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Macro for Micro?

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If the prefix "macro" means large and "micro" means small, then why will the macro setting of a digital camera help take a better picture of a small object? Do this experiment and get the big picture.


Areas of Science
Time Required
Very Short (≤ 1 day)
Material Availability
Specialty Item: Requires a digital camera and photo editing software
Very Low (under $20)
No issues

Sara Agee, Ph.D., Science Buddies


The objective is to compare different methods of photographing small objects at close range to find the best method for preserving visual information with digital photography.


Close-up photography, also called macro photography, is a technique used to capture tiny details when the subject of your photo is a small object. Macro-photography can reveal hidden textures, colors, patterns, and shapes that cannot be seen by the naked eye and cannot be photographed with a normal camera lens.

Professional photographers use specialized lenses to take close-up macro photos. These lenses are mounted in a very long tube that direct the light towards a very strong, powerful lens inside that creates a microscope-like effect. These lenses create powerful, stunning photos but are very expensive! This can make macro-photography difficult to learn for an amateur photographer on a tight budget.

In this experiment, you can learn how to use new digital camera technology to take stunning close-up photos on the cheap. Investigate which techniques work best for taking photos of a very small subject at a very close range. Which setting will work the best? How will changing the capture mode compare to a post-capture digital zoom? Save your allowance for something else, borrow your parents' digital camera, and start shooting!

Terms and Concepts

To do this type of experiment you should know what the following terms mean. Have an adult help you search the internet, or take you to your local library to find out more!



Materials and Equipment

Experimental Procedure

  1. Learn how to select, switch between and use the Manual, Macro and Digital Macro features of your digital camera. Read the user manual for your camera model and try taking some sample pictures. Follow this close-up photography lesson from the Adobe Digital Kids Club.
  2. Find a suitable object to photograph. Good candidates will be small (about 2-4 cm in size) , have some detail, and be stationary (avoid insects or things that will move around too much). It should also be placed in a well-lit location. Here are some ideas:
    • a small flower
    • buttons
    • a penny, nickel or dime
    • grains of sand or gravel
  3. Set your camera to the "Manual" setting and photograph your object from a distance of approximately 3 feet, so that everything is in focus. Don't worry if your object appears small in the photo, you will zoom in on it later.
  4. Change your camera setting to "Macro", and take a close up of your object.
  5. Change your camera setting to "Digital Macro", and take a close up of your object.
  6. Download the images to your computer and open the images with your photo editing software.
  7. Use the zoom tool to zoom in on your "Manual" image until your object is framed and similar in size to the macro photos.
  8. Use your crop tool to crop the zoomed image so that it resembles the other two images as closely as possible. Make sure that the "Constrain Proportions" option is checked so that the proportions of the image stay the same. Your three photos should be almost the same in terms of composition after this step, even though they may differ in quality.
  9. Print each of your three images on photo quality paper in two different sizes: 5x7 and 8x10.
  10. Compare the photos to each other. Is the object in focus? What about background objects? Is the color realistic? Use a magnifying lens to look closely at the pixels, are they similar in size?
  11. Compare the photos to each other. Is the object in focus? What about background objects? Is the color realistic? Use a magnifying lens to look closely at the pixels, are they similar in size? Do you think it is better to digitally zoom in on a photo captured in manual mode, or to use the macro or digital macro mode when photographing small objects at close range?
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  • You can try zooming in and enlarging a portion of each photo as another way to compare the quality of the image. How many times can you zoom in on each image before the quality of the image deteriorates? Which capture mode preserves the most visual information about your object?
  • Previous digital technologies were nowhere near as good at capturing an image that could be enlarged and would preserve the quality of the image. If you have access to older digital camera models, try comparing captured images by successively magnifying portions of the image in parallel. How many times can each image be magnified before the image is lost?
  • Even though current digital technology is very good, some people think that film is still the best way to preserve visual information. Try capturing the same image on film and having a photo processing facility enlarge the photo for you. If you have access to a dark room, you can even do this yourself. How does the final image compare to the results using digital technology of the past and present?


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General citation information is provided here. Be sure to check the formatting, including capitalization, for the method you are using and update your citation, as needed.

MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "Macro for Micro?" Science Buddies, 20 Nov. 2020, https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Photo_p011/photography-video/macro-for-micro. Accessed 7 June 2023.

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2020, November 20). Macro for Micro? Retrieved from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Photo_p011/photography-video/macro-for-micro

Last edit date: 2020-11-20
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