These days I shoot macro handheld, using the focus and recompose technique. I used AF-one shot. I used a Canon 100mm 2.8 on my Canon 550D. My shutter speed was 1/100s, but it was quite frustrating until I get a sharp image.

What is maybe the reason? The Canon 100m has IS, so I could avoid camera shake. According to Canon, having IS on your lens, you can slow down 2-3 stops. So what is possibly the reason? Is it a possible slight movement caused by the focus and recompose technique?


At macro distances wide apertures are difficult to work with. Even with a steady tripod 2.8 may not be enough depth of field. I tried doing this to get an eyeball shot and discovered that there wasn't enough depth of field for anything to appear in sharp focus.

Doing the focus and recompose, with the very shallow depth of field, will adjust your focus. Focus and recompose works in other situations because there should be enough depth of field that your minor movements keeps the subject in focus, but with the depth of field at macro distances and wide apertures that's not the case.

Also, the focus plane is flatter with that lens than others. Most lenses have a curved plane which, albeit slightly, helps with the focus and recompose technique, but with a flatter plane of focus it's slightly more likely to take your subject out of focus. I don't think it's a significant factor, but it's hurting, not helping.

When determining what an adequate shutter speed is, remember the 1/focal length rule (taking into account the 1.6 crop factor of your camera) and that the effectiveness of IS is advertised and may not be what you experience. If you have shaky hands you may need to adjust the rule to be a little faster. Also, I believe this only works for horizontal or vertical movements. If your DoF is so shallow your forward/backward sway may cause issues.

So, use a DoF calculator to determine the aperture you need which then determines the shutter speed you need, which then tells you if you need a tripod or not (I think most people find they need tripods)

  • My movement was horizontal. I didn't change the focusing distance. So the main problem is the shallow depth of field and the focus and recompose?
    – Morpho
    Apr 2 '14 at 15:21
  • @Morpho in the same way that your body moves slightly from side to side you also move forward and backward (especially as you breathe). So if your DoF is very small that forward/backward movement may cause your subject to be out of focus.
    – tenmiles
    Apr 2 '14 at 17:05
  • Thank you, Tenmiles! So there is a forward and backward move, even if I move the camera horizontally?
    – Morpho
    Apr 2 '14 at 17:34
  • You move, and by extension your camera does as well. In normal situations the most noticable movement is the left/right movement that causes the subject to move across the sensor. In normal situations you don't notice the front/back movement because there's enough DoF that your subject stays within it. However, at macro distances the DoF is comparatively very shallow so things change and tolerances become very tight.
    – tenmiles
    Apr 2 '14 at 17:38
  • What do you mean by front/back movements?
    – Morpho
    Apr 2 '14 at 17:51

From my experience working with macro at about 1:1 enlargement, it's practically impossible to shoot handheld reliably - what I have to do is to try more than one shot each time, possibly powered by off-camera flash to help freeze movement of the subject, usually in manual focus.

Many rules fall apart when shooting macro: even f/22 is not enough depth of field, 1/focal_length is not enough to hand-hold, autofocus is not reliable, etc.

Focus and recompose is not feasible too, as a movement of, say, a few millimeters in your position moves the focal plane where it isn't intended.

  • Thank you! So what should I do?
    – Morpho
    Apr 2 '14 at 16:24
  • 5
    Use a tripod. That remains the root of your problem.
    – D. Lambert
    Apr 2 '14 at 18:52
  • In addition to a tripod, consider using flashes as well. Macro distances have very shallow depth of field unless you use a tiny aperture, which means using a high ISO, long shutter speed, or supplementing available light with flash.
    – Icycle
    Apr 26 '14 at 8:10
  • @D.Lambert - you can't use a tripod when your subject is moving.
    – Marco Mp
    Apr 26 '14 at 11:00
  • As examples of macros without tripod (but with flash): Both flickr.com/photos/marcomp/9716600561 and flickr.com/photos/marcomp/8027612482 were all shot hand-held with a reversed 50mm, flash and no unusual interference in the insect life (to say, the insects were not frozen and they were moving, albeit slowly enough to shoot).
    – Marco Mp
    Apr 26 '14 at 11:00

You should realize that when shooting at high subject magnification, the effect of camera shake on image blur is also magnified. Although the lens provides some image stabilization, its effectiveness decreases when shooting near 1:1, to the point where a shutter speed of 1/100s may not be sufficiently fast to avoid blur entirely.

That said, many photographers who shoot at high magnification can successfully do so handheld, provided there is sufficient subject illumination. There are a number of useful tricks that they typically employ: for example, instead of a tripod, they use a monopod or even just a stick against which to lean the camera. This reduces the degrees of freedom of movement and provides just enough stability, while not sacrificing positional flexibility and responsiveness that using a tripod would.

For many types of popular macro subjects, the subject itself is not perfectly motionless: as a result, a tripod and image stabilization are not very useful. Rather, the solution is to use a strobe (i.e., flash). Use the flash to freeze subject and camera movement: this has the benefit of permitting slower f-numbers, increasing depth of field and making critical focus less difficult. Then the real trick is to get the flash source properly positioned for your subject and lens, and to use modifiers to achieve the desired lighting effects. The resourcefulness and variety exhibited in the numerous contraptions that have been devised are almost as diverse as the subjects these photographers shoot.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.