Maximize Magnification with Tiny Subjects - dummies

By Thomas Clark

The universe seems to provide layers of detail, from the galaxy, to the solar system, to the mountains, to the trees, to the animals, to the insects, and down to the bacteria and cells, to atoms and beyond.

Photography can capture the information provided at those various layers. How far down on the scale you wish to show in an image determines the type of equipment you’ll need. Remember, a macro lens provides an image in which the subject is life-size (1:1) on the camera’s digital sensor.

There are also ways to create images with ratios of 2:1 and greater, for those subjects that have very fine details and require more than a life-size representation to be seen clearly.


Your camera’s digital sensor is quite small compared to a human subject, but it’s rather large compared to most ants. This means an ant will appear small in a photograph, even when you use a 1:1 macro ratio to capture the image. The smaller a subject is in relation to the size of your digital sensor, the more magnification you need to show its details.

An ordinary macro photograph of a tiny subject (like the image on the left in this photograph) provides a clear representation of the subject’s shape and gives viewers an idea what the subject looks like. But the detail provided in a macro photograph with twice the magnification reveals textures and features that were unclear before (right).


100mm, 1/250, f/4, 800        100mm, 1/250, f/4, 800

You might think that cropping into an image in postproduction is a suitable option for drawing a viewer’s attention to specific details, but this isn’t the case with tiny subjects.

Your images contain much more clear information about a subject when you photograph them with a greater magnification than when you crop into them. Notice the difference in these photographs: the first image was photographed with a 1:1 ratio and cropped; the second image was photographed with a 2:1 ratio.


Cropping into a photograph diminishes its resolution and so makes the details less clear. Photograph the details you want at an appropriate level of magnification to ensure the image has high-quality resolution.

100mm, 1/60, f/16, 800        100mm, 1/60, f/16, 800

Depending on your equipment, you have various options for achieving the levels of magnification that tiny subjects require. Learn which lenses, magnification accessories, tools, and settings you need to create macro and close-up photography, and specifically how to use those things to achieve the level of magnification needed for tiny subjects.