Behind the Lens: Know your macro

I placed my point-and-shoot camera on the ground, in macro mode and just inches away to capture this much larger than life-size slug in action. Because of the very limited depth-of-field only part of the head was in focus. I took several shots, guessing at the location of the slimy subject in my frame. At least he wasn't moving fast.

I placed my point-and-shoot camera on the ground, in macro mode and just inches away to capture this much larger than life-size slug in action. Because of the very limited depth-of-field only part of the head was in focus. I took several shots, guessing at the location of the slimy subject in my frame. At least he wasn't moving fast.

photo

I placed my point-and-shoot camera on the ground, in macro mode and just inches away to capture this much larger than life-size slug in action. Because of the very limited depth-of-field only part of the head was in focus. I took several shots, guessing at the location of the slimy subject in my frame. At least he wasn't moving fast.

Macro lenses enable photographers to get their cameras extremely close to a subject and capture life-size images. For digital single-lens-reflex (DSLR) photographers, this requires a separate macro lens or a lens with a macro setting. If you’re a point-and-shoot (P&S;) enthusiast you should already have this capability because P&S; cameras have built-in macro lenses.

Macro lenses for DSLR cameras come in several sizes and with various fields of view. They can be used for general photography, but unlike standard lenses their design also enables you to focus within inches of a subject. Nikon lists no fewer than 10 unique macro lenses in their catalog. Their 105 mm Micro-Nikkor f/2.8 would be an excellent choice for photographers who want to explore macro photography but also shoot portraits or other subjects with a mid-telephoto field-of-view. If you prefer photographing with a normal field of view, the 35 mm equivalent of the “nifty fifty” 50 mm lens, you might prefer Canon’s 50 mm, f/2.5 Macro that can get you within 9 inches of a subject.

On point-and-shoots, you usually need to select a macro mode. Usually symbolized by a flower icon, once it’s selected your camera engages a focusing range of minimal distances, enabling you to focus closer than normal on any subject. Most can capture photographs within inches of a subject. Point-and-shoot cameras can actually focus closer than many DSLR macro lenses. If you don’t need the quality and high resolution of a 35 mm, large-sensor DSLR camera, P&S; cameras may be a better and cheaper option for exploring macro photography.

Here are a few tips for macro photography that apply both to professional DSLR and consumer P&S; cameras:

  1. The closer your lens is to a subject, the less depth-of-field or zone of focus you will have. So focusing accurately is critical. It helps to use a tripod or a support to steady your shots. To increase your depth-of-field, set your lens to smaller apertures such as f/11 or f/16. This will then require longer shutter-speeds to compensate for the reduction in light coming into your camera. Another good reason to use a tripod.

  2. Make sure there is enough ambient light hitting your subject. In macro photography, your camera will be very close to the subject, and you or the camera may block the light. If possible, reposition yourself or the object so light can still illuminate your subject.

  3. For some unique macro perspectives, lay your camera on the ground and use a self-timer. I often tilt the camera up into a group of flowers and just guess at my framing, and then review results to adjust my angle. Since the movement of your finger pressing the shutter button can jar the camera, the self-timer is a good way to avoid unintended camera movement on or off the tripod.

Comments

blindrabbit 8 years, 10 months ago

Like your picture of a common slug. While living in Northern California near Santa Cruz, I came to know the Banana Slug. This large bright yellow creature is a resident of the coastal forests (redwoods) of the area; and is also the mascot for UC Santa Cruz. It (the real slug) has gained a "love affair" out there and is protected. Look it up, both real and mascot. The only mascot that seemed as strange to me is a high school in Arkansas that go by "The Sand Lizards". Enjoyed your story!

the_realest_mccoy 8 years, 10 months ago

"Their 105 mm Micro-Nikkor f/2.8 would be an excellent choice for photographers who want to explore macro photography but also shoot portraits or other subjects with a mid-telephoto field-of-view."

Thanks Yoder, you might also mention this lens costs $1000. THE LENS ALONE COSTS $1000. I could buy 5 or 6 Nikon or Canon point-and-shoots for that. Have you seen the economy lately, buddy?

Mike Yoder 8 years, 10 months ago

You're right McCoy and I thought I sort of mentioned that in this line from column.....

"If you don’t need the quality and high resolution of a 35 mm, large-sensor DSLR camera, P&S cameras may be a better and cheaper option for exploring macro photography."

Only if you want real large files and high resolution do you need an expensive lens like that Nikon 105 micro. I just wanted folks that still might be into DSLR's to know the expansive selection out there. Personally, I think a mid-grade point-and-shoot would suffice for most macro work, even to 11x14 print size.

Mike George 8 years, 10 months ago

For the Canon DSLR owners, Canon has two nice 100mm macro lenses that are both top-notch. One is an L model with IS feature, but the other is half the price (under $500 on internet), and since you may find a small tripod or monopod or braced hold handy for these macro shots, the less expensive lens is a high-quality bargain. Both are terrific for portraits also and both open up up to f2.8. The L model has a few more lens elements, but I get great results from the less expensive model.

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