Photography is an amazing way to frame the unique world we see around us. Macro, or ‘close up’ photography offers us with a new perspective and allows us to get right up close and see the smaller world in detailed ways that our eyes cannot.
These days the term macro is used very loosely. We regard it widely as ‘close up’ photography, but by definition macro actually refers to photography where the image is at a 1:1 ratio, as close to the actual size as possible, or bigger.
Just about every digital camera has its own macro capabilities. Even point and shoot cameras, thanks to their thin designs and short focal length lenses, allow us to get incredibly close to the lens and still take a remarkable quality photo. It can be great fun to take artistic photos of the small world, be it the vibrant petal of a flower or the incredible shapes and textures of an insect, but if you want to get your macro image right then there’s a certain way to take it.
It all begins with your choice of camera and how you take your photo. A nice SLR will of course get you the best result, but a by using a point and shoot effectively you can still churn out fantastic photographs. In the world of point and shoot, the Olympus SP-570 UZ and the Fujifilm FinePix S100FS are kings, and allow you to get incredibly close with superb quality.
The first obvious step is to flick your camera onto macro mode. This is shown as a small flower just like the one in the first image. When you select manual mode the camera now knows to focus on subjects close to the lens, as well as to use a wider aperture to focus your subject and blur your background. Point and Shoot macro capabilities can range from just 1cm to around 20cm, that being the distance your subject is from your lens where it can still be focused.
On some cameras, flicking to macro is as far as your settings manipulation can go. If your camera does allow you to adjust your aperture settings then this can be largely beneficial (provided you know what you’re doing). By changing your aperture you can of course control the depth of field. In macro situations, the shallower the depth of field the better, so keep your aperture as wide as possible (a lower F-stop).
The next most important aspect is the focal point of the image. Due to the shallow depth of field your focal point will be quite noticeable and, if chosen correctly, can have a great impact on your photo. Even though it’s the most common and obvious choice, you don’t always need to focus on the immediate subject. Learn to aim for the/a point of interest in your piece because this will always give you the best result. Sometimes focusing on the most obvious object closest to your camera can be the wrong thing to do. Provided it suits the image, you can focus on an object behind or off center to create a unique style or sense of order about your piece.
I took this when I was first learning my camera. It’s actually a very symbolic picture about significance and reflecting on a journey, looking back into the faded past with a light, weaving path.
Of course, all of these tips are irrelevant if you’re image isn’t composed properly. Remember to consider the Rule of Thirds in your composition to add an artistic flair to your main point of interest. Choose a background that isn’t complicated to ensure you don’t draw attention away from the main subject. By using a shallow depth of field any eye catching background features can usually be blurred out, but the color of the background will remain the same. To combat this, try to compose your image with a consistent background color, or at least one where nothing stands out. When you’re taking the photo, try to stand as far back as possible and then zoom in to complete your desired frame. This will prevent any shadow being cast upon your photo, and, by zooming in your depth of field will be amplified.
Whilst this next tip isn’t a necessity, it certainly can be very handy and have a great benefit to your result. When you’re shooting macro, if you have a tripod and it’s a suitable situation to use it, then use it. A tripod will allow you to fiddle with the settings and focus with the confidence that the layout of your image won’t change. Don’t think you’ll need to lug around a big tripod though, because I understand that a lot of macro photos are taken low to the ground. There are these great little tripods out called ‘Gorillapods’. They’re only about 20 to 30cm off the ground, have three legs, and the best feature is that these legs are bendable. They’re easy to carry around, quick and simple to set up, very very versatile, and will provide ample support for your camera to allow you to play with the features. They’re only around $30 AU so they’re well worth the investment, and you can find them at most camera shops. You may also want to switch on the timer to make sure there isn’t any shudder when you push the shutter.
When shooting macro you must be aware of your flash. If your subject is very close and your flash is on, then when you take the photo the main subject will be washed out and overexposed due to the immense flash of light that shines onto it at such a close range.
All of the terms and tips written above can be used to get the best out of your macro on both your point and shoot and your SLR. There are though significant advantages of having an SLR, mainly due to the dedication, quality and size of your lens. If you have an SLR then you may know you can purchase a separate macro lens. Unfortunately this can be quite costly (from around $200 to well over $1000). Thankfully though there are pretty much no bad macro lenses, so you can feel confident about buying a cheaper one. The only thing you’ll loose is the full adjustability of the lens and perhaps the brand name.
Another handy tool you can get for your SLR is called an extension tube. This doesn’t have any lenses, glass or mirrors in it at all. You attach the tube between the lens and the body of the camera and then change the size of the tube to move the lens further and closer to the cameras CCD. By moving the lens further away from the sensor you will see that your image zooms in without changing the focus, meaning your focus distance (and hence macro) is closer and better.
If you want though, you can cheat for your point and shoot camera by buying a special lens attachment. These devices (which unfortunately do not fit all cameras) will zoom in slightly to help you take closer macros.
As is the way with all photography, the best way to understand properly is to get out there and experiment with it your self. Shooting macro is actually a great deal of fun due to the interesting scenes, textures and shapes you find when you look at the world in a completely different way.
If you’re interested in finding out more you can follow these great links:
Digital Photography School – Macro for Beginners
Digital Photography School – Macro tips for point and shoot
Photography Basics – What is macro photography?
- 10 Surreal Macro Photographs by Lee PeilingSeptember 13, 2012
- The Bike Riding Praying MantisApril 25, 2012
- Getting Started with Closeup and Macro PhotographySeptember 10, 2011
- How to take Amazing Leaf PhotographsDecember 2, 2010
- 20 Astounding Photos of the Human EyeJune 7, 2010