Macro photography is the capture of extreme close-ups of small objects. Lacking a true macro lens at present, many of the images I take in the garden and landscape are borderline macro shots (I call them ‘semi-macros’). I mention this out of deference to true macro lovers and their craft…they get really close.
I also mention this because with the resolution of today’s cameras all of us can explore the art of macro photography in our own way. Use the tools we have and some amazing shots can be ours. Consider that the iPhone is the most used camera in the world.
Macro Photography Technique
Practicing macro photography will sharpen your technique with all of your garden photography. The fundamentals are listed below:
1. Thinking about depth-of-field is crucial. Good photographers know that what happens in the areas outside of the primary subject is what actually makes the photograph. The information outside of subject gives context. It tells a story. We can use depth of field to either include or exclude these elements. In macro photography depth of field plays a crucial role in the technical merit (as opposed to the editorial merit) of the image.
Controlling depth of field – For beginners, place your camera in aperture priority mode (probably ‘A’ on your camera dial). As you change aperture, depth of field increases or decreases. In a properly exposed photograph there is a direct relationship between aperture and shutter speed. As you increase aperture, shutter speed is decreased. For lots of depth of field, increase aperture (f8 or higher); for less depth of field, set the aperture lower – shooting with aperture at lowest setting is referred to as shooting ‘wide open’. Photography Life has a great resource for learning more about aperture in photography.
2. In focus or (completely) out of focus. When we focus closely, every sliver of the image out of focus will be obvious. We want the different parts of the image either in focus or out of focus…not ‘almost in-focus’ or ‘slightly out of focus’.
3. Steady hand or tripod in macro photography. When push comes to shove (and it often does) I am often without a tripod as the shot presents itself. Let’s face it…a lot of photography is wandering around with a camera close by waiting for something good to happen. In addition, much of macro photography happens quickly and is of the moment. That hummingbird or bee is not going to wait around while we set up a tripod. editor note: Photographs of hummingbirds are actually the antithesis of macro photography…often taken from a distance with a telephoto lens.
If at all possible, especially when we need high depth of field, use a tripod. The use of the tripod is often the most important technical difference between a successful or unsuccessful photograph. This is especially important in macro photography where every mistake is amplified by the resolution of the photograph.
4. Buy a macro lens. If you really get into macro photography and have a digital slr, major camera and lens makers offer macro lenses in your brand. It is worth noting that macro lenses have use outside of macro photography…they make great prime lenses for everyday use. One of my favorite lenses ever was a 105mm Nikon micro lens that also served as a wonderful portrait and short telephoto lense…plus it was fast, allowing me to take images in lower light. Also worth noting is that Nikon calls their macro lenses ‘micro’ lenses.
- For some spectacular examples of macro and close-up photography check out ‘Incredible Close-Up Photographs in Garden & Nature‘.
- Advanced techniques in macro photography (focus stacking, reverse lenses, macro rails).