'Getting close up to photography'
Mastering the art of MacroPhotography
By Rob L. Suisted
in New Zealand Outdoor magazine)
|I’ve always spent a lot of
time in the outdoors but it never ceases to amaze me how I’m
always seeing new and expected things on most trips.
Course this is the reason I lug a camera, but for me a lot
of satisfaction is derived from photographing tiny things
that are so often overlooked, or taken for granted. For example,
recently while having lunch on a hunt in the Haurangi Forest
Park I lifted up a rock and looked underneath to find a tiny
pair of scorpions! Jeepers, I thought we were safe from these
nasties in NZ? A bit of relieved research later I now know
that they’re false scorpions, closely related to spiders and
mites, but the point is that the miniature world has heaps
of surprises and therefore photographic interest.
I remember back being super
keen to photograph something really small, I’m not sure what
it was but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was my first hunting
‘trophy’. It became quickly apparent that with my standard
camera equipment this was a big ask, and I recall being terribly
disappointed at the limitation, particularly as I’d just paid
what seemed to be a horrendous amount of dough to buy the
blimin’ thing - especially when the current exchange rate
between possum skins (bless their soles) and the Japanese
Yen was so poor.
It soon became apparent that to get some serious close-up
equipment that a heck of a lot of furry animals were going
to have to be separated from their exterior cladding. Unfortunately,
at the time the funds had to compete with the lure of my first
car - hell, the price of a good macro lens could buy a black
MkI Cortina in fair condition (and did) - but rightly so because
transport to Friday night parties was crucial, and trips into
the Tararuas were even more so (the first couple made without
gearbox oil I seem to remember - second major expense!). The
up shot of it was that I just had to make do with what I had
- fortunately this was adequate on 99% of occasions.
A few years later I decided
to take cameras a bit more seriously and splashed out on a
second hand kit of Olympus gear. It came complete with an
array of fixed focal length lenses - including a fairly average
28mm Zuiko (Olympus). However I recall just how close I came
to ditching the thing. The first time I had this lens on the
camera I couldn’t get anything into focus. Now we all know
that a wide angle lens should have heaps of depth of field.
Gecko peeking over rock. Olympus OM4Ti + 135mm lens with macro
bellows unit + two flash units and one reflector. Fujichrome
The best I could do was to focus up on a finger nail! Things
seemed rather serious, I thought I’d bought a dud? Only sometime
later did I notice that the lens held a glass filter on the
front that said “dioptre +4”, it was not your standard UV
filter I guessed. Delving into the camera bag amongst the
rest of the odds and ends were another couple sporting “dioptre
+1” and “dioptre +2”. These were a set of supplementary close
up lenses - something I hadn’t struck before. As a bonus of
the purchase, these little glass lenses sent me off on my
first foray into the world of ‘Macro’ (or close up) photography.
Since then, my equipment has become a little more serious,
but the satisfaction still remains.
My aim of this article is
to destroy some of the common misunderstandings regarding
close up photography, and hopefully provide advice to encourage
more people to partake. This type of photography used to be
reasonably technical, but the advent of things like ‘Through
the Lens (TTL) Metering the undertaking is very simple now,
unfortunately to many people it still seems complex.
Where to start? There is a
variety of equipment available for macro photography and I
will give you a run down on how they operate, along with the
pros and cons of each. Before I do so though I’d better give
a quick explanation of what Macro is all about, as there is
a considerable amount of confusion about.
Strictly, macro refers to any photograph that is the same
size or larger than the subject taken (larger than real life).
Note that many common zoom lenses claim to have macro capabilities
but in reality they’re stretching the truth somewhat as you’ll
see. If you go and get a slide, or a strip of negative, you’ll
see that each frame measures exactly 24mm by 36mm - therefore
a true macro photo is of an subject that is 24mm x 36mm or
smaller (about half the size of a matchbox). Do not get confused
by the size of a print; it is the film frame size that’s important.
This is where the ‘Macro Ratio’ comes in. If I have a lens
and the smallest thing it could photograph was about half
a matchbox (about 24mm x 36mm) it would be referred to as
a 1:1 Macro (size of the object equals the size on the negative).
If it could only photograph the whole matchbox it would be
a 1:2 Macro lens, or if it could photograph down to the size
of a 5 cent coin it would be a 2:1 ratio (or 2x magnification)
as two coins would fit into the size of the negative in real
life. As I mentioned, most zoom lens that claim a macro facility
are normally far from the mark, often only achieving a ratio
of 1:8 which is around about a size of a post card - I strongly
believe they should only claim a ‘close-up’ ability.
If you want to find out what
the macro ratio of a lens is it’s really simple. Simply focus
as close as possible on a bit of paper and measure the area
you can see in the viewfinder. Now see how many times a slide
frame (or negative) fits into it. If it’s 12 then the ratio
would be 1:12
of underside of leaf. Olympus OM4Ti + 50mm Macro lens with
extension tube - natural light. Kodachrome 64.
Luckily there is heaps of scope in equipment available to
photograph small objects, as you’ll see. This is good because
it provides alternatives for everyone, whether it’s finance
that’s a problem, or weight, or versatility.
Supplementary Close Up Lenses.
As previous mentioned, this
was the first type of equipment I experienced. They’re what
I’d probably recommend to most people to have a crack with
first as they’re cheap (you’d get a second-hand set for around
$20), and handy. Basically they resemble filters and screw
onto the front of your normal lens in the same way, but act
like magnifying glasses. They generally come in sets of three
(+1, +2 and +4 power). The benefits, apart from cost, are
that they’re lightweight, easy to use, don’t interfere with
any camera functions such as auto focus and exposure, and
importantly don’t waste any light entering the lens. The only
problems are that they don’t get right down small and there
is a minor loss of image quality, but this can be countered
somewhat by using a smaller aperture to improve image quality.
Make sure you buy the right size to fit your lens.
These are metal tubes of varying
lengths that are attached between the camera body and the
camera lens. There is a basic principle they exploit to achieve
higher magnifications using normal camera lenses. When you
pull a slide projector further away from the wall, the image
it is projecting will get bigger. This is essentially how
extension tubes work; they’re pulling the lens further away
from the camera so that the image it projects onto the film
surface gets bigger (thereby increasing the magnification
of the image). Again these tubes generally come in sets of
three different lengths. My set is of 12mm, 20mm and 36mm
lengths. The reason for the different measurements is simple
because by putting different combinations together I can change
the macro ratio as I like. There is a rule that for a given
lens focal length (such as 50mm), if you put the same amount
of extension tube behind it you’ll end up with a 1:1 macro
ration. So if I wanted 1:1 ration with my standard 50mm lens
I’d put on the 12mm and 36mm tubes to give me 48mm of extension
- I could now take a photograph as small as the film frame.
Orange Pore Fungus (favolaschia
calocera). This fungus makes a stunning photo, and it always
gets a comment at slide presentations but I’ve since found
out that this is an introduced noxious fungi. Olympus OM4Ti
+ 50mm Macro lens with one flash and reflector. Fujichrome
If I put the 20mm on also I could go smaller. There is no
significant loss in image quality when using tubes, however
the one draw back is that much less light will reach the film
(because of the principle outlined above). The more tubes
you use the more the image is enlarged and the less light
is caught on film. Prior to today’s type of camera metering
(TTL) it was likely that you’d have to be good at maths to
calculate the required exposure compensation needed; now you
can leave it to the camera. This is the type of macro equipment
that I generally carry with me when I’m in the field as its
pretty light, compact and versatile. Cost is generally good
with a new accessory set likely to cost around $200 but if
you keep you eyes out a good second hand set (such as made
by Panagor) you’d pay probably less than $100.
This unit works exactly the
same as the extension tubes but it can be racked in and out
to vary the distance between the camera and lens thereby changing
the magnification precisely to what’s required. I use a bellows
unit a lot because of its versatility, however it is fairly
bulky and is something that is generally impractical to use
in the outdoors. Mine has a maximum extension length of 200mm
(compared to 68mm with all my extension tubes) and can be
used for copying slides with a special attachment on the front.
The benefit of the long extension range means that fairly
high magnifications can be achieved; up to about 12x (that’s
something about 8mm in size). However, price is generally
pretty high with second hand units starting around $300.
This is the best way to get
into macro photography and the only draw back generally is
cost. You’re looking at between $700 - $1500 for a new one,
although you can pick up second-hand manual focus from around
$200. Generally macro lenses are available in either 50mm
or 100mm focal lengths (occasionally up to 200mm). The pros
are that they can be used for general photography as they
focus from infinity right down to half or even full life size;
there is no light loss; very easy to use; and there is no
loss of image quality. The choice of lens lengths, either
50mm or 100mm, has little to do with the size of the image
you’re after - you should consider the ratio the lens can
provide. Basically, a 100mm lens can work nearly twice as
far from the subject as a 50mm macro to get the same magnification,
which is helpful if you’re photographing timid subjects (or
you’re scared of spiders). The lens choice also effects the
perspective of the shot, i.e. a 50mm lens will include more
background in a shot for the same size subject than a 100mm
lens. I would recommend that the 50mm lens should be considered
firstly as it can be carried and used as a normal standard
lens in the field. Also, you can use extension tubes or bellows
with these lens to get the magnification higher.
Many people use a tele-converter
to double the focal length of a lens, say to photograph animals.
It can also be used as a poor man’s macro extender as it will
double your focal length and double the magnification also.
Note that you will lose two stops of light, and image quality
may not be great.
Tunnel web spider on leaf litter.
Taken on the kitchen table 'mini studio' with
Olympus OM4Ti + 135mm lens and Bellows unit. Kodachrome 25.
Special attention must be
paid to your technique when attempting macro photos - the
smaller you’re photographing the more attention you need.
The problem is that the smaller you go, the less depth of
focus you will get. This therefore normally requires a smaller
aperture to compensate (say f22 instead of f5.6), but generally
you won’t get a lot of light in subjects like this and this
only compounds the problem. Also, if you’re using bellows,
or extension tubes, then you’re also loosing a lot of light
this way. If you’re to get serious about macro work, then
you will eventually progress to using flashes to illuminate
the subject, because they become suddenly very powerful when
you’re photographing an ant (imagine it from the subjects
perspective)! I would advise that you go for a flash that
has TTL flash metering (such as the excellent Olympus system)
for macro, as it again removes all need for time consuming
exposure calculations if you’re using extension equipment.
Steadiness is very important as movement is also magnified.
A tripod therefore becomes a necessity for some work. It’s
worth noting here that many tripods are hopeless for this
type of work.
Check them out - mine has
a centre column that I can take out and attach below the tripod
allowing for very low photos.
As mentioned above, flash
lighting is a considerable benefit in macro photography but
it requires careful consideration. One flash tends to create
very harsh unflattering shadows on your subject. The ideal
situation is to purchase a ‘Ring light’ flash. As the name
implies, it’s a flash that attaches around the front of your
lens. It provides perfectly even lighting on your subject
as there will be no shadows. It will also provide a perfectly
good drain on your funds to purchase, so as an economic alternative
I’d advise the use of a reflector. I carry a folded up square
of tin foil in my kit for this job. The idea is that you can
use a flash on one side of the subject and place the reflector
on the other side. This way a good level of light is bounced
back into the shadows and gives a nice effect. The other alternative
is to use a couple of flash guns but this is getting expensive,
weighty and serious.
So, that's all there is to
This article and images are copyright
to Rob L. Suisted - Nature's Pic Images. All rights reserved.