No doubt you’ve heard it said “Bigger is Better!” Bigger cars, bigger house, bigger bank balance (ok, I’ll give you the last one!). But scaling down instead of up reveals a whole new world. Ordinary objects become amazing landscapes. That annoying fly buzzing around your head reveals a fascinating combination of intricate design, function and color. Beauty of shape, pattern, color and texture unveil themselves as you delve deeper and smaller into the world around you.
Traditionally, macro photography is defined as any photo in which the subject has a 1:1 ratio with the image. This means the image you record of the subject is exactly the same size (or larger) as the real life subject.
In the days when we used film instead of digital sensors, a true macro photograph recorded the image of a subject life size on the film negative. So if you took a picture of a fly, and that fly was 8mm in length, the image of the fly you had recorded when you looked at your film negative would measure 8mm or larger. (Obviously, this would mean the subject matter was very small, and not a 30m building or we would not be able to carry the camera!)
Today, thanks to great advances in digital sensor technologies, we no longer need a specialist camera and lens to dabble in extreme close up photography. On every compact camera you will see this icon.
This is your MACRO setting. When activated, you can put your camera closer than normal to something and still get a sharp, focused picture.
Each compact camera has its own minimum focusing distance, anywhere from 1cm to 28cm. This distance is the closest you can get to a subject and still produce a focused image. (You can find out in your manual what your camera’s macro distance is.)
Why Use Macro At All?
As a photographer, you are always searching for a new way to look at things, a new angle on the world, a new viewpoint in life. Macro offers you all that.
It is true that DSLR cameras offer a photographer more scope to explore macro photography, but you shouldn’t be deterred by that. Compact cameras offer you the opportunity to taste what macro work is like, without having to invest heavily in specialist equipment. You can still produce stunning close-ups of your own, even with a compact camera, and will be amazed at what the world of small has to offer. Things that appear so ordinary and common place take on a whole new meaning.
Take the watch in the opening photo for example. See how the image demonstrates the precision and attention to detail of the watchmaker.
The tiny parts that make up the dial – the lettering, the pointers, make us marvel at the delicacy and skill of the watchmaker’s hands to create something so tiny but perfect. Notice the characters that make up the numbers. Their intricacies are not something very obvious when the watch is viewed normally.
Shiny things, when you get close up, aren’t as shiny as you think they are. You come to realise that there is no such thing as perfection. Because you are exaggerating the scale of the object, everything begins to become visible. This includes any flaws or defects.
But, you also reveal amazing textures, patterns and shapes. And a really good macro photograph can keep you looking at, and discovering more about the subject than any run-of-the-mill landscape ever could.
What makes a good macro image? Great macro shots show something really cool or special out of something that is mundane or ordinary. They take on a whole new scale and meaning – a pile of sugar crystals can become white sand dunes; textures appear that convey the natural world around us and mimic tree bark, lakes, mountains, etc. You are only limited by your imagination.
Macro shots bring their own technical challenges. Because everything is magnified, every tiny movement of your subject makes it look like it is swaying. So when taking pictures, especially outside, always use a tripod to avoid any small amounts of camera shake, as even a tiny movement will destroy any detail in your picture.
Focusing is critical as macro photography uses a tiny depth-of-field. Depth-of-field if you recall is the amount of your subject that is in focus both in front of and in back of your subject. With macro photography, many times you can’t even keep all of your subject in focus. Because depth-of-field is tied to how far your camera is from your subject, and with macro photography you are close, depth-of-field is going to be scaled down too. So precise focusing is needed, along with a high f-stop setting to make sure you get the right part of the subject in focus.
Texture brings a macro to life, and the best way to bring out texture is to light your subject across the surface by making sure the light source is at the side. This creates shadow and highlight detail which puts depth into what the viewer will see.
Once you have a selection of shots, don’t be tempted to review them on the camera and start deleting them. This can give a distorted impression. Wait until you can see them full size on a computer screen. Only then will you be able to make an informed decision as to what works and what doesn’t. By studying the images you can begin to develop your macro vision and method of working. Macro photography takes a lot of patience, especially if you want to take macro shots of the natural world.
Shooting Macro Tips
Here are few handy hints to getting the best macro shots…..
- Use a tripod to avoid any slight movements.
- Light overcast skies mean nice soft diffuse light.
- Experiment on stationary subjects first to get used to the way your camera handles at a macro level before moving on to chasing moving subjects.
- Insects are more sluggish in the morning and on cold days, hence are less likely to move until they get warmed up.
- Carry a white card to use as a mini reflector for extra lighting.
- Take a black and white card to use as a background to isolate a subject from a confused or overly busy background.
- The closer you get to your subject, the more you notice. Distressed surfaces can make for great texture.
- To highlight texture, light your subject from the side.
Now it is time to get out there and take some close-up pictures of your own!