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Thursday, June 1, 2006

Closer And Closer Macro

The OP Guide to close-up gear


Close-up devices magnify blur caused by camera or subject movement. One thing you can do to help is shoot at higher ISOs and faster shutter speeds to minimize handheld camera shake. This may mean shooting at wide apertures, which reduces depth of field. Keep in mind that it's better to have a close-up shot with one point really sharp than a close-up shot with nothing quite sharp. And selective focus—carefully focusing so a specific portion of a close-up is sharp and everything else completely out of focus from a wide aperture‚Äîis a great creative technique.

For optimum sharpness in close-up work, focus manually. That way you can be sure focus is exactly where you want it. Many close-up shooters find it easier to move the camera slowly toward the subject until it comes into focus, rather than rotating the focusing ring. For fine focusing at high magnifications, a focusing rail can be helpful, as it allows you to move the camera in very small, controlled increments.

Image stabilizers in lenses and camera bodies are a big help for close-up work, too, but not all cameras/lenses provide them.

A tripod can provide the steadiest support. You might find it useful to determine the ideal camera position by handholding the camera, then bring in the tripod and fix the camera in that position. The main things to look for in a tripod for close-up work are sturdiness and ease of putting the camera where you want it. These are best checked in person at your local camera store. Some tripods have reversing center columns, so you can position the attached camera very low. Tripods with legs that can be spread wide let you position the camera lower than tripods whose legs lock at 30 degrees or so.

Some tripods, such as the Benbo Trekker models, Giottos MT-8180 and Gitzo Explorer with any-position legs and tilting center column, offer unique designs that make it easy to mount the camera just about anywhere. Mini-tripods make it easy to position the camera for low-level shots, and they'll fit into tighter spaces than full-sized tripods.

If you do a lot of low-level work, you might want to get a right-angle attachment for your camera's viewfinder. The rotating/tilting LCD monitors on some consumer digital cameras and the tilting live monitor on the Olympus EVOLT E-330 D-SLR make low-level shooting much easier. When using a live-monitor digital camera, zoom in on the monitor image for easier focusing.

When you have to travel light, a beanbag is a good choice. Position the beanbag wherever you want the camera, then nest the camera on it. The Pod is a readymade, beanbag-type camera support that comes with a 1/4-20 screw to securely attach the camera.

Close-Up Lighting Gear
Electronic flash is an excellent light source for close-up work. Used at close range, its duration is brief (often 1/10,000 sec. or shorter), minimizing the effects of camera and subject movement, while its intensity allows you to stop down the lens to maximize depth of field (which is extremely limited at very close shooting distances).

Many of today's SLR cameras permit TTL off-camera flash operation. Some systems require flash extension cords, while others do it wirelessly.

Moving your flash unit off-camera lets you produce more interesting lighting. And the ability to fire more than one flash unit in sync provides even more flexibility; you can have a main light and a fill light, or a main light and a rim light, etc.

Ring lights, with a circular flash tube that surrounds the lens, produce even, flat lighting that's good for showing subject detail because nothing gets hidden by shadows. There are also macro flash units that consist of two or three individual straight flash tubes that can be positioned around the lens. These provide much more versatility than ring lights, as you can set each unit at a different power to produce effective lighting ratios.

Macro flash brackets allow you to mount one or more flash units on-camera but away from the lens, thus solving the problem of positioning off-camera flash units in the field. If you don't use a flash bracket, you can hold a flash unit at arm's length with one hand, or use light stands or clamps to hold your off-camera flash unit.

Working With The Sun
The sun can be a good light source for close-ups, too. You can't move it, often it's too harsh and sometimes it's not available, but it's free, bright and daylight-balanced.

Early and late in the day, the sun comes from a low angle and passes through more atmosphere, so it provides attractive directional lighting and isn't as harsh as during midday. You can even use the low-angle sun as a background for a tiny flower or insect—when you focus at macro distances, the out-of-focus background sun becomes huge in the frame.

You can soften midday sun by positioning a diffuser between the sun and your subject, or you can direct sunlight onto your subject with a reflector. Light tents and diffusion boxes, which surround the subject with diffusion material, produce attractive soft light for flower photos and eliminate glare hotspots.

Other Useful Macro Stuff
"Gobo" is a film-industry term for a black panel used to block light off a portion of a subject or scene. Gobos can be used to block both unwanted light and wind. They're available commercially, or you can use a sheet of black cardboard.

While you generally photograph outdoor subjects as you find them, there are several useful subject clamps. They attach to a tripod leg or other handy support, and include a flexible arm that can be positioned as needed. A clip positioned at the end safely holds a subject in a specific position or keeps it from moving in the wind, holds extraneous foliage out of the way and holds reflectors or gobos.

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