Photo Tip of the Week: How to Capture Stunning Macros
In macro photography there are always plenty of amazing subjects to photograph. Wildlife and nature photographer Dale R Morris shares his secrets for capturing life’s small wonders.
Macro photographers are witness an often overlooked world full of perfect plants and amazing animals; a world in which an ant is every bit as intriguing as an elephant.
And taking great macro shots is easier than you think. If you’re a compact camera user, this is one area where the smaller sensor in your camera has an advantage over the big DSLR sensors. Switch your camera to macro mode and you’ll find that it’s not too hard to fill the frame with the smallest of subjects.
If you own a DSLR, you’ll need a specialist macro lens or extension tubes, but there are plenty of affordable options out there and the results are well worth it.
A dedicated macro lens will give you the best image quality but If you’re on a tight budget, cheap extension tubes can be bought from most photography shops and attached between the lens and the camera body. These simple and relatively cheap accessories will help you to get up close to the smallest of bugs without spending a fortune. If you decide you're serious about macro photography you can always upgrade to a dedicated lens later on.
So, what else do you need to take great macro shots? A half-decent 'off-shoe' flash gun can be useful. Often in macro photography, the subject is only a few centimeters away from the front element of the lens, and the camera's pop up flash may not be able to cast a light at such short distances.
Using a light source that is not attached to your camera will allow you to illuminate your subject from whatever angle you want. If a flash isn't in your budget try using a simple gold or silver reflector to bounce natural sunlight onto your subject or even use an LED torch.
Achieving sharp focus in macro photography can be challenging because depth of field is normally
very narrow and the subjects rarely keep still. High f-stop numbers require longer shutter speeds which in turn leads to blurry shots.
Try turning off the autofocus and focussing manually. Focus on the subject by fractionally moving your body and set your shutter speed to around 1/80s and your flash to auto.
Try to imagine the world from the perspective of a tiny animal. You’ll soon discover a world you
didn’t even know existed.
Try looking for pleasing compositions, colours and patterns within the finer details of a larger subject. Here, I photographed the eye of a paper nautilus I found washed up on the beach. (Nikon D300, 105mm macro lens, f22 @ 1/50s, ISO 320, rear curtain flash.)
Achieving sharp focus in macro photography can be challenging. Depth of field is normally very narrow and the subjects rarely keep still. Further, high f-stop numbers, which offer the deepest depth of field, require longer shutter speeds which in turn leads to blurry shots. (Nikon D300, 90mm lens, f6.3 @ 1/100s, ISO 320.)
When photographing insects, try to get your lens at eye level – it makes for more engaging images. (Nikon D100, 100mm lens, f18 @ 1/60s.)
This isn’t a macro but it’s relevant as I put it in because I took it while shooting macros. Sometimes it pays to step back and look at the broader picture. (Nikon D200, 400mm lens, f4.5 @ 1/400s, ISO 400. A slight soft focus filter was applied in Photoshop using nik color effects filters.)
Look for simple backgrounds. In this case the bright yellow background of the flower draws our eyes to the subject. (Nikon D200, 90mm macro lens, f22 @ 1/80s, ISO 200).
Article first published in Digital Photography + Design (now Australian Photography + Digital) in April-May 2012.