Get close with macro photography

25 December, 2011 by Ben Long
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With photography, the term macro is a bit misleading. It implies that an image is of something very big, but actually the image is of something very small that’s shot big. These days, macro refers to any type of shooting where you’re up extremely close to a detail or small object. Here are some tips to remember when taking macro photographs.

PICK A CAMERA

Digital point-and-shoots are great for macro shooting, because most have macro modes and lenses capable of extremely close-up photography. Some point-and-shoots can get as close as one or two centimetres from a subject. You may also fi nd that your iPhone does a very good job of shooting up close.

If you’re using an SLR and are serious about macro shooting, then you’ll want to invest in a macro lens. These are lenses specially engineered for macro shooting. Typically, they’re fairly large, even if they have a short focal length. A macro lens will be clearly designated as macro.

UNDERSTAND THE MACRO FEATURE

Some point-and-shoots require that you be within a specifi c focal length before they can focus – usually, this is in the middle of the camera’s zoom range – so you can’t go into macro mode and then zoom in further to get even closer.

Odds are, you’ll have to be zoomed out a bit. (The macro mode is usually indicated by a fl ower icon on cameras.)

FOCUS WITH CARE

The area of the shot that is in focus will not be very deep, which means that your point of focus will be critical. If you don’t focus specifically on the area that you want sharp, then it might very well end up out of focus, due to shallow depth of field. This can be particularly tricky if you’re trying to shoot something that’s moving, such as a flower on a windy day.

If your camera has the right controls, try going to a smaller aperture to get deeper depth of field. Note, though, that even at f/8 or f/11, you’ll still have very shallow depth of field.

If you have Adobe Photoshop CS5, you’re shooting a still subject and you have time to do so, you can take multiple shots – each focused to a different depth – and then use Photoshop to combine those images into a single, final image with a deep depth of field.

To do this, use the PhotoMerge feature you’d use for stitching panoramic images.

MOVE RATHER THAN ZOOM

To achieve a particular crop on your image, move the entire camera in and out rather than making small, fine zoom adjustments. Even a tiny amount of zoom will result in a big change in your image. Also, if you find that your camera can’t lock focus, try pulling back a bit from the subject.

DON’T TAKE JUST ONE

Because focusing can be diffi cult, take multiple shots of the same frame. This will give you a better chance of ending up with a shot that’s in focus, with the depth of field you want. Some point-and-shoots have a ‘best shot selector’ feature, which automatically shoots a burst of images, selects the sharpest of the bunch and then discards the rest.

DON’T BLOCK YOUR LIGHT

One tricky thing about macro shooting is that once your camera’s in tight, you might cast a shadow on your subject.

If you have Live View, you can probably position yourself and your camera so that you’re not casting a shadow. However, you may have to stand further back and zoom in to completely eliminate your own shadow.

You can try to combat shadows by using a flash, but this can be tricky because, up close, the flash can overexpose your scene and wash out all detail. If your camera has a compensation control for flash exposure, you can try to reduce the brightness of the flash or move the camera further back to reduce the impact of the flash.

MAKE YOUR OWN MACRO LENS

If you’re using an SLR with a somewhat short lens (50mm or even the kit lens that came with it), try turning the lens around and holding it against your camera body. This often makes for a good, cheap macro lens.

EXPERIMENT

Finally, remember that macro shooting is just like any other type of photography, in that you need to think about the shutter speed – whether it’s fast enough for handheld shooting or whether you need a tripod.

In addition, think of your tiny scene as a landscape and work it just like you would a real landscape shot. Move around, try different angles, try multiple compositions of different types, experiment, explore – work your shot!

 

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