pm

Another very useful post, Brian. Thank you. i would say this post was more valuable to me than the previous one on Macro equipment, because I had read about the usual ones in other places, but I hadnt read about the usefulness of Ring Flashes, beanbags and reflectors. I liked the last point too.:-)

June 15, 2007 1:58 am

How about some “tequila”, for those times or moments when absolutely nothing goes right?
LoL!

Time for me to go.
Another nice post here Brian!

June 19, 2007 9:56 pm

I always have trouble with shadows in macro photos. I had no idea that ring flashes exist. The last item on your list is an absolute must (I thought I was the only one having trouble with macro).

June 27, 2007 8:24 am

Yeah, the ring flash is a funny little contraption. Unfortunately they can cost more than a traditional flash, so some small reflectors are a good alternative.

And yes, I think most of us who have shot macro will agree that it’s not the most relaxing activity — it’s very straining on the eyes, brain, and body.

June 27, 2007 8:37 am

Brian, great pair of articles. I’ve also got the Sigma 105 and am enjoying it immensely. What magnification do you end up with when you put a reversed 50 on the front of that?

Also, would you mind if I linked to these two articles on my website? I think you did a great job of explaining what a beginner should think about in terms of macro equipment.

July 18, 2007 1:06 am

I think it ends up being around 4:1 or 5:1 magnification, but I’m not really sure. All I know is that you need a ton of light and a very steady tripod!

I don’t mind at all if you link to the articles — as long as you don’t use my content and claim it as your own, links are actually quite a compliment.

I like the layout of your new site. It’s a nice touch to add a little background to the images. I’ll be reading!

July 18, 2007 1:50 am

Well that would certainly be enough magnification for even the smallest bugs I could find around here. Something to keep in mind – I’ll have to experiment with that in the future.

Great, thanks! I want to include more in my blog than just image after image, so some outside content will be great.

July 18, 2007 2:16 am

Clothing can be a problem for Macro Photography if you spend a lot of time on the ground. Some photographers take a large sheet of polythene or a bin liner to keep themselves clean when the lay on the ground. A bin liner is a really useful item if your camera bag is not waterproof. Fold it up small and carry it inside your ordinary camera bag, then if it starts to rain, just take out the bin liner (or any other type of large polythene bag) and put your entire camera bag inside. This is useful if you get caught in the rain for keeping all your expensive camera equipment dry. Waterproof over-trousers are a great way of protecting your clothes when laying on the ground or working in wet conditions. Re: bean bags it is actually quite easy to make your own provided you can sow or you know someone who can!

Marvin Africa

October 20, 2008 12:51 pm

Comment now!
















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