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Spring is a wonderful time to get into macro photography. Flowers are blooming, butterflies skit about, and the early sun makes the morning dew glisten. Most every photographer gets the crave sooner or later to try to create macro images. As with any other type of photography, macro has its own set of technical challenges. So check out this guide before jumping straight into the macro world.
The first thing you should know is that you don't need a DSLR and a macro lens to get macro images. Sure, if you're looking for the best quality and the best way to get close to your subjects, than this is certainly the way to go. But, if you're looking for a more affordable alternative, most point-and-shoot cameras have very good macro capabilities because they can focus at very close distances. Practically every point-and-shoot has a macro mode which lets the camera focus close up. The downfall is that you usually have to be at the wide end of the focal length to focus closest which means you'll have to get very close to your subject.
Depending on what you're shooting, you may not even need true macro capability. A telephoto lens with a close focusing distance will work perfectly for medium to large flowers and bigger insects like butterflies. If you're looking to get down on a smaller scale though, a true macro lens is your best option. True macro lenses will have a 1:1 (life-size) magnification ratio meaning that the size of your subject will be the same size on your sensor as it is in real life at the closest focusing distance. And since the image will be viewed at a much larger scale than the size of your sensor, you will get a larger than life perspective.
Both natural and artificial lighting can be used to light macro subjects. There are a variety of artificial lighting setups you can buy for your macro rig. Dual flashes and ring flashes are popular choices. The great thing about lighting a macro scene is that they're so small that you have a lot of control over how the scene looks. You can use a diffusion grid to cut down on the available natural light, or use a strobe or multiple strobes to light your subject from different angles. Be aware that your built-in flash will not work if you are too close to your subject. With DSLRs, the lens may cast a shadow over your subject, and a flash on a point-and-shoot may only light the side of your subject, depending on where the flash is located in relation to your lens.
Shallow depth-of-field is a common problem in macro photography. While narrow DOF often sought after in portrait photography and the like, it can become too narrow in macro photography. This is because the closer you get to your subject, the shallower your DOF becomes. This will force you to stop down to a smaller aperture to get more of your scene in focus. Depending on how close you are, an aperture of f/22 may not even put your whole scene into focus. Using a smaller aperture creates two additional problems. One is that you're letting less light into the camera and will therefore need a slower shutter speed which could cause you to get blurry photos. The other problem is diffraction, which becomes more apparent the smaller your aperture is and softens your image.
Finding macro subjects to shoot is different than shooting ordinary subjects, but the advantage here is that there can be so many things in a small radius. You may find a swarm of ladybugs in one spot, and some hungry caterpillars only a few feet away. Different flowers love to grow close to one another too. Try looking for the small details in leaves and other small objects that may make for an interesting image.
Article by Spencer Seastrom, Photo by PhotographyTalk Member: Melanie Kern-Favilla