Taking close-up shots with Macro lenses

Shooting a macro image brings into play some different issues from a standard image at a normal focal length and distance from your subject. As I mentioned earlier, using a flash with a telephoto can be difficult because the distance your subject is from the flash is too far for the flash to be effective, and the result is an underexposed image.

Conversely, with a macro image, you are so close to your subject, you can easily overexpose it with a flash — or even fire the flash so that it goes over the subject and the light can’t effectively reach it. At the very least, if you’re using a conventional flash, you need to think about where your subject is in relationship to the lens and the flash. If it’s in the flash’s direct line of light, then you will likely need to lower the power of the flash. If you’re shooting over your subject, then you may want to “bounce” the flash on the ceiling or other surface so that you can get light on it more directly.

Depth of field is serious consideration for macro photography. Are you shooting to show all of a given subject — such as the entire body of an insect — or are you just closing in on a specific detail, such as a diamond in a ring, where the stone and setting are focused but the ring itself is soft? At close range, you can easily get something out of focus when you didn’t want that, so you need to be very aware of your aperture setting; depth of field is a significant concern in your composition. Shooting with your camera set to Aperture-priority is very helpful to control depth of field; I don’t suggest shooting in Program or Automatic mode when you need to control depth of field.

In macro photography, magnification also affects your depth of field. The more magnification, the shallower the depth of field regardless of your aperture setting. So a lens such as the MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1.5x Macro Photo, which can magnify up to five times, will create very shallow depth-of-field images at increased magnification levels.

If you’re shooting something over which you have control, such as a commercial product shot, and you have good lighting equipment, you might want to consider setting up an area where you can carefully position and light your subject. You can even use museum wax, commonly available at art and craft stores, to anchor what you’re shooting; it won’t damage anything and you can move it around without having overly visible supports. I often use something called a cocoon, which is a translucent container that I can zip open and place things inside to shoot; I can then direct light at the cocoon, which creates a seamless, evenly lighted environment. It also helps reduce the harshness and hard edges of direct flash. These are available commercially from major professional photography dealers such as adorama.com.

If you don’t have control over your subject — such as when shooting bumblebees on flowers — then you need to position yourself in such a way that you can get as close as possible without disturbing the natural habitat or scaring the subject away. Using a tripod or other camera-mounting device along with a remote-control shutter release is often useful so that you can keep as still as possible, as well.

Category: Science of Lenses

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