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DSLR Guide News - Macro Photography: Tools and Technique
April 07, 2012

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DSLR News - April 2012

In This Issue
This issue is all about macro photography.
Macro photography requires special tools and special skills to accomplish effectively.
I'll begin with a high-level introduction to macro photography and then I'll discuss some of the specialized tools you'll need to take "true" macro photographs.

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What is "Macro" Photography?
macro spider

The simplest definition is this: macro photographs are extreme closeups.
Great macro photos allow us to see details in the tiniest subjects — details that typically aren't even visible to the naked eye (at least without some type of magnification).
Some examples of macro imagery include:
  • Insects - since bugs are so small, they are a great subject for macro photos
  • Small Collectibles - the detail in coins and stamps is quite obvious when captured up close
  • Flowers - you can see all the details in the center of a flower
  • Water Drops - the reflections and distortion make for some unique images
However, this is just the beginning of what you can do with macro photography. A recent campaign for the Berlin Philharmonic placed a macro lens INSIDE various instruments and the results are stunning.
With this general introduction out of the way, let's talk in more detail about "true" macro photography.
When you take a photo with a normal lens - say, an 18-55mm zoom - the size of the subject is REDUCED on the camera's sensor. For example, a subject that is 10 millimeters high might wind up with a height of 1mm on the camera's sensor. This reduction in size is due to the distance between the lens and the subject.
You can try moving your lens CLOSER to the subject to increase its size on the sensor, but you'll run into a problem: your lens won't be able to focus on a subject that close.
The way to correct this and get "true" macro images is to switch your lens to a macro lens. Macro lenses are specially designed so that you can make the image on the sensor the same size as your subject.
Going back to our previous example, the 10mm high subject will wind up 10mm high on the camera sensor.
This ability to capture "life-size" on the sensor (which is pretty small itself) means that when you view your images at full size on a monitor, the tiniest object is substantially magnified.

Beginner Digital SLR Lessons
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Learn More >>

Macro Lenses
canon 60mm macro lens

I mentioned in the previous section that the best way to take macro photos is to get a macro lens.
While there are other ways to "fake" a macro lens, getting a true macro lens will guarantee the best image quality. The two main ways to fake a macro are to use "macro filters" that attach to your existing lens, or to get a zoom lens that has macro in its name.
Any zoom lens that also declares itself a "macro" simply means that the lens lets you get VERY close to your subjects while still allowing you to focus. It does not, however, mean that the subject will be captured at life size on the sensor.
For the dedicated close-up photographer, a true macro lens is a must. The good news is that there are plenty to choose from, regardless of the type of camera you use.

CAMERA TYPEMACRO LENS OPTIONS
Canon
Nikon
Olympus
Pentax
Sony

 

You'll notice that macro lenses come in a variety of focal lengths, ranging from 35mm to 100mm.
The focal length you need depends on the subjects you want to photograph.
Lenses with longer focal lengths allow for more space between the front of the lens and the subject. This is also often called "working room".
You'll want a macro lens with more working room if you take pictures of skittish subjects like insects and small animals: if you get too close with your camera and lens, your subject will run off.
For static subjects like flowers, stamps and coins any focal length will do.

Intermediate Digital SLR Lessons
  • Discover the best types of light
  • Learn to see and manipulate natural light
  • Find out what all the settings on your flash mean
  • Improve the quality of light from your flash
  • Blend natural light with flash
  • Use off-camera flash for professional-looking portraits
Learn More >>

Macro Flashes
nikon macro flash

If you are positive that you want to take tons of macro photos, then it pays to invest in a special macro flash (and yes, they are expensive).
Macro flashes don't work like regular external flash units due to the narrow distance between camera and subject. Instead of sitting on the top of the camera, macro flashes attach to the front of the macro lens.
This ensures that the light falling on the subject is even, and that there are no strange shadows being thrown because of the location of the flash.
While you may wonder how often you'd use a macro flash it's important to note that they can be used even in full daylight to reduce harsh shadows and to bring out detail in your subject.

Macro Technique
leaf petal closeup

Since I am not an expert in macro photography, I'll turn you over to some people who are.
But before I do, I'll pass along the one essential skill you'll need for macro photography: patience.
This especially applies if you want to take pictures of insects. Since you can't coax insects into a particular pose at a particular time, you really just need to sit and wait - camera in hand - until one comes along that's still long enough for a macro portrait.
You also want to make sure that your lens aperture and focus point are set before the insect arrives.
Because you can get very close to your subject with a macro lens, you'll often be dealing with VERY shallow depth of field: this means that the slightest adjustment to focus will make your subject look blurry.
You can increase depth of field by narrowing the lens aperture, but this will slow down your shutter speed (which can also cause blur).
Before your "perfect" subject puts in an appearance, you should find the right balance between aperture and shutter speed. When your subject finally arrives, you'll be 100% ready to go.
ADDITIONAL READING

Photo Links

Photo Contests
Other Photography Sites
  • Mirrorless Camera Guide - learn about mirrorless cameras from Nikon, Panasonic, Olympus, Samsung and Sony
  • Borrowlenses - rent lenses to use on your digital SLR before you spend tons of money on one
  • Betterphoto - a wealth of photography learning opportunities
  • Flickr - share your photos with friends and others
  • Photo.net - plenty of learning resources and examples of exceptional photography
  • Photojojo - tons of photography do-it-yourself (DIY) projects
  • Viewpoints.com - read product reviews from other consumers like yourself
Great Photo Blogs
  • Digital Photography School - hundreds of photo tips and techniques
  • Strobist - everything you ever wanted to know about lighting with external flash
  • Joe McNally - get the behind-the-scenes thought process from a professional photographer

In Conclusion
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the people who have been loyal readers over the years, as well as the people who have sent in their feedback and praise for the newsletter content.
I appreciate you taking time out of your busy day to read this, and am glad that you find the information provided useful.
Until the next issue - happy picture-taking!
--Chris Roberts, Your Digital SLR Guide

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