Macro photography can be a very challenging type of photography to master, but with a few cheap tricks and simple tips you can be well on your way to getting quality pictures.
It is a great part of photography because everywhere you go there will be flowers, bugs, and interesting things around for you… you just have to look a little sometimes.
First off, you will want to acquire some means of getting a higher reproduction ratio – either by means of a zoom lens to take pictures from a relatively far distance, (be careful with this option, being all the way zoomed in on a lens can seriously limit the amount of light that can get into the aperture, have serious picture shake, and can make the picture have slightly less clarity because it isn’t a prime lens) or by means of a conventional macro lens (or “micro” lens if you work with Nikon). The problem with these options is first and foremost the price. Buying a good macro lens is a big investment, so be sure you like macro photography before you take this plunge, and buying a good zoom lens is potentially as expensive (this ultimately may have less quality). However, there is a solution! Macro filters.
Macro filters can be purchased for as little as $10 on ebay or amazon.com and offer comparable results. They are standard filters for use on any lenses, and magnify differently based on the focal length of the lens (the mm, for example how far a kit 18-55mm lens is zoomed in) The picture on the bottom was taken with a macro filter and the picture on the top is taken with a macro lens. Both pictures were taken in the same lighting with the same set up and had similar post-processing in photoshop. The filters change the focus patterns of the lens (reducing the depth of field – DOF – and removing the infinity focus… I personally find this to be rather irksome and I have a harder time focusing correctly using my filters, but more on that later). The filters come in sets of +1 +2 +4 and +10, the numbers are rather arbitrary and simply stand for the amount the dioptre filter magnifies the picture – the bigger the number, the higher the reproduction ratio. There is a major drawback here though: a drop off point to dteail. The more zoomed in your lens is and the higher diopter number you use the more hazy your picture will become; there will be less detail and clarity. There is also chromatic aberration after a certain point. All in all, I have found the filters to be well worth the money, but you do get what you pay for…
Onto focusing, I will break this down into lens types…
For the zoom lens, just try to use Auto (or Manual/Auto if you have a lens able to do that) and stand as close as possible. When this doesn’t exactly work, resort to manual, focus as close as you want to, and then move the camera (not the focal ring!). Remember, because you are more zoomed in, you will have a significant amount of camera shake which can be very frustrating – so be patient and try to have a steady hand.
For the macro lens and macro filters, switch to manual focus and focus as close as you desire. Then proceed to move the camera. This works much better because at this working distance (as little as 2 inches from the subject) your camera will most likely panic and start “swimming” the focus. I recommend simply focussing in as close as possible to get down to the real nitty-gritty beauty in everyday objects, animals, insects, ect.
Note for macro filters: because it is a dioptre filter, your subject may seem to disappear altogether. This is similar to the effect of bringing your thumb closer and closer towards your nose – it will get smaller and smaller and then disappear as your line of sight fails you. This is what bothers me with the macro filters, and – because I am lucky enough to have a lens – keeps me from using them very often. Just keep moving your camera, and maybe you will get lucky. Talk with Roman if you want more advice on this, but from as far as I can tell, start zoomed out on your lens with the focus ring focusing as close as possible then slowly zoom in keeping the subject in view.
One final tip, dealing more with insect photography, WAIT FOR BUGS TO COME TO YOU. If you see a bug, don’t immediately run towards it because you will scare it away. Hopefully it will come towards you, but if not slowly, slowly creep towards it. Bugs are very skittish.
I will leave you with some examples: