Foundations of Photography: Macro and Close-Up

Getting closer with macro lenses and extension tubes


Foundations of Photography: Macro and Close-Up

with Ben Long

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Video: Getting closer with macro lenses and extension tubes

So, in my previous exploration of the flower, I decided that what I really need to do is get in closer. The problem is this lens has a minimum focusing distance. That means I can't get much closer than this. So, I can only fill the frame with so much flower. I'd like to get in here, and really get in tight on some of the detail. Now, we've already seen something that will let me shrink the minimum focusing distance on my lens, and that is an extension tube. We used extension tubes before with a regular lens, but there is no reason that you can't use them with a macro lens.
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  1. 3m 54s
    1. Welcome
      2m 17s
    2. What you need to know for this course
      1m 37s
  2. 20m 33s
    1. What is close up?
      2m 21s
    2. Understanding minimum focus distance
      3m 55s
    3. Comparing wide lens and telephoto
      1m 55s
    4. Understanding depth of field and focus
      2m 11s
    5. Working with extension tubes
      4m 30s
    6. Working with close-up lenses
      5m 41s
  3. 28m 7s
    1. What is a macro photo?
      4m 15s
    2. Understanding how to shoot macro with a reversed lens
      5m 37s
    3. Using a point-and-shoot camera for macro
      1m 55s
    4. Working with backdrops for macro
      3m 45s
    5. Practicing macro by shooting in the kitchen
      12m 35s
  4. 58m 38s
    1. Choosing a macro lens
      2m 4s
    2. Exploring macro lens features: Focal length
      3m 16s
    3. Understanding macro lens shutter speed
      7m 6s
    4. Shooting basics with a macro lens
      8m 24s
    5. Getting closer with macro lenses and extension tubes
      11m 13s
    6. Working with depth of field and macro
      5m 1s
    7. Understanding depth and composition in macro
      6m 43s
    8. Working with subject holders and support
      6m 36s
    9. Shooting with the Canon 65 mm
      8m 15s
  5. 13m 12s
    1. Working with macro stabilizing options
      5m 45s
    2. Working with sliders for macro
      2m 44s
    3. Working with a bellows
      1m 55s
    4. Working with viewfinders in macro
      2m 48s
  6. 52m 59s
    1. Working with direct light
      6m 13s
    2. Macro and the angle of light
      2m 24s
    3. Augmenting direct light with reflectors
      6m 42s
    4. Continuous lighting to add fill to a macro shot
      5m 55s
    5. Lighting your macro scene with continuous light
      4m 50s
    6. Lighting the macro scene with strobes
      4m 59s
    7. Setting up a macro-specific flash unit
      3m 21s
    8. Shooting with the Canon Macro Twin Lite
      7m 56s
    9. Shooting macro in a light tent
      3m 31s
    10. Shooting macro on a light table
      7m 8s
  7. 19m 44s
    1. Field shooting for macro, starting at home
      7m 5s
    2. Managing backgrounds in the field
      7m 39s
    3. Shooting macro water droplets
      5m 0s
  8. 56m 19s
    1. Creating a simple manual focus stack
      4m 40s
    2. Creating a focus stacked image with manual merge
      6m 17s
    3. Creating a focus stacked image using Helicon Remote
      11m 6s
    4. Working with a StackShot rail for focus stacking
      11m 46s
    5. Merging a focus stack with Photoshop
      11m 12s
    6. Merging photo stacks with Helicon
      6m 53s
    7. Understanding the aesthetics of depth of field
      4m 25s
  9. 1m 5s
    1. Next steps
      1m 5s

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Watch the Online Video Course Foundations of Photography: Macro and Close-Up
4h 14m Intermediate Mar 29, 2013

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

It's a small world, and capturing it with a photograph can be challenging. In this course, photographer, author, and teacher Ben Long takes you on a fantastic voyage into the realm of the tiny, detailing the gear and shooting techniques necessary to capture extreme close-ups of everything from products to posies.

After touring the possibilities of macro photography, the course details essential gear at several price levels, including lenses, flashes, and other accessories. Next, Ben explores the special challenges of macro photography: dealing with moving subjects, working with extremely shallow depth of field, focusing, lighting, and more.

The course also explores advanced close-up tools and post-processing techniques, such as using Adobe Photoshop to "stack" multiple shots to yield wider depth of field than a single shot can convey.

Topics include:
  • What is a macro photograph?
  • What is a macro lens?
  • Finding good subject matter
  • Evaluating macro gear like extension tubes and tilt-shift lenses
  • Composing and framing shots
  • Exploring depth of field
  • Lighting macro shots
  • Working with light tables
  • Editing macro shots
Ben Long

Getting closer with macro lenses and extension tubes

So, in my previous exploration of the flower, I decided that what I really need to do is get in closer. The problem is this lens has a minimum focusing distance. That means I can't get much closer than this. So, I can only fill the frame with so much flower. I'd like to get in here, and really get in tight on some of the detail. Now, we've already seen something that will let me shrink the minimum focusing distance on my lens, and that is an extension tube. We used extension tubes before with a regular lens, but there is no reason that you can't use them with a macro lens.

Before we get to that though, I want to talk about a potential problem that we're going to have. As we get in closer, we're going to lose a lot of light, simply because we're going to be in tight. We're going to be casting our own shadow. And also, it's just darker in there. We're also going to be losing light, because of the extension tube. That means that we're going to start running into exposure issues. As light levels drop, I could open the aperture. But if I do that, I am going to lose a lot of depth of field, and I don't really have any depth of field to spare, so I probably don't want to do that. That means I am going to have to slow my shutter speed down. And, if I slow my shutter speed down, we're going to risk hand-held shake.

Of course, I can raise my ISO, but I can only take that so far. Really, it's time to set up a tripod. A tripod, or some type of stabilization, is an essential macro photography accessory. I have here a tripod that I really like for macro shooting; this is a Manfrotto carbon fiber tripod. I like carbon fiber because it's very lightweight. It's also very sturdy. What I like about this tripod is though it doesn't come up real high, it packs down very small. So, for field macro work, it's very easy to carry around.

Now, of course, this tripod can be used for more than just macro work. If you can only afford one stabilization technology, a tripod's probably the way to go, because you can use it for all of your other work as well. I chose this tripod for macro stuff, though, because it's got one particular feature that I really like that I'll show you, as soon as I get it set up here. When you're looking for a tripod, you are, of course, concerned about stability. It needs to be able to bear the weight of the camera that you're going to be using. I am using a full-frame SLR, and macro lenses are often kind of heavy.

So, you need to figure out the total weight of your biggest macro setup. That means your biggest macro lens with all of the extension tubes on it, and everything else. Figure out how much that weighs before you go tripod shopping, so you know how much weight-bearing capacity you need in your tripod. What I like about this is that, yeah, the tripod doesn't come up real high, but still I can usually get it in the position I want it. It means I got to work my quads a lot more, so I kind of get a workout while I am using it. It does have a center column. Typically, I don't recommend using a center column, because if you raise it up, and put something real heavy, it's going to wobble a lot.

What's cool about this center column, though, is that it has a little button on the bottom. If I find it, when I press it, it allows me to take the center column, and do this with it. And now, if I wanted, I have the ability to point my camera straight down. This is very often something you need to do when you're working macro. I was out at the beach the other day, and I saw some cool footprints in the sand, and the light was dropping very quickly. I needed to use a slow shutter speed, so it was really great to be able to point straight down. Another nice thing about this tripod, like a lot of tripods, the legs can extend beyond their normal angle to a full 90°.

This lets me really lower the tripod, and get really close to the ground. Between that, and this ability to put the center column in horizontally, I've got a very flexible macro tripod. So, that's what I am going to be using for this shot. Now, the other thing about this tripod, of course, is it doesn't have a head on it. You have to add the head yourself. This is great, because it gives you the choice of exactly what kind of head you want. Now, you're seeing how easy it is to use this mechanism here. This actually is normally a very easy mechanism. There we go. So, I normally use a ballhead for my everyday shooting.

I like this Acratech Ultimate Ballhead here, because it's extremely light weight, it locks down very stably, and it's all open, so I do a lot of desert shooting. It stays very clean. The problem with a ballhead for macro shooting is that you cannot move it on an individual axis. So, if I frame up a shot, and decide I need to pan to the left a little bit, as soon as I release the ball, the whole thing lets go. So, it's very difficult to make a controlled motion. More importantly, as good as this ballhead is, when I set my camera, and lock it down, and take my hands off, the camera sometimes drifts by a millimeter or two, or even a fraction of a millimeter.

Now, you may think that I am just sounding like I've got some control issues, but it's really significant when you're at macro distances. A change of a millimeter, or a fraction of a millimeter, can actually alter your composition. So, for serious macro work, I don't use a ballhead. If you can only afford one tripod head, then get a ballhead, because it's going to be the most flexible head you can get. It will work for macro; it's just going to be a little frustrating. Instead, I use a geared head. This is a Manfrotto Geared Head that I really like. And, it's geared, meaning that each access is controllable by a separate little geared knob here that lets me make very precise adjustments.

So, I've got a knob that lets me tilt up and down. What's cool about this knob is I can also crank this release here, and actually just move the thing. So, for making big movements, I can very quickly grab the axis I want, and move the tripod around. As I zero in on my shot, I've got these knobs for making very refined movements. So, this is a really nice way to have a very precise way of framing up a macro shot. So, that's what we're going to do right now; we're going to get started framing up a macro shot.

I don't know exactly where my tripod needs to be. I am just going to ballpark it here. I've already got the tripod plate on my camera, so my camera snaps in like that, and here is my flower. Now, I already know that with the 100 mm alone, I can't get as close as I want, so it's time to add an extension tube. I actually have three extension tubes here. I'm not really sure where to start with them. This one is as long as these two put together, meaning this is half my extension tube power. I think I'll just start with that one, and see what it does for me.

So, I take my lens off, put the extension tube on the lens, and the whole mess back on the camera. Now, I am going to get tilted down here. It always takes me a minute to remember exactly which knob is which. And, of course, I am going to through all three before I find the one that I want. There we go. I am just sure there is something I could learn that would help me know exactly which one to move. Now, very often, once your camera is locked down, you might look at it and go, "Oh what I've gotten out is a flower that's all out of focus, and I am not in the right point.

oh, I've got to start adjusting my legs and things." You can do that, but that's a lot of work. It's a lot easier to just move the flower. So, I'm going to put the flower in the shot, in a point where it's in focus, because I want to figure out what my focus distance is. And, it looks like it's going be about right here. Nope, it's a little further back. There we go. That's focused. I'll show you what I'm seeing here in just a minute. Let me frame it up. And, just a rough exposure gets me this.

I am not worried about getting exposure right. This might be a little blurry. It might be a little soft. It doesn't necessarily have the depth of field that I want. I am just trying to figure out what I can see with this level of magnification. That's good, but I want in closer. So, I am going to add the rest of my extension tubes. So, those are going to go on here. This is going to give me my full magnification power with this lens. If this isn't enough, then I don't know what I am going to do. I am going to panic. So . . . oh, this is looking good. So, let me get positioned here. You can see how easily I am recomposing here. I am just turning these little knobs. I don't have to adjust anything. I'm working back and forth between moving the flower, and focusing the lens to get things focused.

I am going to set that up right about here, and take a shot. Okay, what you are seeing right now is wildly out of focus. That's because I jiggled the camera a bunch when I pressed the shutter button. I am not going to worry about that right now. I'm just looking for composition. I like this one. This is the shot I am going to go for. So now, it's time to start thinking about exposure. If I look at my Exposure settings, I am at ISO 1600; f/8 gives me a shutter speed of 1/25 of a second. I can go smaller on my aperture, and I . . . Since I am on a tripod, I am not that worried about slowing the shutter down.

So, I am going to go all the way to 16, because I want some deep depth of field. Normally, you would start worrying about diffraction artifacts on this camera at f/16. Diffraction is an optical thing that happens that softens your image when the aperture gets too small. I am not going to worry about that here. It's really bad on this lens as the aperture goes smaller. I am going to just stick with 16, because as much as there might be some softening, we're in so close, I think I can still sharpen up, get a lot of details. It's still an image that I'm not used to seeing, I don't care if it's not absolutely, perfectly sharp.

Some people are more maniacal about that sort of thing than I am. I am going to add a cable release. Just that little bit of hand-held shake that I had was enough to screw up my image. So there we go. Let me double-check my focus. Now, we are going to talk a lot more about depth of field in the next movie. I have a number of different depth of field options, so I am going to set that there. Now, I am in very, very tight. A tiny amount of motion will blur my image. I'm actually going to step back a little bit.

Even my breath could be moving the flower. it's not just about the camera shaking; it's about the flower moving. I want to make sure that air coming off my body isn't moving the flower around. I live in an apartment with wood floors. I've found that I need to take a giant step away from the camera, and try and trigger it, because my foot on the floor will lower the tripod a little bit, and when I take a step off, the tripod pops up, and the camera jitters. So, I am going to step back a little ways. I am going to rest for a moment to give the camera a chance to settle down. And, actually, I am not going to put my camera in live view mode first, because that will raise the mirror. It's going to reduce a little more vibration.

I'll let it settle down. Now, I am going to trip the shutter, and here is my shot. I am jumping through all of these hoops to ensure as much sharpness as I can get. I want to reduce any potential for blur. So, here we go. I like this. This is a nice-looking shot. Think for a moment about composition. Normally, when we're composing, we think a lot about, amongst other things, subject and background. Well, I don't have a background here. I'm really driven in right into the middle of this flower. That doesn't mean that I still don't need to think about how the viewer's eye is being guided through the scene. That's the essential purpose of composition.

I think this is working. I like that the flower petals are just leading my eye right into that center, that big yellow stuff. And, it's cool starting to see a lot of detail of what's going on there in the yellow stuff, that look like a bunch of little cabbages or something. I don't know. What's frustrating me at this point, though, is depth of field. Not everything is in focus. I've got my compositions set right. My camera is stable. I think I've got a good level of illumination. Now, we need to think about what I can do with depth of field.

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