Best Books on Macro Photography

I've been reviewing a bunch of books on macro photography. Here are my favorites so far.
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It’s a good time to be trying to find photographic inspiration close to home. If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, or even just some planters, flowers and bugs, as well as the textures you find all over the place, offer all sorts of creative possibilities. Even inside, there are all sorts of new worlds to explore with your camera when you move in close. From abstracts to textures to colors to reflections, even the household items you have lying around can be transformed into striking photos.

I’ve recently been catching up on a pile of books on macro photography that I’ve had sitting on my desk and meaning to get to for a while. Here’s my roundup of my favorite books on macro photography. It’s a rolling list that I aim to update as I have a chance to review more books on the subject.

Understanding Close-up Photography, by Bryan Peterson

This is my top recommendation if you’re looking for a place to dive into close-up and macro photography. While there are newer books out there–this one was published in 2009–the content is evergreen.

It covers the basics of shooting close, including gear and technique. But one of the things I really like about this book is the sense of adventure, of trying things beyond the usual flowers and bugs. The author not only knows his stuff–he’s the author of some excellent books on photography fundamentals–but clearly enjoys macro and close-up photography. All of the authors of the books I have here are passionate about their work, but Mr. Peterson adds extra dollops of fun and whimsy.

Another thing I like about this book is right there in the subtitle: Creative Close Encounters With or Without a Macro Lens. That is, you don’t need expensive or specialized gear to explore the world up close. So with your existing gear, or perhaps with adding some relatively inexpensive accessories, you can create some striking images.

You can find my detailed review here.

Macro Photography for Gardeners and Nature Lovers, by Alan Detrick

This is a good introduction to breaking your camera out in the garden or in a local park. The emphasis is on flowers, and the scope is relatively narrow. But it gives you loads of good ideas and approaches for taking photos of flowers and, to a lesser extent, bugs.

Something I like about this book is that it’s crammed with examples–not just photos, but the captions include detailed practical information about why the photographer approached each shot in a particular way.

You can find my detailed review here.

Creative Garden Photography: Making Great Photos of Flowers, Gardens, Landscapes, and the Beautiful World Around Us

This new book by Harold Davis is thick and comprehensive. It has plenty for photographers wandering around for photographic opportunities in their own garden, but also plenty for shooters looking to extend their skills and creativity. The cover shot is a good example; Mr. Davis somewhat specializes in these high-key backlit shots, and the ins and outs of creating them is covered in detail. But there’s plenty else for less intensive opportunities as well as strolling around the manicured garden of your local chateaux or forest.

Close Up Photography in Nature, by John & Barbara Gerlach

This is a comprehensive instructional book on techniques and technicalities of capturing photos of flowers and insects you might find in your garden. Think of it as a multi-part workshop in book form.

As you can tell from the title, the focus of this book is on traditional macro photography subjects of flowers and bugs. Despite the title, much of the book is focused on the nuts and bolts of shooting and apply more broadly to close-up photography. So the techniques and skills transfer across well to other macro subjects.

Close Up Photography in Nature
  • Focal Press
  • Gerlach, John and Barbara (Author)

You can find my detailed review here.

Photographing Flowers, by Harold Davis

Of all the books here, this is probably the most aspirational. What I mean by that is that the photos are exceptional and creative. They’ll really get your creative imagination going.

It does also have good information on the nuts and bolts of macro photography, but to me, the best part of this book is seeing what ideas a flower photographer at the top of his game comes up with. A particular highlight is the selection of backlit photos (along with information on how to make them).

You can find it at good bookstores online, and my detailed review here.

Tabletop Photograph, by Cyrill Harnischmacher

This book isn’t just about macro photography (although he does have another book specifically on macro photography that I’m hoping to get to soon), but there’s a lot of overlap here, and you can use many of the tricks and tips in macro and close-up photography.

The focus of this book is on providing simple and inexpensive tricks to take tabletop photos at home without expensive studio gear. Whether you’re taking product photos you’re planning to sell online or shooting abstract still-life macros, there’s a bunch of useful and clever tricks to take your tabletop photos up several notches. And if you’re stuck at home with time on your hands but wanting to learn some new skills, it gives some really great ideas on where to start.

Macro Photography vs. Close-up Photography

The terms macro and close-up are often used interchangeably in photography, but there is technically a difference. It relates mainly to the level of magnification, so it is mostly about the lens (in combination with the projection area, or sensor in digital photography).

Macro technically refers to photography where the magnification of the subject is at least 1:1. Put more simply: it’s at least life-size. So whatever you’re taking a photo of will come out at full size on the camera’s sensor. You can get a similar effect by cropping the image later, of course, but the quality from a true macro lens will almost be better.

Close-up photography is more general. Macro photography is typically a type of close-up photography. But you can take close-up photos with lenses that don’t magnify at 1:1–many zoom “macro lenses” are actually in this category and therefore don’t technically qualify as macro lenses. And you can get in close with other lenses as well, especially wide-angle and fish-eye lenses. What you want to look for is a lens’s minimum focal distance, but with relatively inexpensive accessories like extension tubes or diopters (macro filters), you can bring that minimum focal distance much closer.

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2 Responses

  1. I have a Canon F1, and I just bought a 50mm f1:3.5 Macro lens with the Extension Tube 25. I am looking to buy the 100mm Macro lens and matching tube as well. As a result, I was wondering if you could recommend a book on macro photography that was published in the 1970’s or 80’s – before everything became about digital and auto-focus. Those are great advances, but I prefer my older equipment.

    1. Nothing that specific comes to mind. It’s the type of thing I used to love browsing the stacks of used photography books at Strand Books for, but I can’t recall any specific titles.

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