Indoor Macro Photography: An Essential Guide to Getting Started

Indoor Macro Photography: An Essential Guide to Getting Started

As photographers, we do not always have the ability to travel or venture outdoors. As a result, there may be instances where you find yourself confined to your home. This does not mean that you cannot practice your photography skills and learn some new techniques, however. Why not try indoor macro photography?

Indoor macro photography is a great technique to try – it allows you to learn more about your camera settings and equipment. Similarly, it allows you to experiment with new creative ideas and step outside your comfort zone in terms of composition and imagination.

In this guide, we look at three important aspects of indoor macro photography – camera equipment and accessories, camera settings, and creative photo ideas.

Indoor Macro Photography Equipment

While it is possible to take macro photos handheld, the results may vary. Depending on the lighting, camera settings, and position of the subject, your photos may appear out of focus.

You must remember that when shooting indoors, the ambient light levels are much lower. Therefore, if you want to shoot at a lower ISO setting like ISO 100, your shutter speed needs to be longer to compensate. As a result, specific equipment is required to create the best quality indoor macro photography.

Lens

First, consider your camera lens. If you want extreme macro photography where you can zoom in on minute subject details, a specialist macro lens is required. Check out these guides on the best macro lenses for Nikon and the best macro lenses for Canon.

If you don’t have a specialist macro lens, you should look at the minimum focal distance of your lenses and choose the one that is shortest.

For example, to create some of these photos, I had a choice of my 22mm lens, or my 18-55mm lens. The 22mm actually has a macro distance of 0.490ft whereas the 18-55mm has a macro distance of 0.800ft. Therefore, 22mm lens was the better choice as I could focus on the subject at closer distances.

Tripod

As mentioned above, when creating indoor macro photography, the ambient light levels are lower so you need longer shutter speeds to compensate. For these longer shutter speeds, a tripod is an essential piece of equipment.

With long shutter speeds, getting sharp indoor macro photography would be virtually impossible without a tripod to keep your setup stable.

A specialist tripod isn’t required – providing that it keeps your camera and lens stable and gives you flexibility for positioning, any tripod under $200 will suffice.

Remote Shutter

To accompany your tripod, a remote shutter release is also important. A remote shutter is a simple remote control that triggers your camera’s shutter without having to press the shutter release button.

Why is this important? It means you do not have to touch your camera to take photos. If like me, you are a little heavy-handed, when pressing the shutter, you’ll end up with motion blur. As a result, a remote shutter removes this contact and ensures that your photos are crystal clear.

Lightbox

This is not essential for indoor macro photography, but it can help. A lightbox is a simple square box with white walls. Setups like these are used for product photography and macro photography.

How it works is you shine a light onto the box exterior that creates consistent lighting on the interior. As a result, this allows you to take photos of objects with a perfectly white background.

You can easily create your own lightbox using a cardboard box, translucent paper, and an external light source like a lamp. This video shows how to create a DIY lightbox from minimal items:

Effective Camera Settings for Indoor Macro Photography

Once you have established your equipment, the next step for indoor macro photography is to understand the shooting process. You must also understand the optimal camera settings to use.

Shooting Process

Attach your camera to the tripodEnsure the tripod is stable and positioned correctly next to the subjectCheck that your remote shutter has powerLook at the surroundings for any lighting interferenceTurn your camera on and change the shooting mode to remote shutter releaseUse the camera settings detailed below

Camera Settings

The camera settings depend on the effect you wish to achieve. There are two terms you should consider – soft-focus and hard-focus. A soft-focus uses a large aperture so that only a small portion of the object is in focus.

Alternatively, a hard focus uses a smaller aperture so that the whole object is in focus. Which you choose depends on what effect you wish to create. Regardless, the following settings are ideal:

Soft-focus

Camera mode: Aperture PriorityISO: 100Aperture: between f/4 – f/2.0

Hard-focus

Camera mode: Aperture PriorityISO: 100Aperture: between f/11 – f/8

I have demonstrated the difference between apertures in these two images below. The first image was taken at f/11 – the whole elephant plus some of the background is in focus. In contrast, the second photo was taken at f/2.0 – as you can see, only parts of the elephant are in focus, and the background is nicely blurred.

You may expect me to recommend manual mode – but there isn’t really any need unless you want to experiment. Aperture priority mode is suitable for macro photography, as the aperture is the main thing you usually want to alter.

Also, because you are using a tripod, you don’t have to worry about shutter speeds – your camera is stable, so letting the camera determine the shutter speed (which is what happens in aperture priority mode) is perfectly ok.

Creative Ideas and Compositions for Indoor Macro Photography

You should now be ready to start your indoor macro photography session! But what do you photograph? There are no interesting flowers or insects in your home, surely there aren’t any subjects worth taking macro photos of?

That could not be further from the truth. Your home, if anything, has more creative opportunities. However, you must use your imagination and think outside the box. Indoor macro photography is all about creativity, pushing boundaries, and producing some unique photos that you normally wouldn’t have the chance to make.

In the sections below, I have provided some inspiration, examples of subjects, and composition tips for indoor macro photography.  

Indoor Macro Photography Subjects

1. Food

To start simple, open your kitchen cupboards, fridge, and freezer. What are they packed full of? Food! Food is one of the best macro photography subjects available. Firstly, you can produce some cool closeup shots of different food items and their textures.

You can also create some interesting close-up shots of bowls of food. In the example below, I simply emptied some dry pasta into a bowl. The wavy lines and shadows were perfect for an artistic macro black and white composition.

2. Clothing & Fabrics

Once you have finished in the kitchen, head to your bedroom. Open up your closet and look at the fantastic range of clothes you have. Pay attention to the different fabrics present.

These textures, colors, and patterns can be used to create beautiful indoor macro photography. You can even produce some cool abstract macro photos where the whole subject isn’t immediately clear. For example, these two shots are of the texture of a cushion and a duvet cover.

3. Ornaments

Unless you live in an ultra-modern house, you probably have an array of ornaments. For example, I have fake flowers in my windows, and I have a study packed full of different travel mementoes.

These simple objects that you would usually overlook can be transformed into interesting indoor macro photography subjects. Be creative! Dust these objects down and use them as focal points for your photography.

4. Money

Coins and notes come in many different shapes and sizes. Items of currency make for excellent indoor macro photography subjects.

You can photograph single coins or banknotes to show their fine details and markings.

Or you can create interesting macro displays showing a handful of coins like the image below. This is such a simple technique – just scatter some coins on a flat surface and photograph their details from different angles and perspectives.

5. Pets

If you have pets… or should I say if you have pets that are well-behaved and will stay still long enough, why not use them for some interesting macro shots? Always respect your pets and do not put them in harm’s way!

Simple indoor macro photography ideas for pets include their eyes and other facial details like whiskers.

6. Water Droplets

Another brilliant technique to try is to photography water drops. This does require a little extra equipment like a pipette, but it is so much fun and produces amazing results.

The premise is simple – slowly drop water droplets into a bowl of water and try to photograph single drops in fine detail. This is one of the instances where shutter priority mode should be used as opposed to aperture priority mode – you must have full control over the shutter speed to capture the water drops sharply.

Indoor Macro Photography Composition Tips

Now that you have some subject ideas, let us finish with some composition tips.

Use a Timed Shutter Release

We have established that using a tripod and remote shutter is important. However, to take this one step further, consider using a timed shutter release/delay.

Your camera should have several time-delay settings. This essentially gives a small delay between the instant you press the remote shutter, to when the camera actually takes the photo. Typical delay settings include 2, 5, and 10 seconds. By setting a delay, you can ensure you are clear of the photo and that the area is completely free of potential disruptions.

Try Abstract Compositions

Abstract photography is where there isn’t a clear subject or purpose. The primary focus or object of the photo is not immediately clear. This is a technique you can use to great effect for indoor macro photography. Forget about conventions and photography rules – let your imagination run wild and experiment.

Create Fun Macro Scenes Using Ornaments

In the below photo, I have created a fun scene using a wooden turtle and some chopped-up carrot. It may seem bizarre, but I feel it creates a fun macro effect. Think outside the box and use the small objects and ornaments in your home to create interesting and fun scenes like this.

Try to Use Natural Light Where Possible

Natural light is limited in your home. Therefore, you may feel that simply turning the lights on is a great alternative. Whilst this does work, the man-made lighting in your home can often cause temperature distortions – your images may look “yellow” for example.

As a result, always try to use natural light if possible. If this means positioning your indoor macro photography set up near a window, then do so. Natural light will help improve the basic quality of your indoor macro photography.

Conclusion

With these tips and tricks, you should be well on your way to capturing some creative indoor macro photography. Be sure to experiment with lots of different things in your house and remember, a tripod is your best friend!

If you have any tips of you own to share or you’d like to show off some of your own indoor macro photography, why not drop us a comment below!