Secrets of Macro Photography
Peter Burian examines some key macro photography equipment and the techniques which can maximise its value, especially when you're shooting flowers and insects.
Regardless of the time of year, you can usually find great nature subjects either outdoors or in a greenhouse or botanical gardens. Extreme close-ups of flowers, insects, and other minuscule subjects always make for crowd-pleasing pictures, especially when rendered with suitable technique and equipment. And if you prefer to photograph other small objects - like coins and stamps - the methods you'll use are quite similar. When photographers discuss “close-up” photography, they’re generally referring to moderately close focusing, as in a tight head-and-shoulders portrait. However, it’s possible to get much, much closer for high magnification of a very small subject. Often called “macro”, extreme close-up photography is both enjoyable and creatively rewarding. While specialised equipment can be expensive, you can also try such photography with a lens you already own and an affordable accessory.
Accessories For Zooms
Although many 70-300mm zooms are labelled as “macro”, very few such lenses can provide a frame-filling image of a tiny subject such as a honeybee. With a few exceptions they can focus adequately close to provide 0.25x magnification (a 1:4 magnification ratio) at the longest focal length. Translated into practical terms, that allows for rendering a bee as about 1/4 life-size in the image. Granted, some zooms feature higher magnification, 0.33x, and a few will focus adequately close to provide a 0.5x or 1:2 magnification. The latter will produce an image where the honeybee is 1/2 life-size in the frame. For higher magnification, though, you can add a “supplementary (or accessory) close-up lens", often called a plus diopter. This accessory resembles a filter with magnifying glass and it's available in various diopter strengths from +1 to +4 and even higher. They're simple to use, compact, lightweight and affordable. By reducing a lens’ minimum focusing distance, these accessories allow you to create high-magnification images, especially at the long end of a telephoto zoom lens.
For the highest image sharpness, buy the double-element or “achromatic” supplementary close-up lenses. Because of superior correction for optical flaws or aberrations, this type produces impressive technical quality. A +2.5 or a +3 model is ideal for use with a telephoto zoom lens. The most readily available models are Canon’s CU 250D (+4 dioptre) and CU 500D (+2 dioptre) in various sizes; either is suitable for a lens of any brand. If necessary, order one which is larger than required for your lens and buy an inexpensive adapter ring...
ALSO IN THIS ISSUE: How David Haworth shot this promotional image; How to get more creative without Auto mode; Profile - Herbert Basedow; Profile - Art Wolfe; Locations - Maffra Region, Vic; Sony Alpha a77 SLT
This story was first published in the Australian Photography January 2012 issue of Australian Photography > January 2012.