Close-Up And Macro Photography

Learn the ins and outs of creating full-frame images of small subjects

Macro photography of a bee on a flower

When I hear the words close-up or macro photography, I immediately think about a world within a world. Ordinary subjects that may otherwise not receive a second look can be turned into photo works of art. Every potential subject can be represented in a way not commonly seen as the photographer digs deeper and deeper into smaller and smaller portions of the whole.

If you walk around your car focused on how to make the best possible photo, it may become bemusing. But break out the macro gear and isolated portions can be explored, which opens an entire array of potential new material. Pieces of a whole become newly found subjects, details that are too small to discern with the eye are revealed and patterns can be created in mundane or ordinary sections. Once you become familiar with macro photography and see the world with magnified eyes, newly-formed photographic doors will open. 

Plant in bloom

Equipment For Macro Photography

Consumer quality and commonly used lenses don’t allow you to focus close enough to a subject to create a true macro. In order to magnify it, you need to have this capability. To make close-up photos, a lens that provides the capability to focus closer than normal is essential. A true macro lens provides this, but the trade-off is price.

Macro photography of a petal

A less expensive option is to go with a piece of supplemental equipment. Unless you know that your future dictates you dive into this arena, it’s a good way to get your feet wet. The quality may be slightly lessened, but if macro photography proves to not be your cup of tea, your initial outlay is much less. Less expensive ways to take the plunge are via the use of a bellows, extension tubes or close-up filters. My initial experimenting began with Nikon 5T and 6T close-up filters—dual element so the quality is good.  An added benefit is they are small, easy to use and simply screw onto the front threads of a lens. They’re not made in varying sizes, so you may need to purchase a step up or step down ring to make them fit.   

Macro photography of a flower

Technical Considerations

 The more a subject is magnified, the more that depth of field is lessened. To try and get everything in focus requires small lens openings of ƒ/22 or ƒ/32. That may not even cover the depth of field, so you may have to get into focus stacking where multiple “slices” are stacked together in post-processing to achieve front to back sharpness. (This is a tip for another article. There’s a ton of info on the internet on how to focus stack.) Depth of field can be reduced to millimeters. It’s critical where you place the focus point to maximize your depth of field.  

An additional variable is how perpendicular the subject is to the lens. Subjects that parallel provide more depth of field than those that fall perpendicular. If DOF can’t be covered, the option is to use “Selective Focus” where only a single plane is sharp. It creates more of an artistic portrayal rather than a capture of reality. The portion of the photo that’s in focus becomes the focal point. Wide apertures are used and only the point of exact focus of the lens is rendered sharp. It’s sort of like a recipe. “Salt” the image to your taste.

Praying mantis on a rock

Subjects To Explore

The world is your oyster when it comes to macro photography. The closer you get to a subject, the more it loses its identity. Explore the depths of your subjects to create abstract patterns. For instance, a butterfly’s wing, the graining of wood, a small section of a fabric swatch or even a small portion of an automobile grill may provide striking images of patterns, shapes or textures indiscernible unless you get close.

To learn more about this subject, join me on a photo safari to Tanzania. Visit www.russburdenphotography.com to get more information.

Photography is what motivates me to move through life in a positive way. Photography is ͞All About The Light͟ and it’s the first thing I seek out before I press the shutter. Optimally, I pursue great subjects in great light, but if there’s an ordinary subject in great light, I still press the shutter. I love to share the photographic knowledge I’ve accumulated and I hope my enthusiasm is contagious so I can motivate others to feel the same way I do about my photography.