What is Macro Photography, and How Does it Work on a Smartphone?

What is Macro Photography, and How Does it Work on a Smartphone?

In 2022, every flagship phone on the market comes with a host of impressive camera tech, from advanced hardware to intelligent shooting modes and everything in between. One increasingly sought-after feature is macro photography – usually made possible by the inclusion of a macro lens in the camera system itself, or by affixing an additional purpose-built lens to the exterior of the phone.

We unpack the definition of macro photography, some of the terminology which surrounds it, and how to achieve it on a smartphone in more detail below.

What is macro photography?

To put it simply, macro photography entails capturing super close-up images of tiny subjects. Common examples you might see often include subjects within the natural world, like the antennae on an insect, a raindrop on a leaf or the whorls of a fingerprint.


By its strictest definition, the subject of a macro image is photographed with a magnification of 1:1, so it appears true-to-size in the photo. But on a smartphone, this definition has expanded to include close-up photography more generally, provided it’s not achieved using optical or digital zoom.


The term ‘magnification’ crops up a lot in the field of macro photography, so it’s worth familiarising yourself with this concept. Magnification is effectively the metric that measures how big or small your subject appears – so while 1:1 is life size, 1:2 is exactly half as big as that. As your subject gets smaller, so does the magnification, until you reach around 1:10 – which would no longer be considered a macro image.


Some advanced specialist cameras can take magnification up to extremes like 4:1 or even 5:1, where the subject appears five times as large as it is in real life, but this isn’t possible on a smartphone.

Working Distance

While magnification refers to the size of the subject on screen, working distance is the size of the gap between your subject and the surface of your lens. The working distance of a single shot might vary in line with the type of photo you’d like to take, as well as the specific lens you’re using.


For example, many mirror-less and DSLR cameras have a recommended working distance of approximately 6cm, whereas macro photography on a smartphone operates slightly differently. Released in 2021, iPhone 13 Pro is one of the best macro camera phones in the industry, equipped with an ultra-wide camera which can focus from a working distance of 2cm. Similarly, the Honor 50 features a dedicated 2MP macro lens, giving you the freedom to experiment and find an optimal working distance for each image.

How to take macro photographs on a smartphone

With the right smartphone, taking stunning macro photographs is quick and easy. Here are a few tips for professional-grade image quality:

• Firstly, identify your subject. If it’s something changeable like water or an insect, you may only have a fleeting window to capture it.
• Remember not to zoom. Using optical or digital zoom to hone in on a subject can compromise the clarity which is so paramount with a macro image.
• Instead, try experimenting with different working distances by manually altering your proximity to the subject.
• After you’ve lined up your shot, take a handful of photographs, so you’ll have a selection to choose from.


Once you’ve got your images, you can begin the editing process. Many Apple and Android smartphones now come with sophisticated photo editing suites, where you can dial up factors like background blur, add an artistic bokeh effect or simply alter elements such as brightness, saturation and colour balance.

What is macro video?

As you’d expect, macro video is essentially the extension of macro photography into video footage. In a macro film, subjects are recorded up close from just a few centimeters away, and once again nature seems to be the most popular focus for this kind of filmmaking.

Macro video has been possible on high-spec cameras for a long time, but only made the transition to smartphones fairly recently. In fact, the first smartphones capable of taking macro footage were two models in the iPhone 13 series –13 Pro and Pro Max – and this is thanks to the revolutionary chipset powering these two flagships: the A15 Bionic.

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