My Thoughts on Macro Photography

Macro Photography

What is Macro Photography and is it really what most people want to do when they think “I want to do Macro Photography”. I’ve proposed doing two series of photography that could be done using Macro Photography, but more likely what we will really use is Close Up Photography (CUP). Technically Macro starts when an object is represented at a 1:1 ratio on the film or sensor. But for things like wildflowers we will be mostly in the realm of CUP, but may at times we may be imaging at 1:1. The Arachnids of Oregon project will probably be more of a very CUP or Macro effort.

There are lots of ways to do Maco, some suited for field work, some for studio work. I am going to discuss the ways I do field work, both technique and equipment used. There are of course many ways to do MP, but I’ve found what works for me and that is what I am going to discuss.

I’ve always had a “true” macro lens in the range of 100mm that was capable of providing the 1:1 ratio on the sensor or film. This type of lens has always been my sharpest lens, so sharp that it required some photoshop (PS) work if I imaged people who were sensitive to “flaws”.
Benefits of a Macro lens is that they are often “small to normal” sized lens and not as heavy as faster lenses (most Macro Lenses are f2.8 to F32/64). The down side is they are expensive and single focal length.
However there are several ways to make normal lenses focus more closely. I am only going to talk about the one macro tool I have used for the past 20 years besides a true macro lens. That tool is the diopter filter(DF) – which come in single and dual element. The single element diopter filters are significantly less expensive but are optically much inferior.

The benefit of DF is that you can purchase threaded adapter rings so a larger DF can fit a smaller lens. This has several benefits , the biggest is that since the dual element DF are somewhat expensive (but not compared to a real macro lens).
Because I a small herd of lenses I have two DF. The special ones I use are the Canon D500/D250. A normal lens (say 55 to 58mm) Canon will cost around $80. For large zoom lenses (72/77mm) the cost is close to $200.

I’ve included some macro images which I think shows the performance of these DF’s. The D500 is for lenses longer than 100mm (most zooms) and the D250 is for lenses less than 100mm. Because most lenses are very good now, yes you can use your “normal” zoom to take good to great macro images of flowers and bugs.

The big benefit of a zoom lens and a DF is the same benefit you get from a zoom – you can get different magnifications without having to change lenses. When I shoot macro images in the field its often because I had a DF in my bag or pocket. A DF means you don’t have to change lenses to image macro, just attach it and you are in business.

The second most import tool to have for any macro imaging is a flash and diffuser. Even the built-in flash if your camera has one can be used with something like a piece of cloth over the flash to diffuse it. Of course, on a bright day or with high ISO in the shade you might not need a flash, but it’s an image saver when you do need it.

Buds are forming on plants as I right this. So we are going to have a “Macro School” at a selected botanical garden so those who have never tried this kind of imaging can learn before the flowers are blooming and the critters are running around. For this test you might want to consider buying an inexpensive single element diopter if you are unsure if you really need macro especially if flowers are your image target. Some lenses do focus to ¼ life size and for flowers that can be “close enough”.
Besides Diopters and Flash, this next tip will make your macro life so much easier. It doesn’t make what macro setup you are using in the field, but for single shot macro images don’t be afraid of diffraction which on large sensors can start at f22/32 and around F11 for smaller sensors. Why? Because unless you stack images you need all of the Depth of Field (DOF) you can get. Images greater than ¼ life size have very, very shallow DOF. Seriously, no one will ever see the diffraction caused by the small F stop, but they will notice key parts of the image that are out of focus.

I hope you will join me on this outing if you have never done this type of imaging or are just “rusty”. Once we’ve had our “tune up and learning” session, our first real outing will be close, but probably will still need to have some car pooling.
Bursting with color in late April and early May, the Camassia Natural Area in West Linn was carved out thousands of years ago by the great floods, but it’s a natural work of art that’s stood the test of time. A 16-mile drive south of downtown Portland, the 26-acre preserve can get muddy in the springtime, but from its trails you’ll see more than 300 different plant species and plenty of familiar birds flocking overhead.
Many folks do use tripods, rail focusing, and softbox lights for flowers, but that would be for an advanced program I think.