My Macro Photography Setup

I am constantly being asked what gear I use when shooting – what is my macro photography setup for my Nikon camera? And while I am a total Nikon Fangirl, I am not above giving Canon its props.

Actually, I have to admit, these days you can achieve great results with almost any decent digital camera, and I have seen some amazing shots on Instagram with nothing more than an iPhone and a clip on lens.

The problem with the cheaper digital cameras comes when you move from displaying your work on the internet, to actually printing the photos. But even that line is starting to blur as more “starter” cameras ramp up the pixel count and other features.

The following is a photo of how my setup looks. It seems a little intimidating at first, but this setup produces amazing results. Also, if you look at the extreme close-up flash adapters, you may notice I have them on backwards. I use them more as a flash diffuser than for extreme close-up work. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your gear. I am constantly tweaking my setup to get better results.

IMG_7885 (1)

My Camera
I shoot with the Nikon D3X. With 24.5 mp, this beast is perfect for macro work. All those pixels let you crop in super close, which can be important for macro photography. Often the subject takes up a tiny portion of the photo, so you may need to crop to get the details. I realize the price is a bit steep, but for me, it has earned every bit of that $7500.00+ back. It fits my hands perfectly and everything is easily within reach. It is a bit heavy, but you quickly get used to the weight.

You can check it out here at Amazon.

Entry Level Camera
I can understand that the D3X might be too expensive. If your price range is more around $1,000 – like mine was when I started with a DSLR – take a look at the Nikon D7100. Truth be told, it is more about the lenses you are using than the camera body you are shooting with. The D7100 is lighter weight, and it accepts the new WU-1a Wireless Mobile Adapter, which lets you use your mobile device as a wireless remote! It does have a smaller sensor than the D3x, but that can actually be beneficial in macro shooting.

Take a look at the Nikon D7100 here.

Canon Alternative
I’m a Nikon girl. But if you prefer a Canon setup, here is a comparable version. The 70D is in the same neighborhood price wise, and it is also has a smaller sensor and almost as many pixels as the D7100. I really like the flip out screen which makes taking those on the ground (but upsidedown macro shots) MUCH easier.

Here’s a link to the Canon 70D.

My Lens
My primary lens is the Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G ED IF AF-S VR. Almost all of the pictures you see on this site, on my Instagram feed, etc, have been taken with this lens, so you can see what it’s capable of. This lens has done some heavy duty shooting for me and always performs well. While not as sharp around the edges as I would like, I really can’t complain. Pair the 105 with the R1C1 Flash System and you get great results.

Check out the lens.

I have also just purchased the Nikon 200mm f/4.0D ED-IF AF Micro-Nikkor Lens for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras

I cannot wait to get this lens out in the field!

Canon Equivalent Lens
The Canon macro equivalent would be EF 100mm f/2.8 IS Macro USM. I have never used this lens but it reviews well and examples of photos shot with it are admirable. Many of the insect macro photographers I admire use this lens with great results.

Here’s a link to the lens.

Flash System
The R1C1 Flash System has worked pretty well for me. It doesn’t have the output to light up much more than a couple of feet away, but if you are shooting macro, there is really no need. I am actually thinking of purchasing a third flash head to add to the two that come with the set up. My hope is to be able to increase my DOF just a bit more. This lighting system is super versatile and extremely easy to use.

Here’s a link to the R1C1 Flash System.

I am proud to announce Amazon has taken me on as an affiliate.
β€œKarla Thompson is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to”
What this means is if you click through to Amazon via one of my links and make a purchase, they give me a small fee that helps me pay for my website at no extra cost to you. Thanks Amazon!!

42 Responses

  1. hello mam,
    i am new to the photography and wants to exploit my skill in macro photography .
    as i am student so i won’t be able to buy the accessories that you have mentioned.
    so i need your help regarding extension tube like zenko or meike brand for my nikon d5200 .

    waiting for your valuable feedback .

    1. Ok after doing a little research, I would suggest the Kenko extension tubes. Yes, they are more expensive than the Meike, but from the articles I have read, seem to be better quality and produce slightly better results. Happy shooting!!!

  2. Dear Karla,
    I’m a fan of ur photos n always check ur nice shots on insta.
    I really love macro photography (specialy insect shooting) . But I have no idea about the lens. Would u pls do me a favor and suggest a cheap nikon macro lenz for a starter?
    Thank you.

    1. My suggestion to you would be the 50mm Nikkor lens and a set of Meike extension tubes. Remember, you always need to do your research and make sure the lenses, etc. will be compatible with both your camera body AND with each other. Also, a small lens like the 50 is not going to give you much working space, and is best used with subject who are not overly shy.
      Best of luck!!!!

  3. Hi, I enjoy your instagram account and now checked your website. Vey nice setup. For the starters or poor people like me I can recommend the extension tubes. Is harder to focus but it’s worth it. Check my instagram (rafaelpernia) if you want to see results with chap dslr + standard lens + tubes.

  4. Hello Karla,
    Just started following you on Instagram and I was interested in your equipment, so I checked out your site. I just purchased the Canon MP-E 65mm. It’s a 1-5x macro!!! A bit tricky to use, but the results are amazing.

    Love your work!!!! Keep blowing up Instagram….I need inspiration!


  5. Hi Karla!!
    I found out about you from you liking some of my photos in my instagram xD
    I’m just a beginner photographer who happens to like shooting wildlife and macro photography. I trully am astonished by your macro shots in your instagram. There’s something that always become a problem for me when shooting macro, “not enough light”, since I need to use high f number to get deeper DoF (especially when shooting 1:1), hence I need to use high ISO and it ruins the detail in my shots. Is there anyway to solve this problem? I really hope for some insight from you πŸ™‚

    If possible, I’d like to talk more with you regarding macro photography or just photography in general, please email me if it’s not too much to ask πŸ™‚

    -Nelson P.Y.H

    Gear: Sony a6000 + Vivitar 100mm f3.5 macro

    1. That is always the problem with macro – never enough dof. My suggestion is to try a flash. It will give you the needed light without cranking up the iso. And if still not enough dof, try some focus stacking. It works great when your subject holds still long enough. Haha. Best of luck!!!

  6. Your photography is great. Do you ever go out in the field with friends? If so, how do you find people who are actually interested in what you do as much as you are?

    1. Hi and thank you so much!
      That is a good question. Actually, so far, I have not found anyone in my area who is interested. Right now, my boyfriend goes out with me most of the time. He is my unofficial assistant. He carries my gear sometimes! Haha.
      It is much more fun with a buddy. I would suggest using an app with good location services like maybe Flickr to see if you can drill down and find macro photogs in your area who would like to go along. Best of luck!!

  7. mam,
    i love macro photography very much
    that too your photos i love it.
    please can you suggest any macro lens for canon 5dmarkiii?

    1. Hello Aakash. Canon has a great line up of macro lenses. They have a 65mm, 100mm, and a 180mm. Spend the time to research which would be best for you before you purchase. And if you feel you really need the biggest, most expensive one, use the smaller one now and save up for it. You will get plenty of practice and will be ready when you can afford a bigger lens. Remember bigger is not always better. Bigger lenses are slower and you will need a tripod and flashes to get enough light to capture small moving prey.
      Best of luck to you!!!

    1. Hi Victor. Yes, I use a tripod. When I was first starting out I didn’t. This caused me to get a ton of shots that were not usable because of camera shake. I know from experience it is tougher to shoot moving insects while lugging around a huge tripod, but the ratio of shots you get that are useable are much higher. So my advice is to always use the tripod, especially if you are shooting with a long lens.

  8. Hello Karla… Just started look at your gallery on Instagram, so I checked out your site. thank you for following my instagram, kang_pandol. I love macro photography and always shot macros in available light. It’s more natural than using artificial light. Smooth and you can get more detail. Just for advice to try it. regards….

  9. Karla awesome work!! Just started following you on Instagram (@theflyingscot82) and love the composition and the shear quality of your work. Will be keeping an eye on your posts for inspiration and hopefully will learn something to help me in my fledgling macro journey!

  10. Love your photos on Instagram., I can’t get enough of them. The world beyond the naked eye is amazing!

    Keep up the amazing work!


    IG – Hollow_Point_Photography

  11. Mam, I am following you on instagram and seen almost all of your clicks. It was very helpful for me to learn macro mode by reading information on your site.
    Will you guide me for my new camera? My first option is Nikon D3200 with 18-55 mm lens. I have used Canon Powershot and Canon D1200. Since I am learning, your guidance will be very helpful for me.
    Waiting for your valuable reply

    1. I am so sorry it took me so long to respond. My daughter had travel all the way to Canada to see me and I was spending all my free time with her.
      From what I have read, the D3200 is a great camera. You should be very happy with the results. What type of macro lens do you have or will you get to shoot with?

  12. Dear Carla,
    I am a great fan of your work n I have been following you on instagram since I started using it n I was very happy to know that you are also a Nikon fan. Presently I am using Canon SX160IS which is a simple point and shoot camera and with that I shot many pics and on some of pics you left some good comments also, but now I want to switch to a DSLR and I want to know your views on Nikon D3300.

    1. Chaitanya. Thank you so much!!
      I have read some great reviews of the D3300. I think it would be a great upgrade for you. It also has a slow-mo video mode which would be great fun for filming arthropods!!
      Add #karlathompson to your photos when you get your new camera. I would love to see them!!!

  13. Hello karla,
    You have done some beautiful macro photography. Why don’t you research about bellows and try using them. You can focus from incredibly close distance…. Quite difficult in the beginning but nothing like bellows in macro I feel…..

    1. I would like to try macro with bellows. It does look a bit intimidating, but I am intrigued by it at the same time. I have a feeling my gear will continuously morph over time. Thanks for the comment!!!

  14. I followed you up on Instagram, i am not a professional and know non about lenses i just love your work, i have never seen such photography ever i had a dream of doing macro photography and i am inspired by your photo’s and i am 18 thinking of making career from inspired by you. πŸ™‚

  15. Jealous of your gear, I use only my iPhone and an Olloclip to take macro photos, it is a start. Bummer you have been unable to find any photo buddies, my son is my companion on the trail. He definitely does not carry anything. Would be cool to have a Macro photo retreat for week, full of workshops, inspiration and good people. If one ever materializes, I hope to see you there teaching a workshop.

  16. Hello from Malaysia Karla
    Love your work.. I m kinda new to photography and I followed your IG abd its a darn good pictures. I do a bit of underwater macro as well. Slowly building up my set up now.. most of my shots in my IG is from Canon G16 and my trusted Nikon D90. Would I go wrong in investing on 90 or 105mm lens? Ould you recommend flash ring?


  17. I love your work on every level. Your photos are beyond superb. Thank you for checking out my photos and liking one. I shoot with a full frame 22mp Canon 5dmkii. This is a good time to look at the camera since Canon’s new mark iv is pushing a lot of mkiij and mkii users to upgrade. I got lucky and paid $400 for mine last tear. I had the canon 100mm 2.8 USM but sold it. The lens I use is the Tamron 90mm 2.8 and love it. It compares very favorably with the canon but is plastic and lighter. Someday I’d like to get the 100mm L macro because of the weatherproofing. But the tamron is still in it’s league optically. I have a sigma 50mm macro as well but the 90mm focal length really helps. Like the canon, its a full 1:1 lens with autofocus. I bought it on eBay for $100 and use it a lot. I had a canon ring flash and never got used to it. I’m looking at your flash setup as an alternative. I tend to use a tripod a lot but your flash gives you a lot of freedom. Your passion explodes through however. Its a great portfolio. I respect the work you’re doing. I wish you the nest.

    1. Hey Bill. I’m sorry I just saw your comment. Not sure why I am not getting notifications about messages on here. I have some catching up to do.
      Have you looked at the Canon version of my flash system? The Canon MT-24EX Twin Light Macro Flash?
      I haven’t researched it yet, but seems you might have more fuctionality with using a canon flash. Maybe?
      I do like the look of the bracket arms.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.