What Is Macro Mode on a Camera?

Updated: November 22,2022

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Getting your first digital camera, especially something a bit more serious like a DSLR or a mirrorless one, can be equally as confusing as it is exciting. Here you are, with an impressive piece of tech, but also realizing there is a lot you need to learn before you can use it to its full potential. For example, you may be wondering, “What is macro mode on a camera”? 

If so, we’ve got you covered. We’ll teach you how to enable it, the best settings for it, and when to shoot in macro instead of other shooting modes.

Camera Modes

Your camera uses a lens to capture light. The light then bounces off one or more small mirrors, finally reaching the camera’s sensor, which records the picture. The amount of light that enters the camera is called exposure, while the speed at which the camera opens up its aperture is called shutter speed. 

Depending on the camera, you’ll have several shooting modes at your disposal, including those for macro photography, portraits, night photography, or action photos. Each of these modes modifies the settings we’ve just mentioned on your digital camera, letting you get the picture quality just right. For example, you’ll find high shutter speeds for action photos, so they don’t end up looking blurry, while night photography requires lots of exposure and a static scene, unless you’re exploring the light painting style of photography.

Some of these modes, including the macro mode, also alter the camera’s focus. It doesn’t matter if you have a DSLR camera or a simple point-and-shoot snapper from a dollar store: all cameras have moving lenses that impact the image sharpness and affect how much you can zoom in.

Macro Mode Explained

Let’s move on to the subject of our article - the macro mode. Short from macroscopic, macro simply means that the camera is put into a mode for taking extreme close-up pictures. When we say “extreme close-ups,” we mean physically moving your camera’s lens very close to your subject instead of using magnification, although that can also work sometimes. Normally, you’d end up with a completely blurry picture, as your camera struggles to focus on the subject. That’s when you’ll need to enable the macro mode. Once the domain of high-end DLSR’s, you can find it these days on any better phone camera. 

But what is this macro mode on a camera, and how does it actually work? Simply put, it moves the parts of the lens, so the nearest subject is completely in focus. On most cameras, this mode is marked with a flower icon, indicating that it’s perfect for close-up photos of plants and insects. It also makes it impossible to take sharp images of subjects at a standard distance, as those shots will end up blurry.

When shooting in macro mode, the general idea is to have your subject at a certain distance, not too close and not too far, so it fills the camera’s sensor. When in macro mode, the camera works extra hard to keep focus, and you’ll notice it takes longer to re-focus on subjects. For that reason, experienced photographers know that it’s preferable to snap photos of still or slow-moving subjects. 

Another essential thing to note is how capable your camera is of producing good macro shots in the first place. Each camera and lens have a certain number called MFD (Minimum Focus Distance), which determines how close you can get to your subject - the lower, the better. A dedicated macro lens can also project the image better on the camera’s sensor, resulting in sharper photos.

Setting Up Macro Mode on a Camera

Now that we’ve gone through the basics and terminology, it’s time to set up your camera for taking your first picture in macro mode. To start, find the macro setting. Remember: it’s the icon that looks like a flower. Depending on your camera type and who manufactured it, it’ll either be on the camera’s mode dial or in the menu. You should see the difference in your viewfinder as soon as you flip the switch.

You can either rely on the camera’s autofocus feature to keep everything sharp or switch to manual focus to get the most out of the camera’s macro mode. Again, the available features and settings will change based on what gear you’re working with. Macro is mostly an automated mode, but there are still some things you can fiddle around with. If you want to get a more prominent depth of field effect (background blurriness), then narrow down your aperture using the aperture priority setting. Setting the ISO to a higher value produces the same effect. Be careful with that setting, as it can severely reduce the image quality.

Proper lighting for your subject is what sets excellent photos apart from merely decent ones. Like we’ve mentioned before in our macro mode guide, an amateur point-and-shoot camera already does all the work for you, but even then, it’s recommended to shoot in good lighting conditions. Sunny days and rooms with lots of natural light are ideal for macro shots. Flash can help, but it’s even better if you can make use of additional light sources, like a softbox, a remote-controlled flash, or at least a ring light. The subject needs to stay sharp and adequately lit.

Lastly, make sure your camera is steady. Handheld photography is possible but requires a lot of practice and a very steady hand. It is much easier to put the camera on a tripod to stabilize it.

How To Shoot Macro Images on Your Phone

No matter if you’ve bought a phone primarily for listening to music or you picked one to fit into your pocket, pretty much every modern smartphone can snap pictures in macro mode. You’ll know if your phone has this capability by looking at its back - if there are two or more cameras, you’re likely good to go.

So we’ve answered the question “What is macro mode?” but what about “Where is macro mode?” We’ve already mentioned the flower icon several times, but Android users can get confused about where to find it on their phones, as some manufacturers re-label it.

On Android phones, this mode is available either through the More menu within the Camera app or from the top bar. For example, it’s called super macro on Huawei phones, while OnePlus phones only use the industry-standard flower icon. Some phones don’t even have a manual macro mode, relying instead on their wide-angle lens and then using AI to enhance the details of the photo.

If you’re an iPhone user, macro mode is automatically activated. You just need to bring your phone close enough to the subject - the distance is about five to six inches for the phone to register that macro mode is required.


How do I shoot macro mode?

Enabling the macro setting on the camera allows you to take highly detailed photos at a close distance to your subject. To enable this shooting mode, you’ll either need to switch to it using the mode wheel on your camera or turn it on via the camera's on-screen display. Some point-and-shoot cameras can automatically detect when you’re close enough to the subject and enable macro shooting by themselves. Smartphones from Apple work the same way.

How does the macro setting work?

By adjusting the focal point of the lens, your camera moves the distance it’s focusing on. That leads to sharpening of the image and focusing on a subject that’s physically closest to the camera lens. It’s possible to replicate the effect in full manual mode, but it’s much easier to just enable the macro mode and let the camera do the heavy lifting.

What is the disadvantage of using a macro filter?

The image quality takes a significant hit if you’re shooting in macro and can’t provide optimal shooting conditions. Picking the wrong time of day, camera settings, or even subject can all adversely affect the photo quality, but camera movement is probably the worst offender.

How do I turn off macro mode?

We hope we’ve sufficiently answered the question, “What is a macro mode on a camera?” If you’ve gotten that part down pat, turning it on and off should be a breeze. To recap, though, you’ll either need to look for a flower icon or something that says “macro mode” and simply turn it off. It’s even easier with cameras that turn it on automatically, as they’ll likely switch it off by themselves as soon as you move the lens from the optimal shooting distance.

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While Damjan started his career in humanities, his interests quickly moved on to the tech and IT world. VPNs, antiviruses, firewalls, password managers - cybersecurity is what he knows best. When Damjan’s not losing hair over the dwindling of our collective sense of tech safety, you’ll find him looking for solace in 100-hour-long RPGs and rage-inducing MOBAs.

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