One of your greatest creative opportunities as a photographer is to reveal the tiny world around you that so many people overlook or are even unaware exists. This is the realm of macro photography where you can transform everyday objects and the most common natural subjects into big artistic statements. With the guidance and tips in this PhotographyTalk article, you can start to recognize these opportunities and bring your camera in close to capture images that will leave your friends in awe of your abilities.
Typically, macro photography requires a camera that produces excellent image quality with a lens that can focus extremely close to the subject. The first thought that comes to mind is that you need an expensive DSLR and specialty macro lens to produce excellent macro images. Such a gear set-up will certainly deliver the photos you’ve envisioned, but spending thousands of dollars for a type of photography you may only shoot occasionally isn’t a wise investment.
Compact camera technology has advanced so far that many high-end models are capable of focusing very close, from 2 inches to less than an inch. You also have the added benefit of being able to position a compact camera in some of the tight places that are necessary to bring tiny subject matter into focus. The viewfinder on a DSLR may be of no value if you can’t place your head close enough to the camera to look through it. Plus, with your eye to the viewfinder, it’s easy to bump the camera and cause shake, which results in photos that are not sharply focused.
A tripod designed for macro photography is also a necessary piece of equipment, such as the Manfrotto 190 series and the 222 pistol grip action ball head. The Manfrotto, and comparable tripods, are also very small, so they fit into tight or unusual positions. Look for one with an extendable arm, ball head and legs that open to almost a flat angle, so the camera is very close to ground level. Many of the Manfrotto 190 tripods can be placed as low as 2 3/8 inches (6cm) to approximately 3 1/3 inches (8.5cm) from the ground.
A tripod not only eliminates camera shake, but also allows you to shoot at the default ISO setting, which is 100 on many cameras. At such a low ISO setting, you essentially eliminate any digital noise, so your images are crisp and clear. It’s also a good idea to use a remote shutter release trigger, so you don’t touch the camera to trip the shutter. You can also use the timer, so the shutter doesn’t release until after you’ve removed your finger from the button and the camera has stopped moving. A tripod is also essential because when you move your lens very close to a subject, the depth of field becomes very narrow, which requires small apertures, such as f8 or f/11, to compensate.
Some macro photographers like to shoot with natural light only, which can be challenging; but if you’re shooting during an overcast day, then the light is diffused, minimizing shadows and making colors more saturated. In other cases, a macro image may be enhanced by shadows or you may need more light because of the location of your macro subject. You may find midday on a sunny day with few if any clouds provide that kind of light. Other photographers rely on a ring light system that surrounds the lens and casts a soft, even illumination on just your subject. You can also use reflectors to bounce natural light into a tight, low-lit location. A piece of aluminum foil or a white surface, even a white shirt, will often add just enough light to help your exposure value.
Remember, all of this equipment made for macro photography can be rented at very affordable rates, even a macro lens for your DSLR. This may be the best way to spend a weekend experimenting with macro photography before deciding to buy specific equipment.
A WORLD OF WONDER
Once you’ve equipped yourself correctly to capture great-looking macro photos, it’s time to consider possible subject matter. Many photographers immediately think of the macro images they’ve seen of flowers and insects and gravitate to these subjects. These are excellent choices, but photographing nature, whether large or small subjects, requires some exploring, careful observation and patience, especially when the subject moves quickly, such as a bumblebee or hummingbird. Photographing these types of macro subjects may also result in you having to squeeze into uncomfortable positions, lying on the ground, intruding on a spider’s lair, etc.
There are so many macro images of flowers and insects that have already been shot that you must be willing to reach into the farthest recesses of your creativity to capture a truly unique photo. This is another reason why you must make a significant commitment to exploring and observing the macro world before taking the first picture. It may even be a good idea to spend time without your camera just looking for possible subject matter.
Another group of macro subject matter to photograph are textures and patterns that can only be seen with a close-up view. Again, careful observation will allow you to find and create amazing abstractions that are unrecognizable, but will startle your viewers.
Macro photography can be a fun-filled and highly educational experience, as you discover a world that is invisible to most and examples of life that almost look alien.