Think Small, Think Macro!

Macrophotography is all about the world of the very small.

Macro seems to have its own set of rules. But if you have the passion, you’ll be rewarded by hours of fun photography, and breathtaking images from an unseen world.

Macro or not macro?

There is no technical standard that says what is macro and what is not. It is generally accepted that if a camera and lens is able to produce an image the same physical size as the subject (or a 1:1 ratio) it is considered macro. In the world of photography, the word macro has come to mean any camera that can take extreme close-ups.

Macro equipment can be exotic and somewhat unusual, but most point-and-shoot cameras on the market today offer some degree of macro capability. Even if they are rather basic, the fact is that the smaller sensor in a point-and-shoot camera makes it easy to take good sharp close-ups with a basic lens.

Macro is also a state of mind. It involves a great deal of patience and attention to details in flowers, insects, blades of grass, crystals, bubbles, etc.

A world to discover

The only limits are the photographer’s imagination and, of course, the time and money one is prepared to invest. Many photographers are great at nature photography, they use relatively simple cameras and equipment and produce astonishing images, very often through patience and the basic knowledge of where to look.

In addition to point-and-shoot cameras, quite a few DSLR «kit» lenses (that’s the lens you get with a camera when you bought it…) are zoom designs that incorporate good enough macro features for starters.

Stepping up to specialized gear

The next step is usually the purchase of a real macro lens. These are able to focus on subjects that are a few inches away from the camera and can still be used for faraway subjects.

Macro lenses come in several focal lengths, the most abundant being 50mm lenses of many makes and models. But macro lenses are quite plentiful all the way up to 180mm in focal length. The main advantage to using a longer lens is being able to work a little further from the subject. This is particularly useful when photographing living creatures that will move away forever if they feel you too close.

Macro lenses can be beefed up by adding extension tubes or close-up lenses, but tubes are preferable because they introduce no new lenses between the subject and the camera, thus retaining maximum sharpness. Close-up lenses are relatively cheap and easy to use, but they will increase distortion and diffraction.

Focus is critical

Accurate focusing is crucial to good macro photography and is made more difficult by the almost inexistent depth of field. In our sample, the lens was focused on the bud of the flower. In the second shot, taken at a large aperture, you can see the petals of the flower are out of focus.

Stopping down the lens means lower shutter speeds and paying a lot more attention to camera stability. This requires a sturdy tripod plus a remote or at least delayed shutter.

Your local camera store is a great source of advice if you’re interested in macro photography. Many offer macro seminars and courses. In addition, if there is a photo club in your community, chances are you can hook up with a macro fan or two, or maybe even a few. Like any amateur photographer, they’ll probably be very glad to help.