Reef keeping is an art form and this art can be brought to life when using macro photography to expose the rich and infinite details in coral and other reef tank inhabitants.  The basic premise of macro photography is to achieve high magnification of the subject. The closer the lens is to the subject, the larger that subject will appear in the image. It’s simple in principle but in reality it can be complicated given the different options with lenses and settings on the camera.


Red & Green Scolymia Coral


Lens Choices for Macro Photography

There are a variety of macro lenses available with focal lengths ranging from 50mm to 200mm. The smaller the focal length, the smaller the working distance between the camera’s sensor and the subject. This is important to keep in mind for reef tank photography since the smaller focal length will make it tougher to get close-ups of subject matter in the back of the tank. A focal length on the high end of the scale will give you more versatility in this regard but there is a trade off since magnification decreases as the working distance increases. A 100mm lens is a good compromise and has worked really well for me over the years.


Don’t have the bucks for an expensive macro lens?  Then consider using less expensive extension tubes, which fit between the rear mount of the lens and the camera body. Extension tubes make the lens focus closer and thus increase the magnification. You can even use them with a macro lens to get those ultra close up shots.



Recommended Settings

In regards to settings, I find it beneficial to use the manual or aperture priority modes and select a low aperture (larger f-stop number) to achieve a greater depth of field, where more of the foreground and background will be in focus. Typically I will go with the highest f-stop available. If necessary, you can play around with the ISO by increasing it to get a higher f-stop.


Powder Blue Tang


When focusing for macro photos use manual versus auto focus since a camera’s auto focus sensor will struggle to locate a focal point at such close distances. Focus rails can also come in handy when there is a need to fine tune the focus at very close range, especially when using extension tubes.



Other tips for shooting reef tank macros include using a tripod and turning off the aquarium pumps. It may also be helpful to use the timer since pressing the shutter button can cause the camera to shake even the slightest bit.


Undata Montipora


For more general information on capturing great photos of you tank, please read my Tips on Photographing Reef Tanks.  And you can view more macro images of my tanks by visiting the Photo section of my website.


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If you are looking for additional insights and information, please explore my many other reef tank and SPS related articles as well as my book, A ReefBum’s Guide To Keeping an SPS Reef Tank: A Blueprint For Success. And you can see all of my reef tank videos online now as well as my Live HD Webcam.


Happy reef keeping!