Next month’s photo assignment is: “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”.
Our guest speaker for the May 2015 club meeting was club member Guy Stephens. Guy is the owner of Southern Maryland Photography. He is a past president of the Calvert Photography Club and a skilled teacher. He has had a lifelong interest and passion for photography and describes himself as an advanced photography enthusiast. The topic today was Macro/Close-up Photography.
Macro and close-up photography, Guy says, is about thinking small. It’s about the details and getting up close. So what is the difference between “macro” and “close-up” photography? Basically, close-up photography is all about getting close to the subject, filling the frame with the details of large subjects, or looking for small subjects. Macro photography involves a 1:1 or greater ratio between the size of the image and the subject. According to Guy, macro photography is close-up, but close-up photography is not always macro. However, the distinction between the two terms is less important than the result.
So, why should you care? Well, there are lots of interesting things that are small subjects, but details of large subjects can be interesting, too. You can see details and discover things that you never knew. It’s about getting in closer and seeing things in a different way than you would normally see them. Good macro or close-up subjects include flowers, insects, water drops, textures, everyday objects….anything really!
One major concern with macro or close-up photography is that you have a very shallow depth of field. This can be a major challenge when finding a focal point. Use the smallest possible aperture for the maximum depth of field. Other challenges include movement. The slightest movement of your subject can mean that your focal point is out of focus. Using a tripod is helpful, though not always necessary according to Guy. Using a remote shutter release or using your camera in mirror lock-up mode will reduce vibration as well. Lighting, reflection, shadows, and your background are things that must be considered as well when getting close to a subject.
So, how do you get started? What equipment do you need? First of all Guy says, you don’t need it all! It’s not all about gear. You can start with minimal equipment. The lens you already have may not be a true “macro” lens (not true 1:1), but may still have the capacity to get close-up. A true “macro” lens is dedicated to a true 1:1 focus but can be used as a regular lens as well. Macro lenses are also available in different focal lengths.
How do you choose a macro lens? Depending on the subject you intend to shoot, one of the initial considerations should be the focal length of the lens. Focal length influences your working distance so consider how close (or far away) you will be from the subjects you intend to shoot. You also want a lens with a short minimum focusing distance to allow you to get in close, as well as one that will give you good image quality and sharpness. Image stabilization is a great feature to have when shooting macro and a faster lens will give you more flexibility to use larger apertures.
Lenses can be expensive. However, doing macro photography doesn’t have to cost you a fortune. Guy says that you can also use relatively inexpensive point and shoot cameras that have a macro mode. Your smart phone is another inexpensive option; it is easy to use and…..you always have it with you! And there are accessory lens available for smart phones, as well! Further options include lens reversal, close-up filters, and extension tubes.
Lens reversal involves taking a lens you already have and turning it around so that the rear element points outward, and the front element faces the camera body. There are a couple of ways of doing this. One way is to just hold the lens to the camera body with your fingers. However a more secure approach to reversing a lens is through the use of reversing rings which are relatively inexpensive and allow you to actually attach the reversed lens to the camera body. You can also couple a regular lens and a reversed lens. One downside to lens reversal is that you lose aperture and focus control. In order to focus you must actually move yourself closer or further from the subject as needed to attain focus.
Close-up filters are also relatively inexpensive, and some of the better ones can work quite well. Beware of buying the cheaper ones, however. They do not have a true optical element and so are generally less than effective.
Extension tubes are hollow, light-tight tubes that fit between the lens and your camera body. There is no optical element. They work by moving the lens further away from the camera and the front element closer to the subject. This decreases the minimum focusing distance allowing you to focus closer to the subject. The closer you can focus the more magnification you get. They can be used with any lens and some even have contacts to support focus and aperture control.
Other considerations when doing macro or close-up photography are stability and lighting. The use of a good stable tripod with a head that can be easily and finely adjusted can be very advantageous. When it comes to lighting, Guy says, great photography starts with lighting. Lighting can be natural, continuous, or flash/strobes. Keep in mind the direction, intensity, and color of the light as well as the shadows it may cast on the subject. Reflectors and diffusers can be helpful in redirecting the light.
So…macro or close-up photography is all about getting close, however you choose to accomplish that. And setting up a macro studio doesn’t have to be costly. It can be as simple as using your kitchen table and natural window light. Some things to remember when doing macro photography:
- Depth of field will be very shallow. It will help to be parallel to the largest surface that you want to be in focus.
- Isolate your subject and be mindful of your background. The right background can make or break an image.
- Reduce vibration through the use of a tripod and remote shutter release or mirror lock-up mode.
- Explore the subject from different angles. Be creative! A minor twist can make a big difference.
- And finally…try different things, experiment, have fun!