Five tips for better macro images
Photographing a bee in flight, an image of a gecko with its tongue poking out or all the intricate details of a tiny rainforest fungi can be very rewarding, but at the same time challenging. In this article, I will show you five photographic tips and techniques that will help you achieve quality macro images in the field.
For SLR and Mirrorless cameras, there are various methods you can use to get close to your macro subjects. There are close-up filters available that screw onto the front of your lens. You can ‘piggy-back’ these on top of each other but please be aware that you can lose considerable image quality by doing this. If you are starting out in macro photography and funds are an issue, these filters are worth considering but please be aware of the limitations in sharpness.
For SLR users, extension tubes are a great option. I have used these for over 20 years when photographing macro subjects. These tubes are designed to fit in between your camera and lens and are free of glass, therefore there isn’t any loss of image quality. The only negative aspect to using extension tubes is the reduction in the amount of light entering your camera, thereby slowing down your shutter speed. I generally recommend using a tripod or alternatively a flash unit, which will give you the extra light needed.
The best option for getting sharp macro images is using a dedicated macro lens. This allows ultra-close focus and gives your images optimum sharpness. Macro lenses vary in focal length from approximately 40mm to 200mm. The advantage of a longer focal length is that you don't need to be as close to subjects such as butterflies or dragonflies, which are easily disturbed when approached.
2.Flash Units for Extra Lighting
To achieve quality macro images, greater depth of field (higher number, smaller aperture opening) is often required and your shutter speed will inevitably end up being quite slow. This can create movement, which in turn leads to blurry images. One way to alleviate this problem is with a flash unit.
For compact cameras, the inbuilt pop-up flash can be used to give that extra bit of light needed. I highly recommend a macro flash for an SLR, as this allows you to follow the subject (such as flying bees or butterflies). Macro flash units normally clip onto the front of your lens, while the cord attaches to the camera’s Hot Shoe.
An alternative to a macro flash, is a reflector. This helps throw extra light onto the subject. Reflectors can be purchased commercially from most photographic stores and online or made at home by covering some cardboard with aluminium foil and crinkling the surface of it. Natural light from above reflects extra light from different angles, helping to eliminate dark shadows.
This method is especially handy when you are photographing any flowers that are tube-like, such as roses, hibiscus, fuchsias etc. The resulting images are so much more natural than trying to ‘bring out’ the shadows later on in post-processing.
4.Tripods and stability
If your aim is to create sharp macro images of stationary subjects such as flowers or fungi, a tripod is crucial piece of equipment. When needing greater depth of field, the shutter speed can end up being quite slow. Some cheaper-priced tripods are very flimsy, so it is vital to buy one that is sturdy.
I suggest using a cable release or remote with a tripod, to minimise any movement created rom pressing the shutter button manually. For a compact camera, the inbuilt self-timer will suffice.
5.Depth of Field
Macro images can look completely different by changing your aperture and depth of field. When photographing a flower, you can focus directly on the stamen and use a shallow depth of field (i.e. f2.8) to create a striking image.
The stamen will be the “feature” of the photo and the petals behind will be blurred out. If you keep the same composition and focus further into your flower and use a much greater depth of field (i.e. f22) then the entire flower will be in focus and you have created a completely different look. The only thing that has changed is the aperture setting.
Another example of how depth of field creates different looks is when taking photos of frogs. A great effect can be achieved by focusing on one eye. When using a shallow depth of field, the eye will be the centre of attention and the rest of the body will be blurred out. By again changing to a greater depth of field, the whole body will be in focus and a different image is created.
About the author: Michael Snedic is one of Australia's most experienced and published professional wildlife and nature photographers. He is the owner and operator of WildNature Photo Expeditions and has been presenting photography workshops and tours across Australia and the world for the last 16 years.
If you would like to learn how to take better macro images, Michael presents a regular half day macro photography workshop in Brisbane. To view full details on his next macro workshop and many others, please visit WildNature Photo Expeditions.