Written by underwater photographer Magnus Lundgren [v. 2014-1]
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Macro photography 

Feedback Why this page? This page Macro fundamentals is an introduction into macro photography underwater. If you are new to this subject or you want to fill in the gaps in your knowledge this guide is a good guide for you. We will also publish more detailed macro guides in the near future like Macro lighting techniques, Macro formula one - Super macro, How to balance you rig for macro photography, The complete guide into macro lenses for underwater use, Close up wide angle and many many more!

Coleman's shrimps © Magnus Lundgren Photography
   Coleman's shrimps © Magnus Lundgren Photography     

Feedback What is macro photography? When you photograph the small and amazing superstars (or sections of larger subjects) of any aquatic environment at close range this is what is traditionally called underwater macro photography. We could even call it close-up photography if that makes more sense to you.

When you as an UW photographer get into the macro and enjoy the environment at a very close-up distance, looking at it through a sharp macro lens, a whole new world is revealed. Suddenly a local dive site gets a brand new charm and not before long you realise that any location hold a good number of macro photography subjects.

Feedback New subjects at old dive sites! As a macro photographer you hardly move at all and because of this you will suddenly see small scenes and models that has been there all the time but easy to overlook. Realising this it is more or less your own imagination that is setting the limits for your macro photography than enything else.


Feedback Crisp images in low vis. Another advantage when doin macro photography is the possibility to make crips images in very low visibilty. So reaching a dive destination where the sea conditions are less favourable than expected then put on the macro lens on, jump in and be happy. Night photography is often the same as macro photography.




1 →  Focus close to the subject

On compact cameras: You simply push the macro icon ,most of the time a flower symbol, on the camera and the you are in macro mode. It is as simple as that. Some compact cameras can focus 1 cm away while others have a closest focus 6 or 7 cm away.
Flatport for macro lens 

DSLR and mirrorless camera users: You put on the sharpest macro lens you can find in combination with a flat port on your underwater housing and then you are ready to go. The most used macro lenses focal length for DSLR users range from around 50 mm up to 105 mm undewater. MLC users most common macro lenses are in the range of 30 mm to 60 mm. The real workhorse DSLR lenses in the underwater world are Canon's and Nikon's 60 mm, Nikon 85 mm and Canon 100 mm and Nikon 105 mm lenses.


2 → Boost your cameras macro mode

Diopter +10 (wet lens, close-up lens)You boost your camera macro mode by adding a diopter (or close-up) lens which works like a magifying glass. These lenses are sometimes called wet macro lenses as the can be attached underwater in front of the flat port of a compact camera housing or straight on some DLSR and MLC flat ports.

The diopters are labeled +5, +7 or +10 depending on how much it magnifies. It is a boost to the macro mode and at the same time it shortens the closest focus on the lenses. For example a good solution for for a 105 mm macro lens used on a DSLR system in low visibilty.

3 → Add quality light

DSLR system

In macro photogaphy added light is a must and it also help you to get a bit deeper "depth of field" in the image. You can add light by using a constant light source like torch but it is much better to use one or two UW strobe/s. We recommend you using strobes as it makes it easier get good colours reproduction on the image at the samt time as you freeze the image and get sharp images.

You need an arm system (and trays compact users) to fix the strobes and light to the housings and with the right arm system the whole camera rig become one unit and you will realise how easy a strobe is to use underwater.


4 → Focus & video light

Light FIX NeoA camera can have a hard time to focus in low light and even in the tropics we find subjects hiding under stones in the shade, or photograph in the late afternoon or at night and it is good to bring help to make your camera's focus to perform even better. You do this by adding a focusing light and this light (if bright enough) can also be used as addtional light when using your cameras video function.

There is a number of focus light on the market and we think power, power settings, colour temerpature, angle of the light beam, burn time, charging time, changable battery and size are important features. Check out focus and video light [here] and if you need support contact us to help you make the right choice.


5 → UW strobe Sea&Sea YS-D1 TTL and well-lit subjects on every exposure

What is TTL? Simply put, the TTL is a name for a strobe mode where the camera automatically dimension the power of the strobes. This TTL works great in macro photography underwater and make every even easier. TTL can be enjoyed through fiber optic cables without any extra equipment. With analog cables a TTL converter have to be involved somewhere between the camera and the strobe. For example Ikelite has a TTL converter built into many of their housings. Sea&Sea have an external converter bought separately. The staff on Exposure Underwater never go anywhere to do macro photograohy without having the TTL possibility in the camera system.


6 → Diving skills

DiverTo be an good macro photographer is also linked to good diving skills. You should always move around slowly, avoid stiring up the bottom and when appropriate lie steady and still on for example a sandy patch. Be a responsible macro diver and take care of the delicate environment around you. Right number of weights and their positioning, bouyancy control, being able so swim backwards, awareness of your surrounding are all important skills in macro photography.

Potential subjects must be evaluated. Some striking subjects will be passed because there is no chance of a good moment or presentation. Some ordinary subjects will be a striking subject because of it fantastic presentation or position. This is something that comes with macro photography experience.


7 → It is all in the image

To go from taking good macro images to master level macro images you need to start thinking about the different elements in an image. When looking at a shot the overall impression is effected by different parts. The day you make you own impression on these parts you start creating your style of images. It is not easy but something good to aim for. Important elements:
Pro level→ Good compostion takes some playing around. To go low, fill the frame, back off, diagonals, shoot from underneath or an arial view point. If you really like a shot analyse the image composition. Most of the time that is one of the major reasons why you like it.
→ Backgrounds enhance or complement your subject and you need time to do this. Do you want water coloured background, black or a blurred and coloured background?
→ Focusing need a lot of practise and when you can place a focus point actively on the rhinophores on that 10 mm nudibranch then something is happening. Practise and find your method. Focus mode in macro etc.
→ Depth of feild (DOF) is a important parameter in the images and it is not only linked to the aperture but also to the focal length of the lens as well as how close you set the focus.
→ Light is along with the subject the main image features. So how do you light the subject? Where are the strobes aimed (side, front or back lighting)? Do I have to worry about backscatter? Do I allow ambient light to come in? Creative lighting in macro is basically like wide angle photography.
Learn more: Join Magnus Lundgren macro photography expeditions or weekend work shops where you are taught all theses skills and get the chance to practise yourself, You get direct and quaiity feed back on your results. If not possible find another workshop possible for you. Learning and knowledge is the key to inspiration and great photography.

8 → Moments and presentation

Photographers get to excited and to often we shoot like cave men because we are so thrilled about what we see. On other times the same photographer are utterly bored and come up with no images at all. Both scenarios should be avoided.

So try to let the camera hang low for a while and watch your subject. What is it doing, will it exhibit any behavior, will there be a moment in the next five minutes? Will a image angle materialize? Try to imagine what the best possible moment to capture will be. Even for a slow moving nudibranch, there is often a best moment.

Magnus note: I take my best images when I am bored. The moment I feel there is nothing more to do on this dive site image wise anymore then I know there is a chance I will do something interesting. That is the time when I push myself out of the comfort zone into the creative mode.


9 → View finders & displays

Viewfinder 45 degreeOn compact and mirrorless cameras the display is the main window where the you see the image your are about to make. The better display the better for you. We need inspiration and a bad displays are just not doing that, at all! One way to shoot macro with a display (live mode) is to zoom in while shooting so you can see a bit better where you are putting the focus. Double check the focus in your images before you are swimming away from an important subject.

For DSLR and some ML cameras a traditional viewfinder is often used even if all of them also have live mode. It is much easier to see where the sharpness is set in a viewfinder compared to a display. Many UW housing manufacturers have in addition to this produced a special magnifying viewfinders, either straight or at a 45 degree angle, that are excellent tools for macro photography. Please check these viewfinders in more detail on our site.


10 → Finding the subjects

The best macro photographers find the coolest subjects and it is not a matter of luck to consistantly find remarkable micro models. You need to do some research about the environment you are visiting, about what subjects you are able to find and where they tend to hang around. Many times half the job is done if you know what they eat or where they hide. Make your own most wanted list.

Local knowledge is always the key to fast success so on location ask around, talk to people, divers and if possible, use a skilled local guide who is specialized in macro subjects. Be a bit picky as bad guide even make a good dive bad but a good guide can take you to another level. This is for sure.



Underwater Supermacro photography


Shooting the really small photo subjects









Many underwater photographers get frustrated attempting underwater supermacro photography. However, for those who persevere and practice, the rewards are great. With the right equipment (diopter or teleconverter), the right conditions (no surge), lots of bottom time, and the right subject (think small!) - supermacro underwater photography can produce extraordinary photographs.




Supermacro with Point and Shoots




Macro photography in compact cameras is accomplished two ways - by purchasing a camera that allows very close focus (2cm or less), or by purchasing macro "wet lenses", which are diopters that allow for closer focusing. Two of these wet lenses are often stacked on top of each other for extreme magnification.




Wet macro lens




The Subsee +5, Dyron +7, and Inon 165AD macro lens, are all popular macro lenses (wet diopter) for compact cameras. Two of these are stacked together, and can be added or removed underwater. These are strong, high quality diopters, and they can also be used with a dSLR. Dyron makes adapter for most compact cameras and some dSLRs, and Reefnet makes the Subsee adapter for most dSLR ports and a couple compact camera ports. You can read more about wet lenses.




dSLR Supermacro Underwater Photography




Macro photography with a dSLR is usually accomplished with a macro lens, which can achieve 1:1 magnification. Canon 60mm, Canon 100mm, oly 50mm, nikon 60mm, and nikon 105mm lenses are examples of these lenses. Cropped sensor dSLR's allow their users to full-frame objects that are 24mm across or less. Full frame dSLR users must use additional teleconverters or diopters to achieve this effect.




If you are a Olympus user, your main choice will be a Oly 50mm F2.0 macro lens with a 1.4x or 2.0x teleconverter.




Super Macro photography - introduction


            Using diopters or teleconverters to achieve greater than 1:1 magnification is called super-macro photography. At this range, DOF is very small, and auto-focus may be hard to achieve. Most photographers will focus in 1 of 3 ways: 1) switch to continuous focus mode, 2) focus at the maximum magnification, switch to manual focus mode, and then "rock" until the subject is in focus, or 3) purchase a focus ring and manually focus using the focus ring. Having the ability to switch between C, M, and S (continuous, manual, single-servo) focus modes via your UW housing is a very nice feature when performing super-macro photography.



diopter teleconverter


Tamron 1.4 teleconverter & Canon 58mm 250D +4 dual-element diopter




Diopters, or Close-up lens




            A diopter, also called a close-up lens, acts like a filter, and screws onto the front of the lens. A diopter allows for greater magnification by shortening the effective focal length of the lens, and reducing the working distance of the lens. The effective focal length of the lens is reduced. Where teleconverters maginify the image the same amount on all lenses, diopters will give different magnification on different focal lengths. So the magnification a diopter gives on a 150mm lens will be greater than that on a 60mm macro lens.




Advantage of using a diopter


  • No loss of light, which means bright viewfinder, no loss of auto-focus




  • You lose the ability to get infinity focus, resulting in a reduced focal range. The stronger the diopter, the more the focal range is reduced.




Wet Diopters - Woody's, Macromate, Subsee, Dyron




            "Woody's diopter", the "macromate", the Dyron Double Macro M77, and the "subsee"  are wet diopters that can be placed over a port, that will allow for increased magnification by reducing the minimum working distance. The macromate and the Subsee are stronger diopters, but much more expensive. Woody's diopter can increase magnification up to 25%, where the macromate (+8) & subsee (+10) can increase magnification up to 100% & 125% respectively on a 105mm lens. These figures will be different on other focal lengths, as I discussed above.




Please note that when using a wet diopter, it's important that the camera lens is as close as possible to the port, to reduce the amount of air between the camera lens and the wet diopter. These diopters are best used with a 90mm focal length or longer, otherwise you will be focusing too close to your port. Still, some people do use a Woody's diopter with a 60mm lens.




A big advantage of a wet diopter is that is can be removed during the dive, so you don't have to shoot only supermacro on that dive.






Dyron +7 Lens:   




You can read my review of the SubSee adapter and diopter.




Learn about shooting super macro with stacked diopters.




supermacro underwater photography by keri wilk


Blenny, uncropped, with SubSee wet diopter. Photo by Keri Wilk. The depth of field in this shot is very small, so it took several shots to get the eyes in focus. The blenny was in a tube, so to prevent the background from being illuminted, the strobes were at the side pointed slightly towards the camera housing. D300, 105mm lens with SubSee, dual Ike-125s without diffusers.




spanish shawl nudibranch, super-macro underwater photography


Nudibranch Rhinophores, Nikon D300, 105mm lens+subsee diopter. F25, 1/250th, ISO 200, Channel islands, USA




"Dry" diopters




            A high-quality diopter such as the Nikon 5T/6T, which are no longer made, or a Canon 500D/250D is a small lens that is screwed onto the end of a macro lens. This will allow increased magnification by reducing the minimum working distance. There is very little image degradation with these high-quality diopters. These diopters are called "dual element" or achromatic diopters. B&W, hoya and tiffen also make cheaper diopters, but you may see some loss of IQ with these diopters.




            The disadvantage of "dry" diopters is that the diopter must be used for the entire dive, and the lens will no longer focus at longer distances. Only small subjects will be able to be shot during the dive. A port extension may be needed to prevent the diopter from hitting the glass of the port.




            Try to get a diopter called “two element” or “achromatic” like the Nikon or Canon versions, they are better quality than the one element diopters. Remember, when searching on-line, they are sometimes under “close-up lens”.




Diopter strength, and possible magnification over 1:1 on a 100mm lens




  • Canon 500d       +2       20-30%
  • Nikon 4t, 6t       +3        30-40% (discontinued and not easy to find)
  • Canon 250d       +4       40-50%




Cheaper, single-element diopters can introduce chromatic aberrations, which can be corrected in photoshop or some RAW editors.




garibaldi eggs, southern california


Garibaldi eggs, 105mm lens with Canon 250D diopter, F18




supermacro underwater photo, conch eyes


Conch eyes, Anilao, Phillipines, photo by jeff de guzman. f22, 1/160th, ISO 100, Canon 400D, +2 dry diopter, woody's wet diopter








            A teleconverter acts like a magnifier, and is placed in between a lens and the camera body. It magnified whatever lens is placed on it. More precisely, a teleconverter enlarges the center portion of the image until it fills the frame.




            A 1.4x teleconverter magnifies all images by 40%, a 1.7x teleconverter by 70%, and a 2.0 teleconverter by 100%. The disadvantage is loss of light and loss of image quality. With a 1.4x teleconverter, you loose 1 stop of light. With a 2x, you lose 2 stops. To avoid image degradation, only use a teleconverter on a prime lens. There will be no noticeable loss of sharpness with a 1.4x teleconverter and a F2.8 lens. A larger port or port extension will be needed to accommodate the teleconverter. Not all teleconverters will allow you to autofocus, so do your research.






Example: Nikon 60mm lens + Kenko/Tamron 1.4x teleconverter




colmani shrimp underwater supermacro


Colemani shrimp, shot with a 60mm lens + 1.4x teleconverter. F20, 1/320th




nudibranch gills supermacro


Nudibranch gills, nikon 105mm + 1.4x teleconverter. This is a good combo when you want to shoot very skittish subjects, and also do some supermacro. F14, 1/320th, ISO 250




I often use a tamron 1.4x tele with my Nikon 60mm lens, housed in a 105mm macro port. Maximum magnification is 40% greater than 1:1. The lens acts like an 85mm lens, which is perfect for smaller fish, and at maximum magnification has the same working distance as my 60mm. Autofocus works perfectly fine with this setup, although it auto-focus gets a little difficult at maximum magnification if you don't have a bright focus light.




Note: using a “dry” diopter or a teleconverter will make you need an extension ring if you don’t have enough room in your port.




Which brand teleconverter?




You can get either the Tamron SP AF (make sure it's the SP AF, not the standard) or the Kenko Teleplus 300 Pro. Both are exactly the same, made by the same manufacturer, simply rebranded and colored differently.




Teleconverter pros & cons




  • Pros - entire focal range of a lens is useable
  • Con - loss of light, therefore slightly dimmer viewfinder, auto-focus doesn't work as well. with a 1.4x tele, you lose 1 stop of light. 1.7x, 1 1/2 stops. 2x teleconverter, you loose 2 stops of light.


  • Cons - teleconverters magnify all defects of a lens (noise, artifacts, lack of sharpness, etc.), so they must be used on a high-quality lens that has better resolution than your sensor; you will lose some resolution and contrast with a 1.4x teleconverter. You'll also lose some auto-focus speed, especially on a 100-105mm lens, it can get quite noticeable in water that is not bright.
  • note - in general you should use teleconverters on prime lenses, not on zoom lenses. 


  • On a prime lens, you shouldn't notice any loss of IQ with a 1.4x teleconverter. You might notice a small loss of IQ with a 2x teleconverter.




supermacro underwater photography with 2x teleconverter


Goby on a coral, D2x, 105mm lens + 2x teleconverter at F29. Photo by Rand McMeins.




Extension tubes




            I don't recommend using these, I think it is better to use a diopter or teleconverter. The extension tubes will make your port needs much longer, and you have to deal with loss of light. However, to use a teleconverter on the Canon EF-S 60mm lens, you need to use the Canon 12mm extension tube.




Supermacro Photography recommendations and tips:




Supermacro photography is when you take a photograph at greater than 1:1 magnification. One definition is if you are taking a photo that is less than 24mm across, you are shooting supermacro.




Best choices for supermacro with a dSLR:




- Use a cropped sensor dSLR


- Use one of the following combinations:


  • Olympus 50mm or Nikon/Canon 60mm macro lens
  • I recommend a teleconverter. I suggest starting off with a 1.4x teleconverter, although some people try the 2.0x. The Canon EF-S 60mm lens will not autofocus with a teleconverter. It will work if you place a 12mm extension tube in between the 60mm lens and the teleconverter, but use a good focus light to help with the auto-focus, you loose a little more light because of the extension tube making auto-focus even more difficult.






100 or 105mm macro lens (or longer focal length)


I recommend a wet or dry diopter (or combination of the two). A 100/105mm lens with a +2 dry diopter and a Woody's wet diopter is a combination that works well. You can also go for a stronger wet diopter (mentioned above) if your budget allows, which will give additional magnification.


Here's some basic information on comparing shooting a 60mm with a 105mm lens.




See the diopters section above for wet & dry diopter choices.




I do not recommend using a 50mm or 60mm lens with a diopter, unless it's only a +2. The working distance is very small, the subject will be very close to your lens port. This will make lighting difficult, it will scare the subject and make it difficult to get a correct composition.




Some people also have combined teleconverters and diopters for increased magnification. Make sure your port is long enough.




Supermacro with a micro-four thirds camera


There are 2 macro lenses available - the Panasonic 45mm macro, and the Olympus 60mm macro lens. I would use a wet +5 or +7 diopter with the Olympus 60mm macro lens, for great photos of really tiny subjects! The 60mm macro will give you a little more working distance than the 45mm macro.




SuperMacro Underwater Photography Advice




Before you go out and start buying all these diopters and teleconverters, make sure you have lots of practice taking photos at 1:1 magnification. Supermacro can be very difficult, and first you should take some photos at the maximum magnification of your lens, to see if that is magnification enough.




For your first time, you can try focuses the lens to its closest focusing distance, that turning off the autofocus on the lens. For the entire dive, you can rock back and forth to get in focus. This will ensure all of your shots are at the maximum magnification of your macro lens.




When shooting supermacro, you are often shooting at very small apertures, such as F22-F32. You may need to bring your strobes closer to your subject to get sufficient strobe power to light the subject at these small apertures.




Depth of Field




Some of us learn in landscape photography that the depth of field lies one third in front of the focus point, and 2/3 behind. That is only true in certain cases. In macro photography, the depth of field lies equally in front and behind the focus point. In supermacro, the depth of field will be very small, so choose your focal point carefully, and use at least F16, even for a flat object. Some people shoot at F36, F40, or F57. If you are worried about diffraction, see my diffraction test results.




Lighting and Focusing Tips




  • When doing any kind of photography close to 1:1, there is loss of light due to the lens elements being moved further away from the camera sensor. Because of this, the viewfinder will be slightly dimmer, so use a good focus light if possible.
  • Many TTL systems will underexpose when doing underwater supermacro photography, so make the appropriate adjustments, or switch to manual strobe power.
  • Lighting can be difficult, for even front lighting I suggest moving your strobes close in directly against your ports, pointing straight ahead. Here are some strobe position examples. To bring out detail in the subject, use side-lighting by pointing your strobes inward toward your port.


Tiny frogfish taken in Anilao, Philippines. Sidelighting helped to bring out the detail in the frogfish. 




Composition Tips




You can find some supermacro composition tips here under underwater supermacro composition.


Here's a great article on "face-on" underwater macro composition.



Feedback Your valued feedback

We are here to help you get the right stuff along with you on your trips and we hope you find our guide above useful. If you have suggestions on missing information please do not hesitate to mail us