Macro Photography Often Involves What Type of Depth of Field?

macro photography, depth of field in macro photos

Peacock Feather: Carlin ƒ/9.0 ISO 3200 via Flickr

Macro Photography Often Involves What Type of Depth of Field?

DPReview opens up their article on depth of field in macro photography by stating: The defining characteristic of macro photography is of course that subjects are shot at close distances.

This is true, but it doesn’t fully explain macro photography or how to achieve the right depth of field. Macro photography is technically shooting an image at greater than life-size – whether you are “close” or not to the subject.

And depth of field is basically: the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in a scene that appear acceptably sharp in an image. – Wiki


What depth of field is right for macro photography?

And this brings me to the main point of depth of field in macro photography… the depth of field used in YOUR macro photography can be very subjective. You have to decide which depth of field you want to have in your macro images.

There are some “groups” on photography sharing platforms, like Flickr, who think that only tack sharp images are acceptable, and the photographers go to great lengths to achieve perfectly sharp images – that often lack artistry – but that’s beside the point.

The artistry of tack sharp macro photos could be technical acumen, bringing to life the visual texture of the subject matter, and lighting used in your photography. (Direct lighting in bright sun often washes out the subject matter and makes it dull, while shooting images where you adjust the background vs foreground lighting can create dramatic images.)

dramatic lighting in macro photography

Bee: USGS Bee Inventory via Flickr

And, there are other photographers, like me, who enjoy a little or a lot of blur in a photograph. There’s not technically a correct depth of field. You’ll have to decide which is right for you.


Traditional Macro Photography

Macro Photography Often Involves What Type of Depth of Field

Ant Photo: by Rushen ƒ/16.0 ISO1000 via Flickr

Traditional macro photographers who want to show small subject matter that is invisible to the naked eye in great detail and clarity will shoot macro photos with a “deeper” of depth of field. The goal of a traditional macro photographer is clarity, sharpness, zero blur, tack sharp images.

A traditional macro photographer will shoot at a higher f-stop above 10 or greater. The higher the f-stop, the smaller the opening of the aperture. And, the smaller the aperture, the less light that will enter the camera. You’ll want to compensate for the small opening with a higher ISO. A large f-stop technically lets you bring all the images in the foreground and background into focus.

Yet some people prefer to shoot macro images with a shallow depth of field that blurs out the background and keeps the eye focused on the foreground or a very specific portion of the image.


Depth of Field in Creative Macro Photography

macro photography and depth of field

Fly Photo: Carlin ƒ/1.6 ISO 1250 via Flickr

To achieve a shallow depth of field, a photographer will want to make images with a low f-stop generally under f-4 or less. The smaller the f-stop the larger the opening of the aperture. With a more wide-open aperture, the less control you have over foreground and background blur.

As a macro expressionist macro photographer, I prefer to shoot macro photos at f-1.4 or so to achieve a lot of visual blur in my images. (Learn more about Macro Expressionism in my ebook on Amazon)

I pinpoint focus my camera on a specific spot on the subject and try to get the background and foreground to blur a lot so that the photo is more artistic, expressionistic and color field.

Macro photography has many followers who use a variety of techniques to achieve their artistic goals. For me, as a Macro Expressionist photographer, a depth of field that allows me to be creative with my photographs is essential. My preferred depth of field is very shallow and allows for a lot of blur.

Here is a series of images of flower petals shot at a low f-stop in low light that meant to have a lot of background and foreground blur.

photography project theme

This is part of a photography theme series.

Depending upon what kind of photography you want to achieve, your depth of field in macro photography will differ – as will your lens preference, camera, etc.

  • As a rule of thumb for SHARP images – use an f-stop with a “higher number, like f-8 and above to achieve sharper images with a deeper focus area in the image.
  • To achieve blurrier images with a shallower depth of field, use a smaller f-stop below f-4 or lower.

When photographing macro images you can use a macro lens, lens light ring, & tripod for tack sharp images. or like me, you can use extension tubes & a 50mm f1.4 lens to shoot. Either way you want to achieve your depth of field in macro photography, you can get some beautiful images if you play around with the f-stop and your distance from the object.

How to Shoot Macro Photos

Finally, you don’t have to go out into nature to get the best macro shots. If you are more comfortable shooting inside, you can bring objects into you house and shoot in your own studio by using a table top infinity style background which lets you isolate an object on a white background and control the lighting.

If you are into outdoor photography, I’ve found that buying knee pads or a neoprene gardening pad is helpful when shooting subject matter close to the ground. Knee pads go a long way to making macro photography comfortable.

The best way to get great macro shots is to practice and experiment with the depth of field, lighting and subject matter often. Macro photography is an art form, just like nature photography, wedding photography & portraiture. Read a lot, take a lot of photos, and perfect a style of photography that suits you.


Macro Photography Equipment

ImageProductOur Rating: 1-10PriceSee This
kenko extension tubes for macro photographyKenko DG Auto Extension Tube Set10$See This on Amazon
macro lensCanon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens8$$$$See This on Amazon
Macro Photography Options


See our photographer’s recommended products & cool camera bags for dslr or mirrorless cameras here.