The Ultimate Guide To Macro (Part 1) - Shooting techniques

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How to take mesmerising images of subjects on a large scale

Macro photography is an accessible genre that everyone can get involved in. No matter where you live or what your budget is, there are plenty of shooting opportunities that you can make the most of. In this photographic guide we’ll show you everything you need to know about capturing glorious macro images. From packing the right kit, through to tracking down your subjects, there won’t be a topic or question left unanswered.

Description: macro photography

Macro photography

Great macro shots have the power to captivate the viewer and hold a gaze in ways that other photographic genres simply can’t achieve. The magic of bringing small, untouched words to life on a large scale is something that people find very hard to resist. In order to progress your skills to a pro level, you need to be aware of a few techniques to achieve a truly high-end finish. We’ll teach you how to perfect your lighting, create complementary backgrounds and choose the right settings for maximum impact. Let’s get started

Shooting techniques

Try out these methods for perfect macro results

Lighting your macro shots

Description: lighting with macro shots

Lighting with macro shots

Forget bright sunshine – an overcast day offers the best light for outdoor macro shots, as the cloud cover acts as a giant softbox and eliminates harsh shadows. You should always have a reflector handy to help bounce light into your subject.

If you using extension tubes, Teleconverters or filters, you will often find your light is limited and you need to supplement the shot with another light source or a longer shutter speed. You can increase your chances of capturing a great macro image, simply by using flash. Using flash will give you much more control over the exposure, and minimises the need to shoot at such a wide aperture or a long shutter speed. Smaller apertures like f16 and f22 give you increase depth of field and flash also helps to freeze any movement caused by camera shake, the breeze or the subject itself.

Another advantage of flash is that it will illuminate and highlight the details and textures of your subject, which is one of the major features of a successful macro image. It also helps to produce brighter, more vivid colours.

You can purchase complete macro flash systems that mount on your macro lens, usually consisting of two separate flash heads that you can adjust to suit your shot. Brackets, clips and stands are also available that enable you to position one or two flashes off-camera. Thekey is to angle the flashes to produce an appealing result that doesn’t make the use of flash look too obvious or clumsy.

Macro backgrounds

Description: Macro backgrounds

The background of a macro shot is as important in the success of a shot as the main subject. It should complement the subject and help emphasise the detail in your subject rather than compete with it. An easy way to do this is to control your depth of field, keeping the subject in focus but subtly blurring-out the background.

A simple shift of your viewpoint could also help you find a different colour or tone in the background that might look better behind your subject, so move your lens around until you find something that works. Avoid strong shapes or highlights behind your subject as these will detract from the shot.

A spot of ‘gardening’ is often needed to tidy up the surroundings. This refers to when you remove any stray branches, leaves or other objects to help give you a clear background for your shot. Use common sense in this instance. It’s never advisable to start ripping up flower beds and possibly even disturbing protected species just to get a good photograph. Normally you can just tuck leaves and other pieces out of the way just while you take your photo.

Another trick to easily manipulate the colour of your background is to place coloured card or fabric behind your subject. Pick a matte-finish material to avoid unsightly reflections and position it around ten centimetres behind your subject so you can throw the paper texture out of focus. You can do this both indoor and outside- use pegs, clips or a mini stand to hold you background firmly in place. Dark velvet is recommended for its fantastic light-absorbing properties on a very bright day.

Your settings

Description: Aperture - The visible sharpness gained from depth-of-field adjustments are tiny when shooting in macro, and the different between f5 and f22 can often be measured in mere milimetres.

Aperture - The visible sharpness gained from depth-of-field adjustments are tiny when shooting in macro, and the different between f5 and f22 can often be measured in mere milimetres.

Taking a great macro shot requires a careful balance of your camera settings. To get the juggling act right, consider how every setting will affect the final shot.

Start by determining the degree of depth-of-field you want to achieve. For a shallow depth of field select an aperture of around f11 either in Apenture Priority or manual mode. This will keep the details of your main subject sharp while throwing the background out of focus.

Next consider your shutter speed. It may be that your camera has selected a slow shutter speed if you’re working in Apenture Priority. If this is the case, you will need to use a tripod, monopod or flash to help save your camera’s self-timer to minimise any camera shake during the exposure.

Description: Look closer - Be aware of the miniature life forms around you. Even small objects such as plant leaves can contain even smaller subject that deserve attention from your camera lens.

Look closer - Be aware of the miniature life forms around you. Even small objects such as plant leaves can contain even smaller subject that deserve attention from your camera lens.

It’s recommended that you focus manually. Switch your lens to MF and carefully focus on the most important part of your subject. If it’s a bug, then the head should be your main focus point. Position your camera on the same level as your subject and be prepared to get down into the underground to do this. If you have a tiltable LCD, then switch to Live View and use your screen to compose your shot.

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