Up for Discussion – Macro: Close and Intimate
For this weeks Up for Discussion I have asked Victor Rakmil to do a post on Macro photography. Victor does a lot of macro and is quite knowledgeable on how to do this, with and without a macro lens. I have been known to email him for help when I have been stumped. So I hope you enjoy Victor’s post on Macro: Close and Intimate.
People are attracted to detail. Photograph a large scene of people and an intimate scene of the same people and while the participants might buy both, they will linger longer over the intimate detail. Street photography and concert photography tend to be focused in on a detailed moment in time.
Macro photography and close-up photography take detail to another level.
Spiders suddenly become interesting.
Flies more terrifying.
We see suspense, if not humor;
and we see the cycle of life.
Sometimes when we see something we have never seen before we have to look at it harder and longer than, for example, a landscape photograph to understand what is up and what is down; it is like a puzzle unfolding. Looking closer teaches us about the world around us.
There are those who use macrophotography techniques to document things and others who use the techniques to be creative photographers, tell a story, or create a pleasing image. Either way nothing beats capturing something that can only be seen and shared with our photographic tools.
Macrophotography has its own rules and challenges; every workable result is a victory over narrow depth of field and poor lighting. There is always satisfaction in beating the odds with a pleasing result.
Macrophotography, like astrophotography, underwater photography and other niches requires some additional gear, although not as much as some and has its own learning curve. I would hazard a guess that there are more people shooting macrophotography than stars and fish, simply because of the accessibility. I may be wrong but the growth of interest in macrophotography is increasing not shrinking.
I began macrophotography two and a half years ago with an old macro lens, some extension tubes and a flash with a softbox. Since then I have added a bit more gear, tried a few things but nothing beats my original set up for walking about and chancing on things. I have met a lot of interesting people through macrophotography from scientists to shooters like myself. Macrophotography is great for indoor fun on rainy days as you do not need a lot of room to shoot indoors, but I refuse to take insects inside, kill them or freeze them, I like them alive, natural and in context. But as I noted there are a lot of thing to be photographed up close.
People starting out to do macrophotography have several options. First, a word about what the difference between macro and close-up really is. Some lenses, like wide angles, can focus very close to your subject (inches/centimeters). Longer lenses tend to have a minimal working distance to subject that is significantly larger than with wide-angle lenses; e.g. standing back five feet with a longer lens as opposed to a few inches away with a wide-angle lens. For some, close focusing with your existing lenses may be all you need. Macro is defined as beginning at the point where you are shooting things the size of your camera’s sensor. So if your sensor is a centimeter or an inch long and your subject is that size and fills your screen you are at 1:1, if you take a detail of that subject and it fills the sensor you may be at 2:1 (2x life) or greater. Few of us with store bought gear will successfully get past 5x life. In fact photographers like me take pictures seldom get to 1:1, we do shoot closer than our lens would permit and we crop.
There are a number of ways to get closer. Most close-up filters tend to degrade image quality. The Raynox 150 and 250 are inexpensive and high quality. The next cheapest way to get close up is to reverse a lens on the front of your camera or onto the front of your existing lenses. This solution may affect autofocus and metering is manual. It is certainly more awkward but many great photographers like this reverse lens technique. You need older lenses where the fstop can be set on the lenses.
The next thing to try and much more popular are extension tubes. These are empty tubes you place between your camera and your lens; the better ones like Kenko maintain control over focus and metering. The tubes come in a package of three 12, 24, and 36mm long. The two shortest are the most useful. You lose the ability to focus at infinity (Your focus range is limited), a bit of light, but you can now focus extremely close. The shorter the lens you use with these tubes, the closer you will have to get to your subject
Macro lenses are expensive but worthwhile and they can be combined with extension tubes. My usual kit is a 105mm and 24mm of tubes. Shorter macro lenses are not practical for me, as I do not like to close to (within millimeters) of the animals I shoot.
Whichever solution you choose, if the subject is not moving use a tripod. In all cases the closer you get, the narrower the depth of field and the more light you need to get a decent shot (somewhere above f11 is the limit before diffraction occurs and image quality suffers) so you may need a flash, and straight flash is very harsh so you will want to diffuse that light. Ring flashes are harder to diffuse than other types of flashes.
Beyond the suggestions above and moving past into significant magnification with bellows and microscopes, we face the danger that our audience will need to be told what they are looking at because most things will look foreign.
If you take one thing away from this post I would like it to be that it’s that what people call macro photography is really close up photography and it maybe possible to step into this with what you already have. The last photograph was taken with a Nikon 70-200 VRII lens at 200mm, ISO 100, 1/250th of second at f5.6 with a D7000 (16megapixels) cropped by about 100%. No flash was used. The Nikon 70-200 has a minimal focus distance of 1.4 meters, about 4.5 feet.
I hope this brief introduction helps. It’s a wonderful form of the art but as I have said the odds are seldom in our favor and a lot of patience is needed (or at least acceptance that fewer shots than we are used to will work out as planned).
For more on macrophotography you can read my longer explanations at: http://rakmilphotography.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/how-i-go-about…er-of-examples/
While my photography goes beyond macro, I will be posting more material on my blog and on my website http://www.rakmilphotography.com
I am interested in how others see close-up and macrophotography and what they like to look at and/or photograph.
Here is a gallery for you and I would like to take this opportunity to thank Victor for my being my guest blogger today.