Ready for her close up: macro beauty photography

Pro fashion and beauty photographer Tina Eisen explains how she turned the camera on herself to perfect her striking macro shots.
A gold metal bee sits on a female model's made-up lips that are dripping with gold paint.

To achieve this stunning image, pro fashion and beauty photographer Tina Eisen worked with a makeup artist renowned for her ability to make products drip. Nevertheless, it still took a few shots, with the makeup being cleaned off and reapplied between each, to get it just right. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens at 1/125 sec, f/7.1 and ISO160. © Tina Eisen

Macro and beauty photography may be considered separate activities by many, but for London-based beauty and fashion photographer Tina Eisen, the two go hand in hand. For her, macro is an exciting, creative strand of her work, one which she began exploring around four years ago.

"I was doing a shoot where I had to put some shiny bugs on the model's eye," Tina explains. "I took the picture and realised everything else on her face – her lips, her nose, her hair – had nothing to do with what I was trying to show. I wanted to reduce the frame to a small area because the rest of her face was distracting from the story. Nothing else needed to be there, I wanted to use only her eye as a canvas. I'm a sucker for detail and as soon as I started shooting macro beauty, I knew it was something I wanted to do more of. I just love macro detail."

At first Tina's models and clients weren't interested in macro beauty photography and she had to squeeze it into other shoots. "Before social media became popular, brands hadn't fully discovered the art of showcasing their products on creative macro images," she explains. "And agencies and models weren't keen on macro work as they're unrecognisable, making such shots useless in a portfolio unless they're a specialist 'parts model' for their lips or eyes. So, it was always a bit of a side project where I'd shoot plenty of full-face images and then quickly slip in a macro shot."

Iridescent beetles sit on the skin around a closed eyelid, which is smeared in gold eyeshadow.

The image that sparked Tina's interest in macro beauty photography. She used macro to close in on her subject, adding to the story of her shoot by expressing the smallest of details. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens at 1/125 sec, f/14 and ISO400. © Tina Eisen

But when the global Covid-19 pandemic put an end to model shoots, Tina began shooting a self-portrait macro series. "Immediately, I felt such a relief that I could unleash my creativity," she says. "Before then, I never thought of using myself as a medium to practise ideas or lighting setups. My first image generated such a buzz, it even featured on TV. Being creative in this way has opened up something I can do anytime. I don't have to ask or pay someone."

Now, after years of having to shoehorn macro beauty photography between other work, Tina is seeing an increasing demand for it. "Brands are really catching on to it because showing their products close-up is such an awesome way to showcase colours. I feel beauty has branched out from fashion photography to become its own genre in the past five years, and macro beauty is now establishing itself as a sub-genre. There are clients now that book models just for their features – the rest of them isn't seen as relevant as long as, for example, they have nice lips or eyes."

Tina also feels that macro photography is benefiting from and playing a part in a shift in the perception of beauty and diversity in today's society. "Macro beauty captures every detail of a face, every unique feature and every perceived flaw," she explains. "It shows consumers diversity and detail and beautifies parts such as little veins and pores – details which may once have been viewed as imperfections. Since the rise of macro beauty, realness has triumphed over perfection and viewers have enjoyed the normalisation of real human features."

Through macro photography, Tina has carved her own unique style, making her work stand out in a busy industry. This has translated directly into more work. "When I started doing more macro during lockdown, brands began asking me to shoot my own lips," she says. "Macro photography has given me the ability to create art on small canvasses, so I was able to thrive during times when team members weren't allowed to assemble."

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Photographing herself has freed Tina to shoot macro beauty whenever she wants, but she's had to draw on the tips and tricks she's learned over the years to perfect her self-portraiture. It means she's got some useful advice for anyone wanting to try macro beauty photography for themselves.

A pouting pair of lips half covered in tiny pink and white petals, which match the outline perfectly.

Tina sometimes uses natural elements in her images, such as these tiny petals, but prefers to steer away from obvious or clichéd props. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens at 1/160 sec, f/13 and ISO160. © Tina Eisen

1. Know when to leave out the tripod

To most photographers, even experienced professionals, it might seem a given that macro photography would necessitate the stability of a tripod. To allow enough depth of field to keep an entire lip in focus at true-to-life magnification, for example, a macro photographer will often stop down, potentially necessitating a slower shutter speed and risking blur if working handheld.

Perhaps surprisingly, Tina wouldn't even contemplate putting her camera on a tripod when she's photographing a model. "I'm very mobile," she explains. "I know the exact angle I want someone to be at. If it's a macro eye shot, the direction they're looking in matters as well. I give a lot of direction and I'm usually crouching on the floor photographing someone with their head towards the light."

A profile of a woman behind a circular window, shot with a blue gel filter.

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Of course, when Tina is photographing herself, the situation changes dramatically, and she finds a tripod is the best way to ensure that her camera is perfectly still. She also uses the Canon Camera Connect app to connect her smartphone to her camera so that she can trigger it remotely.

Because Tina now shoots so much self-portraiture, she is considering adding the Canon EOS R5 to her kitbag, primarily for its vari-angle touchscreen, which can be turned to face her when she's in front of the lens, putting her in direct control of the camera. If Tina wanted to shoot handheld at even slower shutter speeds, she could also consider adding the full-frame Canon RF 100mm F2.8L Macro IS USM to her lens line-up. The world's first AF macro lens is capable of capturing subjects at 1.4x life-size magnification and features Hybrid IS. Having image stabilisation in both the lens and the camera body would make it even easier to work without a tripod.

An open eye stares at the camera, the eyelid and surrounding skin covered in different coloured powders including blue, red, yellow and purple.

Applying powders and blending makeup is a skilled job, so while Tina is confident in her lipstick application, she prefers to work with professional makeup artists for macro shots of eyes. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens at 1/160 sec, f/10 and ISO100. © Tina Eisen

A model's eye, heavily made up with sculpted black eyeliner, looks through a gap in shards of broken glass.

This image was shot with broken glass close to the model's eye, which meant it was important that she felt comfortable with what was going on. Tina explains: "You have to have some sort of connection with the model or you would never get a shot like that. Rapport is more important in beauty than in any other genre, I would say." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens at 1/160 sec, f/11 and ISO160. © Tina Eisen

2. Position flash based on focal length

Tina's choice of flash and its positioning are heavily influenced by the lens and focal length she chooses. Although she relishes the short 31cm minimum focusing distance of the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM, she also loves its long focal length for the lighting flexibility it grants, providing her with enough space between lens and subject for her to fine-tune lighting positions. She frequently stands far enough back from her subject to position an off-camera flash between the two, adjusting the lighting angle, strength and modifiers based on how intense she wants her highlights and shadows to be. She often shoots at about 1/125-1/200 sec, using a fairly small aperture to get the depth of field she needs and relying on flash for her exposure.

If you're shooting macro beauty using shorter focal lengths, consider using a ring-flash. The Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II, for example, will provide versatile lighting when shooting close-up, allowing you to get extremely close to a subject while providing an even distribution of light to avoid harsh shadows.

3. Utilise AI Servo autofocus

Using AI Servo for macro photography means the camera will automatically adjust focus, tracking focal points through the frame to account for any subject or camera movements and keeping the subject razor sharp. The eye-tracking autofocus of the Canon EOS R5 is another reason Tina is considering adding the camera to her kitbag. "The EOS R5's Eye AF is a massive game-changer for anyone shooting beauty, macro beauty and beauty self-portraits," she says. "In a genre such as beauty, and especially macro, confidently controlling the areas of focus in our images and being able to pinpoint a subject's eyes are of utmost importance."

Tina takes a considered approach to each image and avoids firing off a series of shots in quick succession, instead using Single Shot drive mode. For her, each photo deserves her full attention. "I like to refine each capture carefully, adjusting composition and angle by bare millimetres," she explains. "I tweak, direct and consider each image, and find it most comfortable and personal to take each image one by one, as it comes."

Angela Nicholson

Tina Eisen's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

A Canon camera with a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens.


Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Designed to perform in every situation, the EOS 5D Mark IV is beautifully engineered and a thoroughly accomplished all-rounder. "I use a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and a Canon 100mm Macro lens for 95% of my work," says Tina.

Canon EOS R5

Capture sensational 45MP photos at up to 20 frames per second, or cinematic 12-bit 8K RAW video using the entire width of the camera's sensor.


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