Close up photography, or macro, is a type of photography open to everybody, whether you have a cheap compact camera or state of the art multi megal pixel monster.
The problem with macro is that you potentially have a lot less light to play with, even on a bright day, resulting in slower speeds which increases the risk of unsharp images due to camera movements.
Any movement in your camera at close focussing distances can ruin macro shots. This is because you are reproducing the image up to life size on the sensor (1:1 ratio) so any shake is magnified too. There are ways though, to help get sharp images.
Firstly, dust off your tripod – clearing the dust off really does make a difference Ideally you should have a tripod with independant legs that can be set to different angles to help you get in really close. Don’t forget though, that once you add your camera on top, it may cause the tripod to become unstable if you have the front leg(s) near vertical.
Secondly, use a remote release cable. Why go to all the bother of setting up your tripod if you’re not going to use a remote cable? Even though your camera may be on a tripod, pressing the shutter button on your camera may cause the camera to move slightly. Remember, we’re shooting macro here where any movement is magnified.
Not got a remote release cable? Use the self timer on your camera, most have them and some let you choose how long the timer runs for. This will enable the camera to settle after you have pushed the shutter button.
So far we’re using a tripod with a release cable or the self timer feature to help us get sharp shots. For compact and mirrorless camera users, this is as far as the tips go. If you have a DSLR read on, there is one more thing you can do.
Mirror Lock Up. As we are trying to achieve the sharpest image we can, free of any shake, whether induced by us or not, the mirror can cause tiny vibrations which can soften a shot. The mirror lock up feature is built-in to most modern DSLRs and is probably accessed through the menu system as a custom function. Switching it on means that you need to press the shutter (via the remote release if you have it) to lift the mirror, then press again to actuate the shutter. On the Canon EOS 400D the mirror lock up can be combined with the timer function, giving a two second delay. Using this means you only have to press the shutter button once, so if you don’t have a remote release, you are still on your way to minimising shake.
So now we can produce really sharp pictures. That’s great but it’s not the end of this post.
As we are working at macro, focussing accuracy becomes critical. The depth of field can be measured in millimetres instead of hundreds of feet when taking landscapes.
If you have the ability to control your camera’s focus, use it. The focus points on your camera may not be where you need them to be so you get out of focus images – at least where you want the focal point to be will be out of focus. Let’s say that you are shooting a ladybird on a leaf. If you could only have one part of that image in focus it would have to be its head. So manually focus or lock your auto focus point and recompose. You can see in the image of the snail shell just how narrow the depth of field can be at f/5.6.
I mentioned earlier about the reduced light. This may or may not be true as it depends how close the front of your lens is to your subject, the size of your lens and the direction of the light. Flash may be no use unless you use a speedlight, dedicated macro flash or studio lighting, but that would be another post. What you can do to help you is to use a reflector to bounce light on to your subject. You don’t have to go out and buy one, a white piece of card will do. Use the LCD to check your exposure and adjust accordingly.
So macro is accessible, but taking successful macro shots isn’t as straight forward as it seems. Luckily for us, digital means we can check and review as we go.