Free Photography Tutorials, Beginners to Advanced

Macro - Page 2 - by Kev Vincent

Macro 1:1 (explained)

Macro flower shot Borage Macro 18

So, what exactly is macro 1:1? Well, this means that the image on the sensor (or film) is exactly the same size as the object being photographed, whereas macro 1:2 would indicate that the image on the sensor is half the size of the object captured. Many folks seem to be somewhat confused between real macro and just a close-up shot. There is no absolute dividing line between the two different perspectives, however macro 1:1 is technically considered the true macro starting point.

Here are two working examples. The top image is merely a close up (1:4 ratio) image. The second image below was taken at the macro 1:1 distance. To many casual observers there might not seem that much difference in size/ratio, etc., but from a technical standpoint the top photograph is really just a close up shot and not a true macro.

Manual Focus versus AF

The main challenge we face when shooting at this distance is obtaining a truly stellar sharp image, obtaining an interesting depth of field, and being able to focus exactly where we want without experiencing any type of residual blurring at all. Aside from the obvious camera & equipment related movement issues there are also the human factors to take into consideration as well. Eye fatigue being one of them, not to mention individual visual acuity performance and other such vision associated elements. Many cameras today offer the live mode whereby one can view the object via the larger LCD screen, and also use the on-board (+-) zoom functions, in order to obtain a magnified image and more accurate manual focus.

Manual focus is really the only way to go when shooting macro. Yes, I know that the new, high-tech camera bodies do offer excellent auto focus systems, however, at macro 1:1, the depth of field is so tiny (only 4mm at f/16 or 4.8mm at f/22) that I think it's unreasonable to expect any camera focusing mechanism to be 100% reliable or accurate. At such a close range, even the best camera can become confused because there is often almost no contrast between fine details and different regions of the subject. Therefore, I highly recommend that one use manual focus mode only and practice at getting the very best focus possible. New lenses may offer VR (vibration reduction) or IS (image stabilization) which is intended for hand-held use, but in my opinion this is rather redundant for macro work. I personally would never even consider shooting a regular flower shot hand-held, without a tripod and remote shutter release, let alone a macro shot.

AF Focus Point Test

To test just how good (or bad) auto focus is for close ups, I decided to conduct a simple test using the Hibiscus Stamen, pictured below, as the subject. I chose this specific type of flower because I thought it would be a reasonable challenge to the Nikon's advanced AF system as the Hibiscus has a rather complex structure. I also used the black background as this would offer some very distinct color contrast/resolution between areas within the flower head itself. Here is a much larger picture of the test shot.

Hibiscus Macro 11TEXT

So, using the AF Focus Point Selection feature I selected a series of places on the subject to see just how it would perform at this 1:1 distance. Well, as you can see (by the white text “here” points written on the test photograph) I could only achieve one AF Lock (on the red-rounded stamen head), which wasn't that surprising to me as this was obviously the most contrasting region (ie: red against black). None of the other points that I attempted to obtain an auto focus lock on were successful. The camera AF system simply became disoriented and could not distinguish between the chosen focus area and the nearby surrounding background. I did think that it would probably work OK when fixed on the yellow stamen buds as they were quite a different color to the red stem directly behind them. However, it would not lock on target, no matter how many times I tried it. In conclusion I will only say that if one can obtain an exact desired lock onto the subject, then by all means go ahead and use the AF mode, however, I think at present there really is no substitute for manual focus because even the most sophisticated AF sensors are just not consistent enough at this close range - yet. Here is the final result (without the text) on my website Hibiscus Rosa-Sinensis

Viewfinder Accessories

right-angle viewfinder accessory

As I mentioned, using the live view mode can improve focusing ability and overall results although, in my own experience, having compared the two techniques, I seem to be able to obtain just as good an image by using the viewfinder. However, you may find that the live mode approach works best for you. There are also a few magnifier aids available that one can use to assist with focusing. Both Canon and Nikon offer a right-angle viewfinder accessory, plus a variety of diopter and magnifying eye pieces. Any additional device that will help our aging and often tired eyes to get a better & clearer view of the subject, is a welcome thing in my book.

To the right is an image of the Nikon DR-6 Rectangular Right Angle Finder which is real handy when the camera is positioned low to the ground or at waist height. It not only magnifies the viewfinder image to 2:1 size (double) but also has a built-in acuity diopter which allows the individual to adjust the Rx according to their own specific visual status. There are also a variety of custom-made focusing screens that can be inserted into your camera. I haven't gone this route yet, as it may void the Nikon warranty, but it might be something worth looking into later on. Also, don't forget to use the mirror up feature if your camera has it. This way the camera mirror is already locked up before the picture is taken and thus helps reduce any potential camera shake. A sturdy tripod and shutter release are both of course an absolute must, as with any floral or still-life shot. Whilst sometimes using a large aperture (ie f2.8, f4, f5.6) may produce a very interesting shallow depth of field, many shots will also require as much DOF as possible, up to even f32 and beyond, so the tripod is a necessity.

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What you need and what to watch out for.

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Extended Depth of Field

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All the settings you need.

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Photograph flowers like a professional, what you need to know.

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Focus Stacking

For when you need extra depth of field.

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Macro 1:1

How to get those ultra close-ups in focus.

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Shooting a panned sequence of shots and stitching them together to make a panorama.

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Techniques to help you capture those golden moments.

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Photography in the Snow

Getting the exposure right in all that white.

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Sports & Action

Tips on how to capture fast action.

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Travel Photography

Take better holiday photos without losing your sanity.

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Wedding Photography

A complete 'how to' for weddings, with an accent on crowd control.

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Working with Models

Bribing people to sit for you.

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