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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Macro Magic

Find nature’s secrets in the world of the very small

Labels: How-ToOn LandscapeColumn

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Lupine Leaves: Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, EF 50mm ƒ/2.5 Compact Macro, 0.7 sec. at ƒ/32, ISO 100

When I bought my first camera in 1974, it came with a set of extension tubes for macro photography. I was living near Boulder Creek in Colorado, and because of my fascination with the details of nature, I often focused on macro photography rather than the scenic landscape.

My enthusiasm for macro is still alive and well. As in those early days, my tools are simple. I often use a pair of Canon EF 25 extension tubes with my 50mm Macro or 90mm Tilt-Shift lens. One of the key skills any macro photographer needs to learn is how to manage depth of field. These two lenses, plus tubes, offer me flexible options for a range of creative depth of field. Using a wide aperture and high magnification can give a beautiful soft-focus effect, especially by simplifying the background.

Just as often in my macro photographs, I'll want total sharpness to reveal the details of my subject, such as showing all of the tiny hairs and water droplets on a wet lupine leaf. For this situation, I'll often use ƒ/32 or ƒ/22 for maximum depth of field. Although these aren't the optimum apertures for resolution, I find that optimum focus is more important than perfect resolution.

Plum Blossom: Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, TS-E 90mm ƒ/2.8, 1/180 sec. at ƒ/2.8, ISO 400
Besides the obvious need for great light and composition, camera position is especially important with macro imagery. The angle at which one is photographing a subject can determine the degree of sharpness. For example, if you're aiming obliquely at an interesting ice pattern at ground level, even a small aperture may not pull the whole pattern into sharpness if the focus range is beyond the focal length/aperture combination. The more parallel the camera back is to the main plane of the subject, the better.

In making the photograph of lupine leaves shown here, the hardest part was setting up the tripod so the camera back was as parallel as possible to this group of leaves. I use Gitzo tripods with no center column and legs that "release" to open wider. I can open the tripod legs, which allows for lower camera placement.

Just picking this group of lupine leaves was a highly selective process. I searched diligently for a group that was close together and also of similar height to minimize the distance between the furthest and closest leaf. The selection of lighting, form and compositional aspects, such as density of leaves and depth of field, must all work together to make a great image.


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