Macro Photography: Getting Great Photos Up Close

Sometimes it can be fun to take photos of an object from very close to focus in on details that you might not see from a normal viewing distance. If you try this with a normal lens, like a 50mm, you’ll find that at as you get closer than 18 inches or so your camera will not be able to focus. This is where a specialized piece of equipment called the macro lens comes in handy.

Macro photography is used on all sorts of things from plants and animals, to product details and textures, to natural phenomena.

Up close, objects look very different and the macro lens can provide a very interesting perspective. I use a macro lens frequently for shots of wedding rings and jewelry. Some of the most compelling macro photography out there is of eyes, small animals and insects, and plants and flowers.

A leaf with 100mm macro lens

A leaf with 100mm macro lens.

To get started you will need a few things.

The first is a macro lens. This is a lens that can capture the object at a one-to-one ratio to your camera’s sensor, meaning whatever you are photographing is the same size as your sensor. This provides the incredible detail. Having a large aperture on this lens is not as important as it is on other lenses (in most cases) because the depth of field is already very shallow at these short distances.

In addition to the lens you will want a tripod. The tripod gives you much more versatility with the lens because at that magnification it can be difficult to hold the camera steady.

Also, because of the super shallow depth of field at large apertures you may want to bring your f-stop up to get more of the subject in focus. This means less light in the camera and slower shutter speeds to get an even exposure. The tripod will keep the shot steady while using slow shutter speeds.

The lens and tripod are necessary items. But in addition to these a live view mode with a large LCD screen and a ring flash are also helpful. The LCD screen allows you to get a better idea of whether or not your focus is sharp and how much of the object is in focus. Sometimes that can be hard to see through a viewfinder, and obviously the bigger the LCD screen the better. The ring flash can help light up your subject if conditions are too dark to get a good image. Other lights can work, but with the camera so close to the subject it is difficult to not cast a shadow over your subject. The ring light throws an even light over the subject and removes shadows because nothing is blocking the light.

A brick looks different close up and with hard light

A brick looks different close up and with hard light.

When you start taking photos of things close up, look for detail, patterns, and textures. These are the things that we typically don’t notice from a normal perspective. A piece of fabric may look like a solid color with the naked eye but from up close you may see a pattern of different colors that looks totally different. A sheet of paper may look smooth in everyday life, but under a macro lens you may see extreme texture. Also, pay attention to your light sources. Slight changes in the angle of your light source can reveal texture, especially when light is coming in from the side. Backlighting can make a huge difference on a small object. Many plants and insects can appear translucent because they are thin, which reveals even more detail that wouldn’t normally be seen.

Come back to the Craftsy blog tomorrow for a look at Pocket Wizards!

There’s a ton of great macro photography out there and much of it was done in the spirit of discovery. Have you made any great discoveries using macro photography?

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