AmSnaps - Digital Photography Basics For Amateur Snappers

Explore Still Life, Nature And Insects Close Up With Digital Macro Photography

Close-up or digital macro photography, which is it's technical term, opens up new perspectives on our natural world.

The practical and creative uses for macro shots are almost endless and most digital cameras are very good at it.

Even basic compact digital camera models usually have a macro mode built in, enabling you to use this impressive technique without the need for expensive equipment.

There is an endless range of subjects out there waiting to be captured with your creative flair – from butterflies to spiders, acorns to leaves, etc.

Even every-day objects like wrist-watches and cuff-links make interesting pictures under the right lighting. If you enjoy taking still life or nature shots or even close-ups of insects, macro photography is for you.

Shooting this sort of tabletop photography, digital cameras have a huge advantage over traditional film cameras. You can review your results and make adjustments to your subject and camera as you shoot.

If a photo doesn't turn out as you'd hoped, just delete it and try something new.

Some Interesting Ideas For Close-up Photography

Photographs of your jewellery or a valuable stamp collection can be taken with digital macro photography and used for insurance purposes as well as being attractive images in their own right.

Garden flowers make stunning subjects and are easy to find. Insects such as bees and butterflies are also interesting close-up, especially if you can photograph them in the middle of a flower.

Other items that have good texture and patterns can make good close-up photos using digital macro photography. Items such as fruit and vegetables have great textures and when they are cut open and properly exposed, make really creative shots.

The Best Ways To Get Close To Your Subject

Even the best digital cameras and lenses force you at least a metre away from your subject. Normal lenses cannot easily be designed to handle larger focusing ranges. To get closer to your subject, try these three macro photography strategies.

If you use a DSLR, get yourself a macro lens. Most camera lenses are optimised to focus at infinity, but many manufacturers offer macro lenses to focus on close objects nearby. These produce near life-size images.

Another strategy is to the macro settings built into most digital cameras. The macro setting alters the formula and function of the lens. The zoom control then becomes the focus and you adjust the zoom or image size by moving the camera closer or further from your subject. Some digital macro cameras let you get as close as 2cm.

The third strategy is to use a close-up or macro lens attachment. A relatively inexpensive method that involves, attaching a close-up lens kit to the front of your normal lens. This alters the formula of the lens and it focuses closer. Some photographers believe that this compromises the quality of the shot.

You could also try the method of focus stacking using software, which is explained in the video below.

Controlling Depth Of Field And Focus

The trickiest part of digital macro photography is making sure your subject comes out sharp. Focusing is one of the biggest challenges you will encounter in close-up photography.

To get sharp photos, your focusing has to be accurate, because the closer you are to your subjects, the lower your depth of field. You should always use the smallest lens aperture possible – usually f/16 or f/22 – to maximise the depth of field and focus on the most important part of your subject.

When you focus on subjects close up, you’ll notice that the depth of field includes the plane you focus on plus the area in front of the subject and also the area behind that focus plane.

In addition to a limited depth of field (DOF), most methods of taking macro photographs render the focusing ring on your lens useless. You normally have to move the whole camera closer to – or farther away from – the subject.

Another problem that you will incur is slow shutter speeds. Even in good lighting, you may find that a shutter speed of half or even one second is required when using an aperture of f/16.

A sturdy tripod with a focusing rail is essential if you want to avoid camera shake. A cable release on the shutter is also useful to minimise vibration.

Lighting And Flash For Close-Ups

When working with digital macro photography, lighting is a serious challenge. Getting in close to your subject is easy, but you tend to lose a lot of light in the process. One solution is to use artificial lighting.

Another solution is to purchase a ring flash. This unit, designed specially for close-up macro photography, fits to the front of your lens and has a circular tube to provide even and shadow-less illumination.

The approach most macro photographers prefer, however, is to use one or two small manual flashguns mounted on a suitable flash bracket and then work out the aperture required to give the correct exposure.

You can also use reflectors and diffusers to reduce the shadows and get the lighting just right.

Top Tip For Taking Hand-Held Shots

When holding a digital camera by hand, be careful of camera shake. As a general rule, you can hold a lens at shutter speeds that are reciprocal of the focal length of your lens.

For example, if you have a 50mm lens, you can have a shutter speed as slow as 1/50 second. With a 180mm lens, a shutter speed slower than 1/180 second should not be used.

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David Coote
Wedding Photographer
Northern Ireland

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Macro Photography For All
Inspiring photographers of all skill levels to explore the wonders of close-up and macro photography!