Macro photography can be useful to many disciplines, but mastering the craft can require some heavy duty gear, and some in-depth knowledge. However, one mistake I see a lot of macro photographers make is also the easiest to fix.
I can't think of a subgenre of photography that sends beginners down a thirstier path. By which I mean, from the moment you take that first shot, you're desperate to get closer and sharper, and it really doesn't subside. I remember taking some of my first shots and being overwhelmed with the detail and brimming with pride. Then, I'd log on to my little macro community to show them and I'd be met with world class images taken with a Canon MP-E 65mm and Canon MT-26EX-RT Macro Twin Lite that blew my work out of the water. I knew I ought not to compare, but you just do, don't you?
As my equipment improved, so did my skills. I suspect I've sunk more hours in to macro photography of everything from insects to watches, than any other discipline of photography, including my beloved portraiture. However, it took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that I was missing a trick; quite a big one too. I was loading triple extension tubes on macro dedicated lenses, using lights bright enough to flashbang a suspect, but I was still stuck with the problem of only a sliver of my subject in focus and tack sharp. Yes, you can stack the images which I was already proficient at, but you try finding an insect, setting up your equipment, shooting a few millimeters at a time, and not having that subject leave. I'll save you the effort, it's one in 10,000 or more tries. So what can you do?
When I started out I used a Canon 350D and it was lackluster in the quality department. However, by the time I was using 5Ds and 6D, the megapixels and image quality were top notch and I was essentially wasting it. By going so close, 75% of the final image was going to be either softly out of focus, or full on bokeh. I could kill two birds with one stone by taking the shot at twice the distance away, and cropping in. I didn't need 24,000 pixel images. In fact, Lee and Patrick proved that you can print billboard size with just 10% of that resolution. So I started putting those pixels to work, and it changed everything.
Firstly, the number of "keepers" I was getting went up tenfold. When you've only got a few millimeters to play with, you're going to miss far more than you nail. Secondly, the chances that you get the important parts (i.e the face or primary area of interest) crystal clear is even more likely. Thirdly, you can be far more dynamic in composition because you're not trying to do it in-camera, under extreme time constraints, and with the steady hand of a veteran marksman. This combination of benefits can open you up to being able to capture shots that would frankly be tantamount to impossible if you tried to achieve the same sort of final image in-camera.
Do you have any tips for people starting out in macro photography?