Macro photography is the outcome of combining microscope optics principles with a camera. Cameras with macro lenses are the porthole to the world of the small, the illusive and beautiful life forms that we overlook in our daily life.
Have you ever seen a picture of flower pollen and was amazed by its beauty? Maybe it was an insect? A snail? An eye of a fly? Have you ever wondered how these pictures were taken? Read this article and find out the secrets of macro photography.
Macro photography has two main aspects, the technical and the artistic. For the technical aspect, we need to understand and use special gear, like macro lenses, extension tubes and macro flashes. Post processing software like Photoshop will be needed for advanced macro photography techniques. After purchasing the gear we need to understand when is the best time for photographing, where do we photograph and how. By implementing Macro techniques with basic photography principles you will capture pictures that will make people say “Wow!”
If you try to take close-up shots of flowers or insects with your regular DSLR camera, you will find that it is impossible to get the subject in focus when you are very close to it.
Macro lenses – Macro lenses are made especially for taking close-up pictures; they enable you to zoom in and fill up your frame with the subject. Another special feature is the ability to choose a relatively high f-number compared to regular lenses, in other words, a macro lens can close it’s aperture relatively small, giving more depth of field, thus more of the subject will be in focus. Macro lenses can also be used for landscape and portrait photography.
Pros – high quality, small aperture and versatile.
Cons – Expensive, you need to carry extra weight and you need the extra space in your bag.
Extension tubes – extension tubes are the answer for people who already have a camera with lenses and do not want to buy an additional lens for macro. Extension tubes have only one job, to move the lens further away from the sensor (they do not have optical elements), that will make the lens focus on subjects that are very close to the camera. Without the tubes the lens would not be able to focus on them. Videlicet, the extension tubes brings the focus plane nearer.
Pros – Cheap, small and can be used with any lens.
Cons – Reduces the amount of light that gets to the sensor, enhances lens aberration, some extension tubes do not offer auto focus.
Macro Photography Principles
Depth of field – this is the main factor that will influence your pictures. When trying to focus on a close-up shot, you may find that only a very small amount of your subject will be in focus, and by small I mean millimeters! If for instance you take a picture of a fly, you might have only it’s back leg in focus. This is called a shallow depth of field.
The depth of field is determined by the aperture size (f number) and by the distance of the object from the camera sensor. A low f number (large aperture) makes the depth of field shallower; moving closer to the object will have the same effect. Using different lenses with different focal lengths will also have an affect on the depth of field.
Taking the same picture from the same distance with a longer focal length, will yield a shallower depth of field. Shallow depth of field is a good thing or bad? Well, that depends; choosing the part of your frame that will be in focus will determine the mood and feel of your picture.
If you want a shallow depth of field you need to open up your aperture and get as close as you can to your subject. If the depth of field is too shallow and you can`t get enough of your object in focus, close your aperture and\or move further away from your object. Take notice that closing your aperture will make a slower shutter speed, so make sure your object and your camera are still or crank up your ISO.
Choosing the amount of depth of field and where to place the focal plane for the best looking picture, can simply be a matter of taste. But, there are some basic rules that can be followed for maximizing the picture’s popularity.
Whenever you take pictures of a living thing it is recommended to implement two principles; firstly, adjust the focal plane to its eyes. This rule is true for all kinds of pictures, including human portraits. Secondly, go down, take your camera to the eye level of your subject, when the focus is on the eyes and you are shooting from eye level, the pictures will feel more intimate and interesting.
When you take pictures of flowers and plants look for interesting features in your composition, it can be a colorful pollen stem or a delicate petal with drops of water on it. Find interesting features to emphasize by making them sharp and clear while the rest of the frame is blurred.
How, Where and When to Take Macro Pictures?
How – One option is hand held, this is not the best option but it is possible. Because the depth of field can be as little as 1 millimeter, the smallest movement of your body will make it very hard to keep the focal plane in one point still. The second option deals with that problem by mounting the camera on a tripod. The tripod will eliminate any body movement and will keep the camera still. If you buy a tripod with the intention to photograph macro, make sure the tripod can open its legs for getting the camera very low.
Camera movement can be very noticeable in the picture; the simple pressing action of taking the picture can be enough to blur the picture. This could be easily fixed by using a remote control (some are cheap as 1 USD) or using the internal timer of the camera.
Where– You can take macro pictures wherever you are, in the kitchen, in your garden or while hiking in nature, even a small patch of grass can hide a world of macro photography opportunities.
When – The best time of the year is normally in the spring, the blossom is at its peak and nature is exploding with small insects. The best time of the day for macro photography are the first couple of hours after sunrise. This is for two reasons, firstly, the insects are calm and “sleepy” so they will not move a lot and will stay still. Especially the ones that have wings and are covered with morning dew, they aren’t going anywhere! Secondly, there is usually less wind in that time, wind is a big enemy for the macro photographer because wind disturbs the subject and that makes it more difficult to focus.
Remember, basic composition rules are key factors in any kind of photography. Try to compose with the aid of the rule of thirds, look for interesting foreground and background. Lighting is important, make sure your object is well lit, but not with the harsh light of midday. Go down to eye level and focus on the eyes.
Take your gear out and practice, don`t be afraid to break some of the rules, experiment with different f numbers, take several pictures of the same object each frame with a different part in focus and see what you like the best. Practicing will make you develop your own style and will improve your technique.
If you found this article helpful and you are planning to buy one of the pieces of equipment that I mentioned, I would appreciate you buying it through the links attached. I will get a commission for it, but the price for you will be the same as if you would buy it directly from the store. That will support the site and will help me write more articles.
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