Adventures in iPhone photography from tap tap tap, the creators of… Camera + MagiCam Filters

How To Shoot Close-Up and Macro Photography With Your iPhone

November 21, 2014 by 31 Comments

About Jack Hollingsworth

Jack Hollingsworth, a denizen of Austin, TX, is an award-winning, 30-year career veteran in commercial photography. Jack has fallen in love with his iPhone camera as his primary capture tool. He is also an avid Camera+ devotee and has been since day one. He deeply believes that, when all is said and done, the iPhone may just be remembered as the most influential capture device ever in the history of photography.



Today’s blog post and video is about how to shoot close-up and macro photography.

Defining the Terms

I know to many of you reading this post that it might sound like I’m splitting hairs but I always like to differentiate between these terms:

Close-Up Photography
I like to think of close-up photography as getting as close as you can (with your iPhone camera) to the subject you are shooting without using any special 3rd party lens attachments or special shooting apps.

Macro Photography
On the other hand, macro photography is when the size of the photograph (projected on the sensor via the lens) is equal to or greater than the actual subject, like in these illustrations:

1.0 defining the terms

How Close Can You Get With the iPhone Camera?

For the most part, depending on what model iPhone you own, the magic distance for holding focus is roughly 3-4 inches (from subject to lens). This is surprisingly close for many subjects that have enough detail to be interesting to shoot…like flowers, coins, feathers, yarn, crystals, stuff in your junk drawer, etc.

Here is a gallery of flowers I shot without doing anything special other than getting about 3-4 inches away. So simple and so beautiful:

2.0 how close can you get

Focus is Critical in Macro

You have heard me say many times here that focus is a critical part of the photographic process. This is especially true in macro. The closer you get, the more careful and critical your focusing skills become. In macro photography, if you miss your focus point, even slightly, it could very well mean the difference between being a master or a disaster. Because focus plays such a huge part in the close-up and macro experience, my suggestion is to manually focus. In other words, take the camera off auto focus. Manual focus gives you so much more ‘fine tuning’ control than you would get if you shot the same subject in auto mode.

Camera+ has, without a doubt, the best and most intuitive manual focus control wheel. Hats off to the team at tap tap tap!

3 Focus is Critical in Macro (Option)

Macro Shooting Mode in Camera+ 6

You are going to absolutely love the new ‘macro shooting mode’ that is part of the new Camera+ 6 launch. It is a simple ‘one touch’ activation on the control bar. Once you’re in the ‘macro shooting mode’ you will be close to your subject, and I mean REAL close. Look at this gallery of reptiles and insects I shot using Camera+ 6 – all in macro shooting mode. If 3-4” just isn’t close enough…then have fun and treat yourself to some macro magic!

4.0 macro shooting mode

Exposing for Macro

As a general photography rule, the closer you get to your subject, the more light your camera is going to need to properly expose for that same subject. While auto exposure does a pretty decent job, I prefer to shoot in ‘manual exposure’. Additionally, I like to slightly ‘overexpose’ and make my close-up and macro photography a bit brighter. This way I can control my exposure points. Having the ability to ‘overexpose’ or ‘underexpose’ (called exposure compensation) is so easy to do in the new Camera+ 6. You simply swipe the wheel to darken or lighten – so easy and so intuitive!

How Exposure Works

We talk a lot on this blog about how exposure is a personal choice. There is no ‘perfect’ exposure. It’s a matter of taste. But when it comes to macro and shooting at high magnification (from 2x to 21x), you generally are going to need some added light so don’t be hesitant to overexpose.

Background is So Important

One of my very favorite accessories for shooting close-up and macro photography is fromModahaus. They have a wide range of tabletop products – all designed for smartphones, tablets and phablets. I especially like the clear, white backdrops and stands because it makes the color in close-up and macro really pop.

How Exposure Works

Taking Your Macro to the Next Level

Okay, let’s talk about getting really close – macro close. You want to take this to the next level. So what do you do? Simple – you buy a 3rd party attachment lens that allows you to get crazy close. One of my favorites is the Olloclip 3 in 1. What I especially love about it is that it gives you 3 lenses in one package – 7x, 14x, and 21x.

How Exposure Works

Like I mentioned earlier, holding strict focus points at high magnifications is a challenge. If you don’t mind the ‘edge fall off’ or ‘pincushion focus’ effect, then these attachment lenses will be fun for you to explore the world of macro.

Accessories for the Mobile Macro Photographer

Here are some tried and true accessories for your very own macro kit:

Olloclip 3 in 1

How Exposure Works

Manfrotto Pixi Mini Tabletop Tripod

This Italian made tabletop tripod is a real beauty.
(Note: I always use a tripod when shooting tabletop close-up and macro)

How Exposure Works

MeFoto Tripod and Sidekick 360

This MeFoto tripod is a staple in my location kit. I never leave home without it…period – macro or otherwise. The Sidekick 360 is what I use to attach my iPhone to the MeFoto tripod. It’s fantastic!

How Exposure Works

iStabilizer Shutter Remote

Avoiding touching the camera at all will minimize movement and blur – use a remote trigger.

How Exposure Works

Apple EarPods

Did you know that you could use the EarPods that come with your iPhone as a remote trigger? Now you do!

How Exposure Works

The Fun is in the Details

As I alluded to earlier, we, as photographers, are not naturally trained to get close to our subjects, but with a little practice, you’ll be a close-up and macro pro in no time at all.

Spend a day shooting everything at 3-4”. Get used to seeing subjects close-up. Then maybe play around with the new Camera+ 6 macro shooting mode for an even closer look. After that, if want to get closer even still, try your hand at a 3rd party attachment lens and see the world really magnified.

Once you catch the close-up and macro bug, you’ll be hooked for a lifetime. It’s all about the details. It is a small word after all!

9.0 fun is in the details

31 Comments

  1. Deviating from the subject. I noticed with some photographs when you use the enhancement feature of the stock iOS 8 photo editor (the magic wand icon located on the upper right), there are white elements appearing on the edited photo. You can only see them if you zoom in the image. Meanwhile, turning it off, those white artifacts disappear. Any ideas?

  2. Thanks for the tips. Great article and even more amazing pictures. The iPhone 6 is a wonder, but it becomes a real tool in the hands of a professional.

  3. Thank you for taking my call . I buy and sell coins and have troubles taking good detailed pictures due to reflectios from the types of metals. Any thoughts?

    Thank you .
    Demnnis

  4. I was excited about these great apps until I read the reviews…customers are not happy and I would be using this on my iPad Air 2, in which the app seems to be crashing for many. I may buy later if the developers can get the app working to a positive standard. Let me know when the app is updated and working for the iPad Air 2. Thanks

  5. It’s a shame the app, if according to what you are saying, only works macro for the iPhone 6. I’ve got an iPhone 4, and cannot upgrade at this point. I’ve done some nice work with the Olloclip, but sure would like to open up more opportunity with what I already have! Stunning work, btw. I like it!

  6. We are working hard on a brand new update for the iPad. So a little more patience and you’ll be rewarded:)

  7. I am really inspired by your article especially as I have been wanting to do macro photography for a while. I am new to iPhoneography and if only I could get my hands on an iPhone 6 here in Hong Kong. I was thinking of buying a secondhand 5s in desperation as I only have a very old smartphone but now I think I will just have to wait.

  8. start saving some money for a new iPhone 6. you will be blown away with the quality of the camera. it’s really, really good and a big difference from all the other models.

  9. Rob, thanks so much for the words of support. I/we never tire of hearing that our photos are resonating with others. Camera+ is such a powerful camera app and capable of great stuff in the right nands!

  10. Dennis, sorry about the miscue here. I use a table-top reflection system called http://www.modahaus.com/ They have a lot of really cool “tents” that you can use specifically for shooting shiny objects. These “tents” help to reduce glare and reflection. Check them out. They should have something that fits your budget. I am a big fan of the “Steady Stands”. Good luck

  11. The Camera+ team is working as they fast as they can on updates. Stand by hear for news on when an iPad update will be ready. Like you, i also am looking forward to this. As i see more and more people shooting and processing with their iPads. Thanks again for your support.

  12. Nice video and very good information. I’ll get the Olloclip for iPhone 6 Plus to start experimenting. Thanks for sharing!

  13. The olloclip may offer the strongest macro at 21x, but the poor design for iphone 6 & 6+ makes it clunky. Who’s taking macro selfies with the front facing camera? The olloclip is also the most expensive option on the market and the least cleanable. Dust that gets on the inside of the lens is near impossible to remove. Many other add-on lens options are better, cheaper, and offer from 2.5x-20x. Informing people about olloclip without mentioning their drawbacks isn’t helpful. On another note, why does pro mode always crash your app on my iphone 6+ on the third photo? I find it highly ironic that your company is called taptaptap when your camera+ app always crashes on the third tap. With macrophotography on iphone it’s crucial for pictures to be taken in the highest resolution at the fastest speed. When in pro mode, I’m forced to take pictures at such a slow speed, it makes capturing the subject in focus near impossible. Unless I’m photographing an inanimate object, using a tripod is ridiculous too. I appreciate that your app is the best out there, don’t get me wrong, but your help is really misleading and can cost consumers as much as a 2nd iphone. Maybe you should ask your customers how they do photomacrography before offering advice. It’s not at all like using a Nikon. Thanks.

  14. Sorry, I thought this was a blog by a person at Camera+, not a blog from a photographer. I still mean what I say though. There are many better options than what you think, and taking the time to search the internet for them is worth the time. The whole point to taking iphone photos is that they are fast, versitile, and cheap. Spending a ton on equipment isn’t what this is about. It’s about taking hand-held photos in the field. It’s about getting better angles in tighter spaces. And it’s about sharing those photos with others by uploading them anywhere you want quickly and easily.

  15. Thank you, Eddie for giving me a reason to live! This may sound a little extreme but allow me to explain! I love to take photos; however, rheumatoid arthritis had taken that joy away from me. With the iPods and other third-party attachments, I can now take photos without worrying about shaking hands and head! Your tips have helped me to get “closer” to becoming professional and I am ready to get up and start living life again. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

  16. Hey, Jack.

    Perfect presentation here, sir. I like the soundtrack you attached to this presentation. What is it, the sound track?

    Kindest Regards,

    Emmanuel

  17. Thanks for the great article. I bought the Camera+ app and immediately tried out the macro mode. It works great. While it doesn’t focus any closer than the iPhone lens, it does seem to be zooming in somehow. In other words it is going from a wide angle to telephoto which is a much better look for macro.

    Are they using some sort of digital zoom? Normally you would never consider using digital zoom but the pictures look really good. Would the image quality be better if I got the Olloclip macro instead of using the Camera+ Macro mode?

    Also it seems the macro feature is not just for close ups. Unlike the third party macro lenses, the Camera+ macro mode will focus at infinity, with the benefit of a zoomed-in, telephoto look.

  18. I’ve been trying the Camera+ “macro” mode on my iPhone 4s. It doesn’t let you get physically closer to the subject, but displays a zoomed-in image which makes it seem like you’re getting closer than with the stock Camera app. Since the phone doesn’t have a telephoto lens this is accomplished with 2X digital zoom, which should result in a 2MP image versus the usual 8MP image.

    However, when I downloaded the image shot in “macro” mode, it was a full 8MP like the non-macro image. This suggests that the Camera+ app is doing a digital zoom and then up-sampling the image. I would expect the resulting image to show blocky artifacts at full magnification, but it appears that Camera+ is doing additional smoothing/sharpening to prevent this.

    So I think you can get the same results with the stock Camera app by cropping the (non-“macro”) image, upsampling, and smoothing. But the Camera+ implementation is pretty well done.

  19. I worked for 25 years as a photographer in a hospital. I needed to shoot the inside of a pacemaker they were using at our facility. I discovered a square piece of glass set at 45 degree angle to the subject provided a “bounce” from a light to the side. You shoot thru the glass! Remember to turn the room lights off to minimize stray glare on the glass. Coins would benefit from skim light to show the relief stamped into the coin. A

  20. Great video. I have a better understanding of shooting with Camera+ and I’m inspired with the macro shooting. Thanks….

  21. Macro shots can be taken with an iPhone 6 by simply zooming in, now with magnification I can see the iPhone and an accessory really beating a lot of competition. Try it, you’ll like it!

  22. Hi! I love all the possibilities of your app but i have one big problem. I am shooting jewelry with a tabletop white tent and lights and when i look at my iphone screen and took my photo everything looks perfect. Perhaps, when i go in my lightbox, all the photos i took are like blue or green with a lot of contrast. There not even close to what i saw in my screen when i took the photo. Please help!!!

  23. WOW! A record of 57 is brilliant and you came so close this week with 55. I love this link up even when I can't participate. Must be time for hubby to take me for another country drive :)Sorry to hear about the shootings. it's so tragic! All families concerned need desperate prayer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *