WHAT IS MACRO PHOTOGRAPHY?
Compiled by Diane Bohlen
There is often a lot of confusion over the terms ‘Macro’, ‘ Micro’ and ‘Close Up’ photography and how they differ. ‘Macro’ and ‘Micro’ usually mean the same thing. Canon call their lens a Macro lens while Nikon call theirs a Micro lens. The word ‘macro’ means big whereas the term ‘micro’ means small. So when you are photographing something small and you want it to look big, you end up with a ‘macro’ view of a ‘micro’ subject.
Real macro photography is taken with a dedicated macro lens. A macro lens has the capability of achieving at the least a 1:1 magnification, that is, life size. Just because a camera has macro written on it, doesn’t mean that it has a true macro lens. However, it is able to take very good close up photos.
WHAT IS CLOSE UP PHOTOGRAPHY
Close up photography, is the act of photographing objects such as flowers or insects in close range so that the subject fills the frame. This is easily achievable with any lens. Macro photography is in essence also close up photography, however close up photography is not always true macro photography. The main difference between macro and close up is that a macro lens can capture finer detail than would otherwise have been seen. It can show the hairs on the legs of insects and the pattern in their eyes.
GEAR TO USE TO CREATE “MACRO” PHOTOGRAPHY.
There is a variety of ways to capture macro photos. From now on I will use the generic term ‘macro’ to mean both true macro and close up photography.
Most cameras, Point and Shoot, Bridging Cameras and DSLR cameras have an automatic macro setting. The universal symbol is a flower. One of the great things about digital cameras, especially P&S cameras, is their sensor size and optical capabilities. Many of these cameras can focus sharply on subjects closer than 2cm from the front of the lens.
You can achieve macro photography with a zoom lens. This allows you to be away from the subject, which is handy if the subject is a bee or other bighty things. You can also fill the frame with the whole subject, a flower for example. With a zoom lens you need a wide aperture to get a narrow depth of field and a steady hand or a tripod.
With a DSLR there are a variety of accessories you can buy to help create macro shots. Some gear is expensive while some attachments are inexpensive. For example a reversal ring is not expensive. You can use this with any lens but the 50mm prime lens is a good one to use. Take the lens off your camera and turn it around and place the reversal ring between the camera and the lens and screw the lens back on so that the lens is reversed. Now it is a macro lens.
There are also inexpensive close up filters and extension tubes that can also be used to create macro shots. The extension tube fits between the camera and any lens. You need to use manual focus. Extension tubes allow you to get a closer focus and they go to infinity. They are very light and good for traveling but they are not as versatile as a macro lens.
There are some lens attachments available for some P&S cameras and smart phones.
Of course there are the dedicated macro lenses that range from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
A tripod is strongly advocated as a necessity for good macro photography. Macro is much more technical than portraits or landscapes. Depth of field and critical focus needs a tripod. When you make the aperture smaller to get more in focus and a very sharp subject you lose light so shutter speed compensates and slows down so you can’t hand hold the camera. Not only a tripod, but also a self-timer or a remote shutter button is also an advantage to get those ultra sharp, detailed macro shots. A Gorillapod is flexible and good for getting close to the ground.
However, sometimes a tripod is not a viable option especially if you are in a tight spot or trying to get moving insects. Then you will need to adjust the aperture, speed and ISO. Use 400 ISO and try to get the fastest speed as possible to avoid camera shake. In saying that you also need to remember that depth of field is the essence of macro photography so you need the aperture to be fairly wide too. You can hand hold a camera when the speed is more than the length of the lens. 60mm=1/60th sec
Use a flash. Shadows are a macro photographer’s worst enemy. Also when shooting in a shady part of the garden you may need a flash but not a harsh one. Some cameras allow you to set the strength of the flash, if not use a diffuser or a tissue over the flashlight. A ring flash or twin light flash will allow you to shoot at a reasonable speed yet keeps the aperture small. f/11 for sufficient depth of field. This allows you to use a speed of 1/200 which will capture moving insects and the camera can be hand held. Best of all try to choose an overcast day with plenty of light. You may need a reflector, which can be as simple as a piece of white paper or cardboard.
GENERAL TIPS FOR MACRO PHOTOGRAPHY
Depth of Field (DOF) is the core factor in macro photography. The aim is to capture a sharp image of a tiny subject with all or nearly all the subject in focus and the background blurry to make the subject stand out. Lack of blur is a problem but so too is too much blur. It defeats the purpose of macro where the whole subject should be in focus. Check the DOF through the viewfinder or LSD screen while pressing the DOF preview button. Look in your manual to find where it is on your camera. DOF varies with aperture, focal length and ‘camera to subject ‘distance. Competent use of these will give you pin sharp focus.
Keep your distance. Barry Smith advocates keeping a good distance from the subject as being too close can throw a camera shadow on the subject and distort it. The closer you get the narrower the DOF gets.
Appropriate background. Try to avoid confusing fuzz and bright spots. A dark subject should have a light background and a light subject should have a dark background.
Keep it parallel. It is not always possible but it is best to keep the back of the camera parallel to the face of the subject.
Wind. You cannot take macro shots if there is wind or a breeze. The subject needs to be as still as possible. The camera needs to be as still as possible.
Composition. Don’t forget the rule s of good composition like the rule of thirds. This is often forgotten when focusing on detail.
Focusing. It is best to use manual focus. Working with a narrow DOF you can determine what you want in focus. When an insect is constantly moving the automatic focus (AF) swims or keeps refocusing continually. It is a good idea to focus on the detail that you want, lock the focus and recompose. Always check in the LCD screen if it is in focus, zoom in to check. Sometimes moving your feet to help focus is a good idea or use a tripod with a sliding rail.
Light. A strong harsh midday light is not good for macro. It throws shadows and washes out detail. The best light is on an overcast day, in the shade or by using a diffuser. Better still take the specimen inside and place it in a soft light near a window. Light should fall gently and delicately highlighting texture and colour.
Be patient. Don’t run after moving insects. Sit still and wait. Curious insects will come close.
Set up shots. All the best macro photographers set up shots especially drops of water.
Editing macro. You may be surprised to learn that most of the fabulous macro shots you see have been heavily edited. They are usually 50% photo taking and 50% editing. However, you need a sharp, detailed image to start with. Crop to fill the frame. Sharpen. Use Shadows and Highlights. Reduce contrast.
Never give up. If at first you don’t succeed, never give up. Take multiple shots changing the aperture, change the distance from the subject, focus on different parts of the subject and try different compositions.
macro tips for Point and shoot cameras
Select macro mode. Macro mode uses a large aperture so that the subject is in focus and the background is blurred.
Use a tripod and the self-timer to stop camera shake and it gives you time to play with settings without losing composition.
MACRO TIPS FOR DSLR AND HYBRID CAMERAS
Aperture. Some say use a wide aperture to blur the background and keep the main subject in focus. Others say just because a macro lens lets you shoot with f/2.8 it doesn’t mean you should. A narrow aperture of F/11 is better to get more of the subject in super sharp focus not just an eye or a whisker. Remember a narrow aperture will slow the shutter speed to let in more light so use a tripod and ISO 400.
Another photographer suggests, if you only want part of the subject in focus use wide aperture f/1.8 to f/4. To get the whole object in focus use f/18 to f/22. You may need to use compensation exposure.
A macro lens can be used as a normal lens too. It will shoot to infinity.
Shutter speed is most important. For a moving butterfly increase ISO to 400 so that you can increase shutter speed. 1/500 at f/7.
RAW it is advisable to use RAW.
Macro Photography is fun. It opens up worlds within worlds. It can be addictive. Try out with a P&S camera first before buying an expensive macro lens.
Compiled by D.Bohlen March 2014