October 17, 2010

Shooting Macro-Style Photography

Recently one of my camera buddies asked me if I ever shoot any Macro and my answer was yes and no. What I meant was, I shoot Macro type shots, but I don’t even own a dedicated Macro lens.
The best Macro lenses are the latest Autofocus models and there are a lot of companies that put out great ones. The most common lengths are the 60mm or 100mm; and usually each lens will focus in close for a 1:1 ratio. Keep in mind whether you’re shooting with a crop sensor body or full frame, because they are different lenses.
One thing to note; a Macro lens and a Macro Zoom Lens are not the same thing. Macro Zooms are not actually Macros at all. They just focus closer than normal lenses and most of the time the quality suffers. Quite a few Point and Shoot cameras also have a Macro setting. Canon also makes the 500D close-up lens, which is actually a filter that screws on your lens. Canon even makes these to fit Nikon lenses. It isn’t Macro but it magnifies quite a bit. They sell from $85.00 to $150.00, depending on what size filter you need.
By definition, true Macro isn’t achieved until the subject is reproduced on film or on a sensor at life size which means 1:1 ratio or greater. There is also Extreme Macro, which is larger than that. Canon also offers the MP-E 65 mm f/2.8 . This lens is capable of shots up to 5:1, which is pretty wild. Another example of Extreme Macro is when a camera is attached to a microscope, now that really opens up a whole new world.

What I use normally are Extension Tubes. Basically all the tubes do is move your lens further from your sensor, enabling your camera to focus closer. There are no moving parts and some can even use autofocus.

The most popular brand is Kenko. Canon and Nikon also make tubes but they are not as popular as these, plus they are sold individually and are more expensive. The Kenko Extension Tubes come in sets of three, which includes a 12mm, a 20mm and a 36mm. You can usually purchase a set from about $100.00 - $175.00. The nice part is you can use one tube or any combination of the three. Keep in mind though, just like using Tele-Extenders, you lose a lot of light so a Tripod is a must and it’s a good idea to use a Cable Release to avoid any shake.

It is always better to turn off your autofocus and focus manually. Depth of field is very shallow, so you’ll need to be at f /22. You’ll notice you can focus on the front of a flower and a petal just an inch behind will be completely out of focus. Plus a lot of the newer SLR cameras also offer Live-View, which is great for doing Macro-type work.

I shoot mostly indoors under controlled lighting and I like to shoot tethered to my laptop so I can see it on a large screen and can focus on all the finer details. You can purchase dedicated Macro Ring Flash set-ups but they’re expensive, so I just use an off camera flash and a couple of daylight balanced desk lamps and they work fine. I like to get in real close and capture the fuzzy little parts of the inside of flowers. For example, did you ever see all the texture on a petal or a leaf? Maybe you’re asking yourself if something would make a nice Macro shot, just take out a magnifying glass and check it out before you set up all your gear.

One of the most common practices for Macro work involves shooting bugs and insects or for shooting flowers and plants. Shots like this take a lot of patience and practice. Plus, if you’re shooting outdoors, you have to watch out because even the slightest breeze is greatly magnified and there is always the chance that one of your little bugs will take off on you.

Outdoor nature type Macro shots are really nice, but shooting indoors there are tons of different ways to get creative. Textures, shapes and details take on a whole new dimension when captured with a Macro lens or Extension Tubes. Indoor shooting also allows you to be a little more imaginative. Using Gels on your flowers can open up all sorts of possibilities. Using colored backgrounds is also nice. Macro photography can be a lot of fun, but like I mentioned, it takes patience and practice to get those fantastic shots you see in magazines.

Sometimes I like to take shots of everyday items like coins or jewelry, but watch out, your items might be a little dirtier than you might imagine. This shot of the coin, was taken with a 24-105mm lens, racked all the way out to 105mm, with all three Kenko Extension Tubes on it, for a total of a 68mm extension. That means my lens is about 3 ½ inches away from the body. Check out the details like all the scratches and the dirt.

This shot of the frog was taken on a full frame camera with a dedicated Macro lens, a Canon EF 100mm f / 2.8 Macro Autofocus lens. This lens will set you back over $500.00. This shot wasn’t taken out in a tropical swamp or in the wild; it was shot through an aquarium glass. The image of the plant with the water droplets was taken with another fine lens, Canon EF-S 60mm – f / 2.8, a crop sensor lens, which goes for around $400.00. The background is actually just some colored paper, and because most Macro’s will not focus to infinity, it is nicely out of focus. Check out the background on the car keys, each one getting more and more out of focus.
And lastly, another benefit to shooting Macro type photography is, it can be a lot of fun when the weather isn’t too friendly, especially if you have a dedicated space you can keep set up, like a spare room etc. You can probably think of tons of new things to shoot. Experiment, get creative, have some fun. The possibilities are practically endless.
Remember, as always, keep shooting and have some fun!
© D. Gould Photography