When to Use Macro in Snorkeling Photography

Cameras like the Olympus TG Series are fantastic options for snorkeling enthusiasts. They are compact, affordable, and come loaded with many easy-to-use functions that let us snorkelers capture the beauty of the underwater world in all of its colorful glory. One of those settings is the macro function. If used correctly, the macro function on our TG cameras can capture sharp and colorful images of tiny subjects like nudibranchs and Christmas tree worms, subjects that would otherwise be too small to photograph with a normal camera lens. However, when the macro function is misused it can only cause frustration as your images will likely appear blurry.

Before I get into how to use the macro mode correctly, let’s talk quickly about what macro is in relation to photography, as I believe there’s a bit of a misunderstanding. In photography, the word macro only relates to the lens being used, in this case, a macro lens. In the world of interchangeable lenses, you can have two lenses with the same focal length, 100mm let’s say, but one can be a telephoto lens while the other can be a macro lens. They have the same focal length but are used for different purposes. The difference between a macro lens and your normal zoom or prime lens is that a macro lens allows you to get very close to your subject while still maintaining a sharp focus. If I was to take a 100mm telephoto lens and try to photograph a ladybug in my backyard from six inches away to so, the camera would not be able to focus on the ladybug. If I took the 100mm macro lens I could get as close as 4-6 inches from the subject while still getting a nice sharp focus on the ladybugs.

Basically, when we switch our cameras into the macro mode it just means that our camera lens is now calibrated to photograph things that are much closer to it. The macro mode on any camera should only be used when we are photographing subjects that are very close to us. Macro mode has nothing to do with the actual subject you are photographing. Many people seem to think that just because they are photographing “macro subjects”, like nudibranchs, tunicates, or small reef fish, they need to switch their camera into macro mode even though they are photographing these “macro subjects” from a meter away. If you can’t physically get within several inches of your intended subject, you shouldn’t be using the macro mode, regardless of what it is you are photographing.

A Few Quick Macro Tips

  • First, get as close as possible.
  • Turn your flash on and set it to “Fill Flash”. If you are within 6 inches of your subject your last can illuminate whatever it is you’re photographing while also helping make the image sharper.
  • Shoot laterally as opposed to straight down on your subject. This will help separate your subject from the ‘clutter’  of the reef while also providing depth to the image.
  • Look for abstract details and textures. In many cases, the best images are not of specific fish, but of the abstract details of the corals.

    Taken with an Olympus TG-6

About Author

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Alex Lindbloom
Alex is a Snorkel Venture and Dive Safari Asia guide as well as the video and photo pros for both companies. Alex is also a field editor for a popular underwater photography magazine. Prior to joining Snorkel Venture in 2018 Alex lived and worked all over the world working as an underwater cameraman, with five of those years living/working on a yacht in Indonesia. Alex's images and videos have garnered many international awards such as Underwater Photographer of the Year and can be seen on NatGeo, Discovery Channel, the UN Building, and various magazines.