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Close-Up and Macro


Macro photography is all about seeing the world of the small.  It can reveal amazing things in everyday objects.   Macro photography is also the realm of the natural history photographer, taking images of insects and butterflies and small flowers and plants.

Macro photography is also quite technically difficult. Focus and depth of field are the two main hurdles you need to overcome. Firstly most lenses will not focus at close distances (just 1 feet if you are lucky). Secondly, when focussing at very short distances your depth of field is very narrow, even with the smallest of apertures.

© Rufino

© Andrea

Getting Close Focus


There are several ways you can get your lens to focus at very close distances:
  • Use a reversing ring
  • Use a close-up filter
  • Use Extension tubes
  • Use a macro lens

Using any of these pieces of equipment you are trying to improve the magnification of your lens. A typical lens will have a magnification of around 0.25. For true macro photography the magnification should be 1. You want to get as close to that magic 1 as you can. Magnification beyond 1 is starting to get into microscopic ranges.

© Markus Grossalber

Reversing Ring


A reversing ring lets you flip your lens round so that the usual front end of the lens is pointing into the camera. This might sound odd, but think about it. The normal job of a lens is to take a large object - a building say - and make it fit on your digital sensor just an inch across. So by reversing the lens you are doing the opposite - taking a small object and enlarging it.

The reversing ring must fit both your camera and your particular lens. It will have a camera mount (like you see on your lens) on one side and a filter mount on the other. Without electronics this will be totally manual and prices start from £10.

© Umer Malik

Close Up Filter


A close-up filter is essentially magnifying glass that screws onto the filter mount on the front of your lens. They are sometimes called magnifying filters or dioptres. A magnifying filter will prevent you focussing on distant objects of course. Magnifying filters are specified by their dioptre, from +1 to +10. In true mathematical terms a +1 dioptre focuses at 1 metre, a +10 dioptre at 1/10th of a meter (10cms).

Most close-up filters will come in a pack of assorted dioptres and prices start around £20.

Extension Tubes


Extension tubes fit between the lens and the camera. They are just empty tubes which position the lens at a greater distance from the digital sensor. This has the effect of making the lens longer. For example a 1.4 extension tube will extend a lens from 100mm to 140mm. This has the effect of reducing your focussing distance. They also reduce the light coming into the camera, so you need to adjust exposure to compensate. Like close-up filters they prevent focussing at a distance.

© Emre Ayaroglu
Extension tubes can come without electronics - everything is manual - and costs start around £15. An extension tube with electronics to support autofocus will cost a lot more, prices range from £60 to £200.

Macro Lenses


Macro lenses are lenses especially made for shooting magnified close-ups.  This is the most expensive option and prices range from 300 to 1500.  While this is a much more costly option, if you are serious about your macro photography then you need to get a macro lens.

© Paul Jerry

© Holley and Chris Melton
A macro lens offers the following benefits:  
  • True 1:1 magnification or greater.
  • Small minimum apertures to give greatest depth of field
  • Restricted auto-focus so that focussing happens in only a very small range.
  • Precision manual focus, which gives very fine level of focussing where turning the focus ring a lot produces a small change in focal distance.
  • Infinity focus.  
Whereas all the options above prevent you focussing at distance a macro lens will still offer a full range of focal distance.   Despite its dedicated purpose you can still use it as a general lens as well.

Macro Technique


The closer you get to the subject the harder it is to focus.  Further, any slight camera vibration will cause a lot of blur in the image.
Use a tripod.  Ideally a nice, heavy tripod.  The heavier the tripod the less camera shake you will get.
Use a remote shutter release or the timer function - so your finger on the shutter button does not move the camera.

© Theilr

Use mirror lock-up.  This function locks the mirror out of the way ready for an image.  This prevents any slight camera vibration from the mirror moving out of the way for a picture.  Of course while the mirror is locked up you cannot see anything through the viewfinder.  You will either need to get everything ready first or use live preview.
Keep your subject steady.   Avoid even the slightest of drafts.  Clip or stick objects down if that makes sense. Put your subject in position, set up the right camera angle and lighting.  Use a smallest aperture you can (f/22 or more) to get greatest depth of field.  If shooting in artificial continuous light then go for longer shutter speeds or higher ISO.  Use the depth of field preview or test shots to see exactly how much of the image is actually in focus.

Paper money angled away from the camera so only a small part is within the focussed depth of field.
© _j_d_r_
The more you angle the camera away from face on to the object the more the narrow depth of field will become apparent.

Tethered Shooting


You can tether your camera to a laptop for macro photography and you may find this a great benefit.  Your camera's software package will allow you to view the live preview from the camera and adjust all the camera settings from the laptop.

If you are using a macro lens - or electronic extension tubes - you will be able to fine tune the focus from the laptop.

You can even zoom in on the laptop image for really precise focussing.

Focus Stacking


Focus stacking uses software to integrate and merge several images shot at slightly different focal distances into one single photo with a greater depth of field.
Use the setup above, but once you have your exposure determined set everything to manual so the exposure cannot change.
Then take several photos in sequence.  Start with the focus point slightly in front of your object and on each subsequent picture move the focal point slightly further back.
Specialist software such as CombineZ, Helicon Focus can be used.  General imaging software like Adobe Photoshop have stacking features built in.

There is incredible depth of field in this image, which would not have been possible without focus stacking.  This image was created using Helicon Focus.
© Anita Ritenour

© Matt Biddulph

Lighting for Macro


Shooting indoors you can use a whole array of household lights or dedicated lighting equipment.  When shooting at this level of detail you are often most interested in the fine textures of the object.  Have the light skimming across the surface to reveal more detail.

You may need several lights, one to reveal texture and another to provide fill in light into the shadow areas.

If you are shooting onto a flat surface then you do not need to worry about the background.  But if you are shooting something standing then you must pay attention to the background.

Firstly keep the background as simple as possible. Grey or coloured card is ideal. You can then use background lights to control how light or dark it appears. You can use coloured gels to change the colour of the background.

When shooting outdoors you may want to think about a Macro Flash Unit.   This can be an adaptor for your standard Speedlight or a specialist unit.   They are built so that the light comes from very close to either side of the lens.   This gives a good spread of light and avoids hard shadows.



Firstly, with all the lenses you might have see how close an object can be so you can still get focus.
If you have any of the macro equipment above, get the best shot you can of:
1) Small coins
2) A piece of fabric
3) The skin of an orange
4) Anything else that takes your fancy.
If you do not have any of the macro equipment, then can you zoom in and crop on your computer to get a fairly large sized image of something small.  Just how far can you go before the picture quality gets too poor?