Since I answered a question about macro photography with the iPhone on our Facebook page yesterday, thought I’d do a more detailed follow up on macro with a DSLR version–my apologies for using the iPhoneography blog for a DSLR example. For the iPhone version, check out Lesson 37: Small Subjects.
Macro (in Canon terminology; micro if you’re a Nikon shooter) photography is probably best understood as getting really close-up to small subjects. So close that the subject is life-sized or larger on your camera’s sensor. It allows us to capture details that are often surprising to those of us who can’t see that well without our reading glasses.
The challenge is that all lenses have something called a minimum focusing distance. Macro (or micro) lenses have short enough minimum focusing distances to allow you to get up close and personal with a 1:1 ratio, meaning if the subject is 10mm wide, it occupies 10mm on your sensor.
If you don’t have a macro lens, you can use extension tubes to make your minimum focusing distance much smaller, allowing you to get much closer. Extension tubes can also be used with a macro lens to get larger than a 1:1 ratio. Extension tube sets run from about $20-200 with the low-end being full manual and the high-end supporting the lens electronics. With the low end version, you are likely to be stuck with a wide open aperture as the camera and lens won’t be talking to each other.
Since this blog is normally used to post simple lessons on photography you can do with your iPhone, I’m going to try to minimize the tech talk here. But, depth of field is important in macro photography. Depth of field refers to how much of the image is acceptably sharp in the 3rd dimension of your image–that is, front to back of the scene.
Getting up close to a subject means your depth of field is minimal even with the aperture stopped all the way down. Sometimes backing up a bit and going more for a “close-up” shot vs a true macro image yields a more pleasing image as a result. I frequently use a very small aperture opening (f/22ish) and opt to go “close-up” rather than true macro to increase depth of field.
Your Assignment: I’ve included some examples of my own experiments. There are many better examples out there from serious macro photographers. Google macro photography in Google images and see what you get–it’s like a whole new universe living right under our lenses. Check it out and see if this is a form of photography you’d like to experiment with. If so, for iPhone shooters, consider getting a macro attachment lens (see Lesson 37). For DSLR shooters, check out extension tubes as a cheap way to turn a lens you already have into a macro lens. If you have an advanced point-and-shoot, you may also want to check out whether a macro attachment is available for your camera.