Macro photography is mostly all about shooting small things, which poses a great challenge but also comes with amazing rewards, which is the reason why it’s so popular. You can spend a lot of time outside, searching for wonderful subjects among flowers and insects, but what makes macro shooting easily accessible is the fact that you can also look for subjects in your own backyard. Here are some of the things you should know when taking up this broad genre of photography.
Pick the best lens
Because of the fact that your subject is very close to the lens, for macro photography you require a lens that can move far enough away from the sensor. Most lenses can’t focus that closely because they are optimized for standard shooting, so they are unable to shoot in high quality when the nodal point is far away from the lens. This is why companies produce special macro lenses, which are less restrained when it comes to moving the nodal point away from the sensor. Their focal length ranges from 50mm to 200mm. Have in mind that true macro ratio begins with 1:1 and nothing less.
Use close-up filters
Close-up filters are single-element lenses that work like magnifying glasses. You screw them onto the front of your camera lens. Just like a magnifying glass, a close-up filter alters the light before entering the camera lens, in order to make your subject appear bigger. They are made in various strengths and are measured in dioptres, often available in sets of +1, +2 and +4 magnification. Since their function is to shorten the minimum focus distance of your lens, they are limited to macro and are useless when it comes to standard photography.
Implement focus stacking
Focus stacking is a great way to get over the shallow depth of field. Basically, it is a method of combining focused areas from a sequence of shots. For example, if you are taking a photo of a fly, you will have to choose whether you will focus on the head, the wings or the tail. Focus stacking is a method where you take shots that focus on different parts of your subject (or with a different distance from the camera), and then combine them into a single photograph. There is various software that can do this.
Focus your camera manually
An important tip for macro photography is that you should manually focus your camera. With the depth field of about a millimeter, you need to make sure that you are the one that is making the creative calls instead of where the focus sensor is located in your camera. First position the camera and the object that you are shooting. For fine tuning and steady shots, you should use a solid tripod, or tight and comfortable camera straps.
Depending on the strength of your magnification, the lens will be quite close to the subject. Get the scene in focus, then frame and compose. Then, use the live view on your camera if you have it, and magnify as much as possible. Finally, manually focus until you have it where you want it.
Read this guide – How to use manual focus on your dSLR lens
Use extension tubes
A common way to enable macro functionality for your system is using macro extension tubes. Extension tubes are hollow, light-tight elements that you place between the lens and the camera. They are used to move the lens away from the camera even further, so that the front part of the camera is closer to the subject. By focusing as close as you can, you get the most magnification that you can gain. Extension tubes have no optical elements so they don’t affect the quality of the shots. Most come in packs of three, which enables you to shoot in 7 different combinations.
The only minus is that they take light away. As the front part of the lens moves away from the sensor, the area that is casted on the sensor becomes smaller so less light enters. This requires you to reduce the depth of field you are shooting at.
Reverse and double lens
Two cost-effective methods for enabling macro shooting are reversing your lens and using two lenses instead of one. Reversing a lens is usually done with a reversing ring, which you can even make yourself. Lenses are symmetrical, in the way that as light travels from the outside into the camera, it also travels from the inside into the world. Reversing a lens works in a way that, instead of projecting big things onto a somewhat small sensor, you project small things onto what is now a relatively big sensor.
The principle behind using a double lens is similar to the one behind microscopes. The first lens is the one that creates the image, while the second one enlarges it. Two lenses are connected via a coupling ring.
What matters in the end is that you explore different lighting and composition options. Make sure that you take a lot of shots, so that you are certain that you got your subject right. Finally, keep in mind that while macro photography doesn’t take a lot of time to learn, it does require a lot of patience. But in the end, it is a lot of fun, and it truly pays off.
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