Get lost in the details: 4 techniques for shooting macro at home

Your home is full of easily accessible opportunities for creative close-up shots. Get inspired by the details in your living room, kitchen or window sill.
A black and white close-up shot of a mother kissing a sleeping baby she is holding to her shoulder.

Close-up photography is a great way to get creative with what you've got at home. Whether it's wrinkles in the palms of a new baby's hands, intricate details on the leaves or petals of house plants or soap bubbles in your kitchen sink, discovering the small things you might have overlooked can bring you joy, inspiration and endless new perspectives to photograph.

The fun of close-up or macro photography has no limits - you can find excellent subjects in every room of your house. No matter what kind of camera you have at home, you can get up close and explore the fascinating details. A standard zoom (or kit) lens, or even a compact camera, can deliver beautiful images. Here, six photographers share some of the small but captivating things they've photographed at home, and reveal what inspired them to take a closer look.

1. Zoom in on your nearest and dearest

A close-up of the head of a baby lying on its back.

Here, photographer Kate Gray has placed a newborn on a bed near a window to make use of the natural light source. "This makes a good base for getting both high and low shooting angles, as well as keeping the baby nice and comfortable," she explains. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with an EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens at 1/320 sec, f/2.8 and ISO 500. © Kate Gray Photography

"It was the images I took of my own children when they were babies that inspired me to shoot up close for other families," says family photographer Kate Gray. "I know that without those pictures I wouldn't remember the perfect little dimples on my daughter's chubby fingers or the way the skin around my son's eyes would wrinkle with his first gummy smiles."

While a dedicated macro lens is ideal for close-up shots, you can also achieve great results with a standard zoom or even a prime lens. The Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM kit lens, for example, can focus as close as 25cm, meaning it can perfectly frame the smallest of details.

Most dedicated macro lenses have a telephoto focal length that's perfect for isolating every element, and if you're using a zoom lens, simply remember to zoom in. Then set the aperture to f/5.6, or faster if available, and use Image Stabilisation to eliminate the risk of camera shake. Finally, frame up and try to get as close as you can to your subject. You'll lose focus if you go closer than the lens's minimum focus distance, so you might need to gently move back and forth to get your positioning spot on.

2. Capture the intricacy of nature

A highly magnified image of a snowflake in intricate detail, on black fuzzy material.

"Shooting at f/8, I prioritised my aperture as I needed it to be narrow, allowing for more of the snowflake to be in focus," says photographer Jamie Spensley. "I then balanced my settings to be an almost black image in natural light by setting my ISO at 200 and shutter speed of 1/100 sec. I then took some reference images at different flash powers to see what worked best to expose my image nicely." Taken on a Canon EOS 80D with a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens. © Jamie Spensley

A close-up shot of a watercress plant with a water droplet attached.

"I have always noticed the small things, so macro photography naturally became my favourite," says photographer Agi Wojcik. "In spring 2020 I started growing my own herbs and vegetables, and I noticed how beautiful the green leaves looked after I watered them. I wanted to catch the sun flare on the water droplet because I knew it wouldn't stay on the leaf for long." Taken on a Canon EOS RP with a Canon RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM lens at 1/250 sec, f/8 and ISO 800. © Agi Wojcik

Macro can reveal unseen natural treasures, from the maze-like pattern on the back of a leaf to the unique complexity of a perfectly formed snowflake. And photographing up close gives you opportunities to capture the beauty of nature anywhere, including in your window sill on a cold and rainy day.

A black jacket was the only backdrop Jamie Spensley needed to bring out the mesmerising details of a white snowflake. He achieved that distinctive, soft lighting by using a macro diffuser. "It's a cone of white material that fits around the front of my lens. Then there's a tunnel of reflective material attached to the flash, helping the light reach the cone. The end result is extremely soft light, perfect for macro."

For additional ways to get creative with light when shooting up close, the EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM and EF-M 28mm f/3.5 Macro IS STM lenses both have an inbuilt Macro Lite that enables photographers to get close without casting shadow.

Photographer Agi Wojcik used Close-up Scene mode to photograph watercress in her flat. "This way I didn't need to worry about the settings and could instead concentrate on making sure the focus was right. I also used Spot AF and a very handy Magnification option in Live View mode. After seeing how well the picture turned out, I got inspired to pick up my camera and explore other subjects around me at home."

3. Find the extraordinary in the ordinary

A macro photograph of a pencil drawing a line on paper.

"I set the ISO relatively low as there was enough light," says photographer Lucas Piltz. "The aperture was at f/7.1, so there were large areas of sharpness, while the shutter speed was set to 1/100 sec." Taken on a Canon EOS 250D at 1/100 sec, f/7.1 and ISO 800. © Lucas Piltz

For many artists, the humble pencil is where it all starts, and by photographing it up-close, photographer Lucas Piltz found a way to celebrate and embrace his creative side.

Lucas opted to shoot a sequence of images to achieve a greater depth of field than would normally be possible. "I used a tripod to avoid shake," he says, "and focused manually because I have more control and learn more that way. I started from the very front focus area and stacked my way through to the back." With the image framed up, Lucas shot 40 versions of the pencil, all with different focal points, before merging them together.

This technique is called focus stacking, and you can do it by merging a set of images with different focus points together in Canon's Digital Photo Professional software.

4. Find an abstract perspective on everyday things

A macro photo of oil in water, creating circular droplets, coloured purple.

Andrea Hunt uses simple ingredients such as oil and water to create a surreal look in her abstract images. Varying the amount of oil and placing different, colourful objects under the tray holding the water gives you endless, unique patterns and motifs. Taken on a Canon EOS 7D Mark II with a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens at 1/100 sec, f/10 and ISO 1250. © Andrea Hunt

A close-up photo of washing-up liquid bubbles coloured yellow.

Tibo Tuypens embraces the power of geometry to spark the viewer's imagination. "I used my Canon EOS 7D Mark II and EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens, paired with nothing more than a Speedlite flash," he says. "I can stay safely on ISO 100 with a shutter speed of 1/400 sec and an aperture of f/2.8 to keep the background nice and blurry." © Tibo Tuypens

"As a busy frontline healthcare worker, I use my photography as a mindfulness tool to keep me happy and relaxed in my free time," explains macro photographer Andrea Hunt. "Macro photography reveals details that are rarely seen, and a lot of creativity can be achieved from within the limits of your house and garden."

To recreate Andrea's surrealist shots you'll need a glass baking dish, raised off the floor at each corner and filled with water. Then add your oil – gradually, so you can experiment with different quantities. To add eye-catching colour to the oil, Andrea places a smartphone or tablet under the dish with a colourful display, but you could also use coloured card or wallpaper.

When shooting a suspended oil shot, it's easiest to focus manually and shoot in Aperture priority (Av) mode. "Shooting at f/10 gives me enough depth of field to cover a layer of oil without reaching the bottom of the glass dish," says Andrea.

You can use the same technique to lighten up household chores. Photographer Tibo Tuypens found dishwashing liquid can produce beautiful, geometric shapes, by simply adding a few drops to a shallow layer of water in a baking dish.

For the background, Tibo likes to use coloured sheets of paper. "I then use a flash to reflect the colours through the water," he says. "This works great for combining colours and creating gradients."

To produce bubbles, simply grab a straw and blow into the water – then get shooting! "Whatever you put in front of your lens, it's always a playground of shapes, textures and scattered light," says Tibo.

Written by Phil Hall

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