By Fiona Ayerst

Images by Fiona Ayerst

Are you a macro fanatic, but just don’t have the know-how? Fiona Ayerst provides five easy steps to achieving outstanding macro shots.

Macro is life size reproduction (or greater). This article is divided into five steps for compact camera users and five steps for DSLR users.


    • Most compact cameras have a macro mode (designated by the flower symbol) which reconfigures the zoom mechanism in the camera to allow closer focus. No additional items are needed to shoot macro with these cameras. In fact, these cameras are wonderful for macro work, because you can (carefully) squeeze them into small spaces that massive DSLRs cannot venture.
    • If your housing allows it, it is a good idea to investigate and buy clip-on lenses or extension tubes to enable you to either get closer or get a larger reproduction of the critter you are shooting.
    • If you cannot afford strobes, then use custom white balancing to add some colour into your photos and try to shoot in clean and shallow locations. A red filter can really help if you are deeper than 8m, while still being shallower than 20m.
    • If you can afford strobes, then make sure you invest in good oscillating arms to give you full control over where you want the light to be coming from.
    • Use manual settings on your camera. For a worst-case scenario (if you can’t access the manual settings) use aperture or shutter priority. Programme and auto modes do not work underwater.


      • With a DSLR, I recommend you start with a 60mm macro lens and a suitable port. The short focal length of this lens will afford you great depth of field. The 100mm or 105mm is a great lens, but more difficult to use due to its narrower angle, so rather move onto those when you are more advanced.
      • If you have a cropped sensor camera and the old style FX 60mm lens, then you get a crop factor and your focal length is around 85mm, which is brilliant for even very tiny subjects.
      • Invest in a good focus light that is not part of your strobes. I like to have one mounted to the hot-shoe on the top of my housing.
      • Unless you are trying to achieve a shallow depth of field, work at an aperture range of around f18 to f22. Remember that most strobes synchronise only up to 1/250 seconds.
      • Try to learn the behaviour of your subject and then depict this in your composition, i.e. the longnose hawkfish is a hungry, dart-like critter, so portrait aspect shots using strong diagonal lines and opposing colours work well to describe its character.

    Fiona Ayerst lives in Mossel Bay, South Africa and teaches underwater photography there and also in various centres around the country and the world. See the website ( for more information on her courses.