Up close with Macro

While some photographers have to find their way to remote places or get up at the crack of dawn for their shot, one of the great things about macro photography is that you can do it in the comfort of your own home, using the things nearby. In fact, that’s when macro is at its best – when it reveals hidden details in the everyday.

A good macro shot takes the viewer on a journey – from working out what they’re looking at, to going in for a closer view. Get it right and your shot will hold people’s attention like few other genres can. A close-up of a jar of straws, the stamen of a flower or even just a row of Crayola pens can make for an arresting view. Zoom into grain and cereals, or reveal textures and patterns in different materials.

When you’ve got the hang of it, try close-ups of insects, raindrops on leaves, or play with f/stop values to see how depth of field is exaggerated at this level. Get the depth of field just right and your subject will pop out of the background.

Closer still

Sometimes this degree of magnification isn’t enough, and that’s when you venture into what’s known as ‘extreme macro’. There are several ways you can go about increasing the magnification. You can buy a magnifying lens that screws into your filter holder and magnifies the scene in front of you. 

These work better with some cameras than others, but can play havoc with auto-focusing. You can also try extending the distance between the camera and the lens. That’s how an extender works, and one of these can give you an extra two or three times magnification.

If you really get into macro photography then it’s possible to use an adaptor to couple your lens to your camera the opposite way round, known as reverse-coupling. If you’ve ever seen a close-up shot of a single snowflake, that’s how it was done. The technique requires plenty of patience and practice, but the results can be eye-opening.

Perfect depth of field

With macro photography, you’ll soon discover that it’s not the focusing that matters as much as the depth of field – even more so when you’re dealing with higher levels of magnification. 

The closer the object is to the lens, the shallower the depth of field, so in macro photography only a small slice of the image is in focus, even if you use the highest f/stop number available.    

The other way to make sure you get more of your image in focus is to take several shots of the same scene using different focus points for each shot, then combine them all together in Adobe Photoshop. This is known as focus-stacking, and high-end cameras like Nikon’s Z 7 include features to make this process a whole lot easier by automatically adjusting the focus point between each shot.

Get the kit

A true macro lens offers 1:1 reproduction, but if you’re thinking about buying a macro lens, then focal lengths (and prices) vary. The longer the focal length, the bigger the price tag. That focal length is key because it enables you to be physically further away from your subject to reproduce 1:1. The crop or surrounding artefacts will also be tighter with a larger focal length. For example, using a 180mm lens to photograph a bee, you can afford to be further away than if you were using a 50mm macro to reproduce 1:1. Obviously, if you’re shooting a bee, then the further away you can be, the better.

When working out which lens to go for, you also need to consider your sensor’s crop factor and its relationship to the focal length. Some people prefer using a camera with a crop sensor for macro photography because of the closer zoom, but you get better depth of field using a full-frame camera.

If you’re planning to shoot things that aren’t moving around, you have the chance to control the lighting just how you want it. A couple of Speedlights angled at your subject can make all the difference. You’ll also want a tripod for total control, or if you plan on giving focus-stacking a go.

Curious about macro?

Jessops Academy runs regular workshops that will give you a grounding in general macro photography. If insects and reptiles take your fancy, the Academy’s Exotic Macro Experience will be right up your street.

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