What is the difference between micro and macro photography?

The prefixes “macro” and “micro” are opposites, so it can be a bit confusing that in the context of photography, they refer to almost the same thing. “Macro” means big and “micro” means small, but in photography, they both refer to making small things look bigger. It is simply a matter of scale.

There are three related terms that exist along a spectrum: close-up photography, macro photography, and micro photography.

Close-up Photography

Closeup photograph of an orchid taken with a smartphone
Closeup photograph of an orchid taken with a smartphone

Close-up photography is exactly what it sounds like: photographs that show something close up, such that a small object fills the frame. Close-up shots can be taken with any camera, without the need for a special lens.

Macro Photography

Macro photograph of the same orchid taken with a smartphone and macro lens
Macro photograph of the same orchid taken with a smartphone and macro lens

Macro photography is extreme close-up photography that generally requires a special lens. An ordinary camera, whether it is a professional camera or a smartphone, cannot focus on a subject in extreme close-up without a macro lens. A common rule of thumb is that macro photography reproduces the subject on at least a 1:1 scale, so that the image is life size or larger.

Micro photography

Micro photograph of an orchid petal taken with a smartphone and microscope lens attachment
Micro photograph of an orchid petal taken with a smartphone and microscope lens attachment

Micro photography, which is also referred to as photomicrography, photomicroscopy, or microscopic photography, is at the extreme end of the spectrum, and involves capturing images of things that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Many of the techniques and products discussed on this site may be described as macro or micro, depending on the scale of magnification.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s