Post & Photo by Joe Farace – Follow Joe on Twitter

The classic definition of macro photography is that the image projected onto the digital sensor (or film plane) should be the same size as the subject. In other words, an SLR at a 1:1 ratio, an SLR with a full-sized chip should have the ability to produce life-size magnification and focus on an area as small as 24×36 mm. Manufacturers sometimes describe a lens’ close-focusing capabilities as “macro” even if it doesn’t meet that definition. Over time the term “macro” has gradually come to mean being able to focus on a subject close enough so the image is life-size or larger when viewing a 4×6 inch print. If you do the math, this only requires a magnification ratio of approximately 1:4.

Conventional wisdom is that close-up photography requires lots of expensive, specialized equipment. While it’s true you can spend lots of money to make macro shots, you don’t have to break your piggy bank to shoot macro, no matter how you choose to define it. Here’s why…

Most filter and camera manufacturers offer what are sometimes called close-up “filters.” Although not really filters in the traditional sense, they pass the duck test: They look like filters, work like filters and quack like filters, so I’ll call them filters like everybody else. But close-up filters are really supplementary lenses that shorten your camera lens’ close-focusing distance allowing you to get closer to the subject.

Close-up filters, such as the ones used to shoot the above example, are available in different strengths (or diopters) as a set usually includes versions labeled Close-up +1, Close-up +2, and Close-up +4. A diopter is a unit of measurement that’s used to describe the power of a lens and is expressed as the reciprocal of the focal length in meters. Tip: Close-up lenses are double-threaded so they can be used in combination with one another but to get the sharpest results it’s a good idea to place the strongest filter closest to the lens’s front element. For macro shooters on a budget, a complete set of close-up filters in 58mm threads should cost less than $40.

So if you’re trying to save money, buy close-up filters instead of lenses. They might be all you need.

Joe Farace is the author of “Studio Lighting Anywhere” the second book in a trilogy or glamour and portrait photography from Amherst Media. It’s available on


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  1. […] If desired, these could also be supplemented with close-up filters, similar to the compact cameras’ but screw into the filter thread on the front of the lens. They come in different powers of magnification, and can be stacked. Be careful doing this, though, since as you increase the amount of glass in front of the lens, image quality falls through light loss, contrast loss, flare and softening. Nevertheless, they are a logical addition to your “macro” zoom to get in that little bit further. For more information, check out this short Photofocus guest post on close-up filters (although his claims about the changing definition of “macro” seem dubious to me): […]

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