When you think of Macro photography it can be confusing because its meaning is not obvious. It is actually close-up photography, not grandiose-style photos that can be seen on billboards on the Vegas strip. It is almost like scuba diving, but on land. You can discover a whole new world. Some photographers even make a living from this specialized genre.
While there are many objects that lend themselves to this type of photography--small objects in nature, such as flowers, insects and butterflies-- tend to make the most impact.
In the literal sense "macro" means that the image projected on the film plane (digital or film) is nearly the same size as the subject. It allows you to see details that you may not be able to see with the naked eye, unless you had your nose right up to the thing.
Lenses become very important here. A macro lens, sometimes called "micro," has a long barrel for close focusing. It may be optimized to provide its best performance at a magnification of 1:1. Some macro lenses are better than others.
Different categories are used for macro depending on the focal length: 50-60mm can be used for product photography and small objects and 90-105mm is usually the standard focal range used for insects, flowers, and small objects. 150-200mm, gives more of a working distance, if you are shooting insects and small animals. Some zooms, also provide macro options.
Other lens options include placing an extension tube, a round hollow tube, between the camera body and the lens to move the lens farther from the film or digital sensor. Bellows can also be used between the camera body and the lens to extend the lens, but unlike the extension tube, it is adjustable. A telephoto extender, reversing ring adapters and macro couplers can also be used.
Ambient light works best with macro, but often causes a conundrum. With the photographer and lens closer to the subject, shadows can be introduced. To prevent this, a white card can be used to bounce light onto the subject. Some shooters also use flash, which can bleach out the subject. To combat this, a diffuser can be used to soften the light. Also, macro flash units can soften the glare caused by standard flash units.
While some photographers use this technique as their predominant style, it often confuses prosumer-level shooters. These days most point-and-shoots come with a "macro" option already installed, but can never give you the same result as an DSLR or SLR. Still, remarkable shots can still be attained. Users can select the "Macro" mode of their cameras. Generally, this mode is symbolized with a small flower icon. When it is selected it will communicate to the camera that you want to focus on a subject closer to your lens than normal. It will also tell the point-and-shoot to choose a larger aperture so that the subject is in focus but the background is not. Even if you are shooting with a compact camera, a tripod can be useful. It prevents shaking and allows you to play with settings without losing your composition. If the camera allows you to play with aperture settings, choose a large setting (small number), for a shallow depth of field. Some compacts actually have lens accessories to assist with close-up photography.
From the frontal view of a dragonfly in mid flight or the powdery, veined wings of a monarch butterfly, to an ant carrying his dinner on his back; photographers Boris Krylov and Mike Muizebelt are making this macro genre their main focus.
Since 2004, Boris Krylov has been working professionally as a wildlife and macro photographer from Albuquerque, New Mexico. His site, http://www.macro-photo.org/ is dedicated to Macro, Nature and Wildlife Photography. He is able to make a living from this work and has a species checklist that would make any epidemiologist proud. His favorite insects: dragonflies and jumping spiders.
After spending some time just observing the insects, Krylov noticed that even very fast invertebrates take "short stops to do some business (to clean eyes, wings, legs
etc.) or even to rest up."
And Krylov is always ready, armed with his camera:
"When they do, that's when you have 1-2 seconds to focus and take a shot," he says.
"Of course, many photos will be out of focus, but some of them will be good."
Another way is to find a "model" that can't fly away from you, such as newly emerged butterflies or dragonflies. "They can't fly until their wings are dry enough, so you can get pretty close to them and they don't move fast. But even if your model is moving fast, short exposure time can partially solve this problem, you just need to catch a focus," he says.
For his work Krylov uses a Canon EOS 10d, 20d, 1ds and just added a Canon 1ds Mark II.
"I'm using Canon gear mostly because [it] has an unique lens model: the MP-E 65mm F/2.8 macro - it is an extreme macro lens.
"I also use Canon 180mm F/3.5L lens. I tried many different macro lenses, but decided to stay with these two, the shortest and the longest macro ones," he says.
About 90 percent of the time Krylov opts to shoot macro with additional light, like Canon MR-14ex or Canon MT-24ex macro flash units or a normal 580ex flash.
More than just technical, the snapper, originally from Russia, approaches a macro shoot differently than his other work.
"Macro has more bounds and trade-ins than a 'regular' [shot]," he says.
Of course, "problem number one is depth of field, the wider the DOF the better," he says. But in most cases, he sets his aperture to at least F/8, keeping in mind that too small an aperture size, like F/16 and F/32, will increase DOF, but decrease sharpness significantly.
"If your model is moving too fast or instantly reacts on shutter sound or flash firing then the exposure time should be no longer than 1/1000s," he says.
Most importantly, "you need to be close enough to your model to be able to focus." The focusing process is not easy too, since in most cases, he uses manual focusing and his macro lenses do not have image stabilizers.
If you are pro wildlife/Macro photographer like Krylov it is necessary to travel to capture all those strange and bizarre creatures and to constantly capture new photos of birds and animals.
"But if you are looking for an insect or another small creature, it is enough to step off the road near your house to find an animal you have never seen before," he says. "Or you can just drive to the nearest lake, river, field or forest to find a lot of macro models."
The most enjoyable thing in macro photography for Krylov is the process itself. "I love to observe small creatures' life..."
Mike Muizebelt, 39, of the Netherlands, has been shooting since he was a teenager.
Currently, he focuses on nature photography with a strong emphasis on macro and is a member of the Dutch Nature Photographers Society. This fall, he will host his first macro exhibition in "Atelier 45". His "macro kit" consists of the Pentax K20D, to which he adds a battery grip for additional balance. His macro lenses are the FA* 200/4.0 and the manual focus A* 200/4.0
"Unfortunately these lenses are not being built anymore and I've been told they are among the best lenses ever built. From the autofocus version only 700 were build in total," says Muizebelt. "Needless to say, these lenses are more expensive than my camera."
For flash, he uses the FA-540-FGZ with a Gary Fong Lightsphere in some situations to soften the light. Sometimes, he pulls out lenses from 16-600mm and a 100mm macro lens with ringflash that he still uses on his 6 megapixel Pentax DS.
"I like to find details that are often overlooked when composing my images, either when shooting with a 600mm lens or with a macro lens," says Muizebelt. "I get thrilled when I get that magic moment which tells you that you've got a winner when you press the shutter."
More of his images can be found at http://www.mmfoto.nl
And both will never run out of "models" to photograph as there are more than one million of these air-breathing invertebrate animal arthropod species in the world.
Mike's Macro Tech Tips
While I personally like to create images and don't pay too much attention to the technical side of photography, there are a few points that I take into account when shooting life in the undergrowth.
1. Choice of focal length.
-50mm macro lenses are not very suitable when they are used for shooting small bugs. Their limited focus distance scares the small creatures away quite easily. They are however very suitable when shooting subjects on your table top (e.g. jewelry, coins, etc) because of the limited working distance they require.
- From 100mm the lenses are suitable for shooting most common bugs due to the greater focus distance. This added distance also minimizes the risk of the photographer casting a shadow on his subject.
- 200mm is my personal choice for a macro lens, it has great working distance and it gives me ample opportunities to explore the subject from various angles without disturbing my subjects too much.
2. Tripod or flash?
I personally find that shooting with flash suits my style of shooting. I enjoy walking around and browsing my way through the bush.
When shooting with a tripod you'll need a subject that is stationary and even a small gust of wind will ruin your chances of making a good image. A well executed tripod shot without flash will give more pleasing results though for most viewers. So use a tripod when possible.
When I use my external flash I tend to experiment with the lighting a lot. I normally try to balance my flash light with the ambient light to get a well exposed background. If the flash becomes the overpowering light source, you'll get a well-lit subject and a black background if you have an open space behind your subject.
Try to avoid shooting your subjects with a frontal flash; this will make images look flattened because of lack of shadows. (One of the downsides of a ring-flash for me).
With a 200mm macro lens, a shutter speed of 1/180s will freeze your subject for a sharp image. Remember that increasing aperture will give you more depth-of-field in the final image, but it also reduces the amount of light that enters your camera.
3. Know your subject
Most small bugs have certain habits that are easy to predict.
Dragonflies often return to the same branch when they fly away, so sticking to your position will increase your chances of getting a successful photo.
Evening dwellers like moths and mosquitoes are drawn to light so looking in the area of your porch or street light will give you a chance of seeing these evening bugs.
I can go on here, but the bottom line is that you spend time outside and look around for opportunities and make use of them.
There are no rules! Don't be afraid to test when doing macro photography. Reverse lenses onto each other, use a bellows for greater magnification, and make a stitched panorama image from a few images in line.
Shoot against the sun to get a macro silhouette, shoot with open aperture at 1:1 magnification to get 1mm DOF.
Anything goes as long as your image draws attention and inspires.