- David Busch's Close-Up and Macro Photography Compact Field Guide
- Understanding Close-Up Photography: Creative Close Encounters with Or Without a Macro Lens
- Creative Close-Ups: Digital Photography Tips and Techniques
- Close-Up & Macro Photography (Expanded Guide: Techniques)
- Macro Photography for Gardeners and Nature Lovers
- Photographing Flowers: Exploring Macro Worlds with Harold Davis
- Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G Lens
- Nikon 35mm f/1.4G
- Nikon 85mm f/1.4G
- Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM
- Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L
- Canon EF 85mm f1.2L II
- Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM
- Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM
- Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM
(If you haven’t read my earlier article in this series, Macro Photography, it might be a good idea to do so before reading this one as this article builds on the earlier one.)
Assuming you understand the basics of macro or extreme close-up photography, here are five tips to help you get stellar results. These assume you are using a DSLR with a macro lens.
Get it sharp! Different ways to focus.
While autofocus may work OK in macro photography, remember that a tiny motion of head and camera or the subject will significantly change the point of focus in the photo. Let’s say you are taking an extreme close-up of a butterfly. You focus on the eye because that’s the center of interest and attention. But while taking the photo you sway slightly with the result that the eye is out of focus and instead a point on the wing is sharp. Not what you wanted. So here is a way around that. Set your camera to MANUAL FOCUS. Frame your shot and focus manually. Now leave the focusing ring on your lens completely alone and simply move your head and camera a fraction closer or a fraction further away while watching the sharpness of the point you want in focus. When it’s dead on, squeeze the shutter release (gently). If you’re not sure it was exactly right, shoot it again.
Another version of this is when your subject is moving slightly (not at all unusual with plants and flowers waving in a slight breeze). In this case, fix the focus as above and watch the subject move. When it is in sharp focus, take the photo.
Sharp focus at the center of interest you choose can make all the difference in macro photography.
Lighting. Beware of flash.
Using a regular camera flash when you’re very close to the subject may give you some very unexpected and unwanted results. The top half of the subject may be very light but the bottom half in shadow. A flash doesn’t necessarily “aim right” at such close distances. You can buy special ring flash units which go around the lens and give you virtually shadowless and even illumination. If you are doing a lot of macro photography of moving things (insects for example), this may be the way to go. The electronic flash will help freeze the motion and give adequate depth of field. If you are just using available light, make sure your subject is reasonably lit without extreme contrast. Sometimes a small white card can be used as a reflector to fill the shadows for better overall illumination.
Stop your own motion.
You can of course set your camera on automatic or program mode and get decent macro photos, but with macro two factors related to exposure require careful consideration: one is depth of field; the other is camera shake and motion blur. Any camera shake at such close-up range is greatly magnified so where you might get away with a tiny bit of motion blur in a landscape, this is not the case in macro photography. You must make sure that your shutter speed is adequate to stop camera shake and motion blur.
Stop external motion.
If you are taking macro photos of flowers or plants, the slightest breeze can cause motion and an adequately fast shutter speed is required to stop this. Set your camera on shutter priority, make sure you have a fast enough shutter speed to stop the motion, but keep an eye on the aperture. See point 5.
Depth of field.
Depth of field in macro photography can be so shallow that your shot is ruined because so little of the photo is in focus. This can be controlled by using a small aperture but you need to be careful that your shutter speed is adequate to stop any motion, including your own. Set the camera on aperture priority and at a narrow aperture. Keep an eye on the shutter speed. If it’s too slow, increase the ISO or the light on the subject. Use your depth of field preview button to check the depth of field at a particular f-stop. It’s a compromise you see, between shutter speed, aperture and ISO.
There’s nothing like a bit of experimentation to fine tune your macro photography. Why don’t you practice with all of the above 5 points in mind and see how much your results will improve.
David © Phillips is a professional writer and photographer living in Seattle, WA. You can find out more about him and his work at www.dcpcom.com.
Photograph(s) in this article are © David C Phillips, All Rights Reserved.