Tuesday, November 6, 2012
New Ways To Think About Macro
To get a unique close-up perspective, think beyond the usual macro lens
First, I'll go over some math. Don't panic! It's simple, and understanding the math defines reproduction ratios so it's pretty important. The reproduction ratio of the image size on the film plane or digital sensor, X, to the actual size of the subject you're photographing, Y, is expressed as a ratio, X:Y. An image that's reproduced at "life-size" (image size equals subject size) on a film plane/sensor would have a reproduction ratio of X = 1 to Y = 1, or 1:1). Typically, "close-up" photography involves reproduction ratios from about 1:10 (the subject size is 10 times the image size on the film plane/sensor) to about 1:1 (life-size). Ratios where the film plane/sensor size is equal to or greater than the subject size, such as 2:1 (the image size on the film plane/sensor is twice the size of the subject) is usually referred to as "macro" or "super-macro" photography. There's wiggle room in the definitions, and the terms are often interchanged.
To capture truly great macro images, it's a good idea to research your subject. For example, to photograph mating gray petaltail dragonflies or robber flies, you need to know where to find them, when they're present and active, and how wary they are of your approach. For wildflowers, you need to know what species you want to photograph, where you can find them and when they bloom. You also need to decide whether you want basic record images or artistic impressions. Do you want your subject and its environment, or are you trying to isolate a singular feature? These are key composition considerations for any macro photograph.
Early in my career, I didn't even own a macro lens. I used a Nikon medium telephoto zoom and two-element Nikon diopters. The zoom telephoto provided a good working distance for wary insects, but the minimum focusing distance was too far for small subjects. The diopters let me focus closer, emphasizing the subject. I recommend high-quality, two-element diopters. They're very sharp and you don't suffer the light loss of extension tubes. I captured great photos with this initial setup, but I wanted to improve my images and started researching macro lenses. A lens designed for true macro work is optimized for edge-to-edge sharpness and close-focusing capability without the need of additional elements like diopters or extension tubes.
Eventually, I purchased an extremely sharp Micro-Nikkor 200mm ƒ/4D and an AF Micro-Nikkor 70-180mm ƒ/4.5-5.6D macro telephoto zoom. The macro world opened up for me, and I found a wealth of new subjects to photograph. The 70-180mm macro lens has proven invaluable in capturing images of rapidly moving, and sometimes dangerous, subjects like giant centipedes, spiders and scorpions. These macro telephoto lenses provide the working distance I need (you can capture frame-filling images from a greater distance than with a 50mm or 60mm macro lens), and the zoom aspect of the 70-180mm macro let me quickly recompose as insects like these can move quickly. I also can easily switch from a habitat view to a dynamic close-up with a quick twist of the zoom adjustment to capture an entirely different perspective of my subject.
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