How to photograph in macro?

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Pau Monfort
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How to photograph in macro? Through Pascale brites, Digital Focus (@Lesnums) Posted on 26/07/16 at 09:00 Share:

Once your photo equipment has been selected thanks to our tests and our buying guide, it's time to start practicing. In this article, we have therefore chosen to approach the macro from a technical point of view, by varying the applications. Because the happiness of the macro, it is to discover in each small detail of what surrounds us a multitude of possible subjects. If flowers are your passion, you can also read our file dedicated to this subject because we also discussed the macrophoto aspect.





Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF 100mm f/2,8L macro IS USM lens and Savage Macro ART Variable Auto-Extension tube.

Equipment

We are not going to come back for the umpteenth time on the difference between proxiphotography, macrophotography and hypermacrophotography: these terms have been treated in our glossary on important notions in macro.

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What is important to consider is that a camera capable of achieving the 1:1 ratio is not essential to achieve beautiful images of small subjects. Moreover, if you observe a large number of photographs of flowers, insects or birds published by naturalist photographers, it is not rare that they are not carried out with such a strong magnification. Some zooms stamped "macro" but not exceeding the 1:2 or 1:3 ratio will be perfectly sufficient to start and achieve beautiful images.

Nevertheless, using a material allowing to reach the field of macrophotography or hypermacrophotography immediately switches to a particular aesthetic and full of charm. It makes it possible to highlight details so fine that they are often discovered on the image, even elements invisible to the naked eye.



f / 3,5, 1/400 s, 100 ISO.


Optical system

To take macro photos, it is not essential to have an SLR. Some compacts or bridges are perfectly capable of achieving high magnification ratios for a moderate investment and a small footprint.

It will however be necessary to support the defects inherent in the smallness of their sensors, namely a noise very quickly disabling in high sensitivity. For this reason, reflexes or hybrids are often preferred, which allow you to work in low light conditions and obtain sharp images.

The best working comfort is obtained by using a macro lens allowing very close focusing and whose optical performance is optimized for short distances. These are often lenses with astonishing sharpness, which are not necessarily limited to small subjects but are also very popular with portrait photographers. Unfortunately, the entrance ticket is relatively high (see our buying guide).

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The Savage extension ring has a variable length, between 40 and 56 mm.


Before investing in this type of lens, the right solution could therefore be to buy an extension ring which is simply mounted between the camera and the lens: very inexpensive, it can be combined with all your lenses. and will significantly increase their magnification. By starting out like this, you can get familiar with the macro before investing in a dedicated lens if you feel the need. In addition, this ring being logically compatible with the macro lens that you will buy later, it will allow you to go beyond the 1:1 ratio and extend its field of application.



Macro isn't just for plants and insects. Used in other areas, it can suggest softness, be used for graphic compositions or even underline a material.

When everything moves

Photographing a very narrow field makes you realize how difficult it is to stay perfectly still. Add to that the extremely shallow depth of field induced by the short focusing distance and you will quickly find that it is almost impossible to shoot at high magnification ratios handheld and wide open.


These three freehand composite images at f/3,2 a few centimeters from the subject show how difficult it is to stay still to focus in the right place.

The first solution is to close the diaphragm. But despite this, the depth of field remains incredibly shallow: diaphragm closed at f/16 in the 1:1 ratio, it does not exceed a few millimeters. Also, if you are not using an internal focusing lens or are using an extension tube, the loss of light induced by the larger print will require you to decrease your shutter speed or use high sensitivities that will affect the modeling of out-of-focus areas and the restitution of fine details. You will therefore have to make choices between a high speed to obtain a sharp image, a sufficient depth of field to cover the size of your subject and a low sensitivity to maintain good image quality.

For this, the tripod stands out as an essential accessory for a large number of macro photographers. Ideal for immobile subjects around which you can take the time to place your equipment in order to compose your image carefully, its use does not solve all the problems for small animals.


f / 5,6, 1/750 s, 100 ISO.

On mobile subjects, you will need to demonstrate a certain talent for observation to identify the host plants of the different insects, arm yourself with patience to wait for your subject to come in and react quickly to trigger at the appropriate time. Despite all the precautions, whether or not you use a tripod, you will probably have to make several attempts to hope to obtain the shot you have in mind. Since autofocus is also a frequent source of failed images, we prefer to work manually.


Difficult to take stock in macro. On these two images taken at f/3,5 with a depth of field that does not exceed 2 mm, we see that a very slight gust of wind or movement of the photographer will make the pistil blurry or sharp.

The light

High magnification and low diaphragm opening make light requirements more important in macro. The ring flash is a good help: attached to the front of the lens, it does not require any particular manipulation and avoids the appearance of cast shadows.

Its proximity to the subject and its low adjustment possibilities, however, generate a fairly flat light, which makes it less interesting than creative lighting using several cobras. The solution offered by Nikon with the Nikon R1C1 macro kit is in this sense a judicious compromise for its ergonomics and its compatibility with the brand's flash system.

If you are not a fan of flash photography and prefer natural lighting, you can perfectly free yourself from this accessory to play with sunlight. Do not hesitate to work against the light, to highlight the transparency and structure of the plants. You can also photograph insects in Chinese shadow by framing the sun full face.

To create a shadow on your subject, consider taking a small reflector: a simple white card will do, given the size of the subject. Do not be afraid of strong contrasts. In general, macro photographs are distinguished by their graphic sense in which contrast and saturation play an important role. You will no doubt have to edit your raw files to accentuate these parameters a little.


The graphics of the macro images allow some freedom in editing. Here, the blue cast was created by performing a white balance adjustment on the RAW file.


The black and white processing also lends itself quite well to macros.

Point of view and framing

Positioning yourself correctly in relation to your subject is a basic notion specific to any type of photography. But its importance is all the greater in macro as the smallness of the subject requires a very precise placement.


At f/3,2, the depth of field is too shallow for the entire butterfly to be in focus.

Unless you want to transcribe the material of a flat surface or the shape of a flower by a frontal shot, place yourself at ground level or the surface of your subject. Thus, you will discover a small world invisible in normal times. You'll also be in a better position to photograph your subject so that it stands out against a blurry background.

If you use a telephoto lens, you will probably be tempted to achieve very close-ups. But if it is always impressive to distinguish the eyes of a microscopic insect, consider also presenting the plant on which it is and the other flowers around. For this, use a lens close to the normal focal length or a wide-angle to include your subject in its environment.

Turn around your subject and look at it from different angles: you will quickly go from a flat and uninteresting photo to a more graphic vision. As often, only practice will help you perfect your technique.

So, before tackling the little beasts, observe all the elements around you. We have already devoted a tutorial to flower photography, an inexhaustible subject in macro, but we could have done it with water, any plant or mineral material or even small everyday objects. Seen from the angle of the infinitely small, the most mundane things can turn out to be the most interesting subjects. So the best practical advice we can give you is to grab your device and observe your surroundings through your viewfinder. It could be that in no time, you will become completely addicted to the macro!

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