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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.
- 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
Skill Level Intermediate
No matter what type of macro subject matter you like to shoot, once you get out in the field, you're going to have to be prepared for this kind of thing, for actually laying in the dirt. A lot of times the small things in the world are close to the ground. And, to get the angle that you want, you're really going to have to get down your hands and knees, or lay down. If you are going to be shooting flowers, or insects, or other things that are moving on their own, or being moved by the wind, you may be laying there for a long time waiting for exactly the right moment. So, just be prepared for that. Before you go out, don't go out macro shooting in your Armani or something, because you're very likely going to get it messed up.
I've seen this little daffodil here, and decided that I want to try and take a look at it. Something we haven't talked about in the studio is just how significant the background in your scene is, and how sometimes difficult it is to manage the background in your scene. Once you frame up the shot, the camera position that you take is going to have a dramatic impact on exactly what your background looks like, what's in it. That's true, of course, in regular scale photography, but in macro, a change of just a millimeter or two can make a big difference.
But before you even get to that point, background is a significant thing to think about. One of the difficulties that you have when you're starting to shoot macro is you simply don't know what makes good macro subject matter. Moving through the world at normal size scale, it's difficult to understand that, "Oh! That little flower down there might actually be really interesting." I think one of the reasons it's difficult to understand that is that when you look down at it, you see all this other stuff behind it. You see I've got dirt clods, and leaves, and slimy caterpillar thing down here. And, when I look down at that, I think "Well there is no good composition there, because the background is too cluttered." What's difficult to remember and pre- visualize is that at the macro scale, your background is going to go so soft, and potentially some detail is that all those problems may vanish.
So, that's something that you'll get better at understanding as you start shooting more. And very often, I'll find that well, maybe there's an interesting macro shot there. I'll look through the camera and immediately go, "Oh! There is a very interesting macro shot here." Because now that the background is out of play, my compositional options change. This is going to be a very simple composition. I am just going to grab the flower, and fill as much of the frame with it as I can, which of course, is all about getting, figuring out what my closest focusing distance is, and I can actually get pretty close.
I don't have any extension tubes with me. So, let me just show you the first framing that I'm working with. I am shooting here at ISO 100 at f/5.6. So, I am just at a mid-range aperture, and I get something like this. Right off the bat, I can see that I've got some depth of field issues. First thing I need to do is decide where do I want in focus on this flower? And ideally, I think I like to have the whole thing. It's pretty small, it's not too deep, and I am not super close up.
So, I think I can get the whole thing in focus. I've got the edge of that middle structure in focus, but the petels are soft, and I think I'd like to see them sharper. So, I am going to go ahead and dial down to f/11. And when I do that, I am going to run into some potential shutter speed problems here. I am down to 25th of a second. My lens is stabilized, so I can probably hand-hold at 25th of a second. Okay, but there is a tiny bit of a breeze here. It's moving the flower just a little bit. You may not even be able to see it happening, but at macro scale, it's pretty pronounced. So, I am going to go ahead and bump my ISO up, and let's see, 1600. I am now seeing at 200th of a second.
That's actually a little more than I need. So, for the sake of noise reduction, I am going to go down to ISO 800, which gets me at about 100th of a second. I think that will be enough motion-stopping power. So, I am going to focus on the front of the flower. Now, you may be used to at, when you're shooting landscapes, that you follow the rule that a third of your depth of field is in front of your focus point, and two-thirds is behind. At macro distances, it's pretty much half and half. So, I am going to focus on the . . . actually, I am not going to focus on the front of the flower. I am going to focus on the middle of the flower, hoping that my depth of field will be more evenly distributed in front, and behind that focus point, and I am going to take a shot.
And, I think I've got better depth of field there. Of course, it's hard to tell on the camera's viewfinder, so I might bracket my focus a little bit, focus at a few different depths, and see what I can come up with. But, look what's happened at the background. Just that little bit of aperture change is bringing in more detail into the background, and I am getting some visible green patches, and things like that. So, I need to be maybe use my depth of field preview button a little more, and try to predict what my aperture changes are going to do to my background, and decide how smooth, and empty I need my background. Because if I need it a little more blurred out than that, then I am going to have to give up some of my depth of field.
So, these are the issues that I am constantly battling in shooting macro. So, look at the difference in these. Just I am making tiny little movements, and I am getting big changes in blobs of color in my background. I want to keep my deep depth of field. I am still not sure where my point of focus should be. But, I really want to keep my deep depth of field, and I'm not willing to open up my aperture to lose some of that background. So, I am going to try something else now. I am going to try and eliminate the background using my flash.
I have here just an off-camera, all-manual flash. If you don't have a flash, this particular flash that I am working with is a great option. it's a Yongnuo. Y-O-N-G-N-U-O. It's a very nice, very powerful flash, all-manual that you can get for about 75 bucks off of Amazon. I've got an off-camera flash cord here, so I am going to put this on. And, the way that I am going to work this is I am going to just go ahead and set my shutter speed at about 200th of a second, actually exactly at 200th of a second.
And, I am going to underexpose here. The idea being if I underexpose, I will darken the background, and that will allow me to not see all that stuff in the background that I always see. And, the flash is going to serve to light up my flowers. So, let me get my shot framed here. Now, I am in Manual Mode, just using my meter here. All right! Last time I was using Manual Exposure, I was using a very, very slow shutter speed. Okay.
So, I am going to dial down my exposure some, and see what I can come up with here in the way of a darker background. Okay. So, now my whole image is too dark. So, what I want to do now . . . . I like that. That's going to be the color of the background or the tone of the background. I am just turning on my flash. I have a soft box on the front of my flash. This is just a cheap soft box that gives me a lot of diffusion. I don't want to point it down at the ground, because that's going to just put back in all the light that I just took out. And, I am just going to flash it here from the side. And, there we go! Now, I have my flower nice and illuminated, and my background darkened up.
So, I've got a number of different ways of manipulating my background here. I can change my depth of field to blur or soften the background. I can change my camera position by teeny, tiny little amounts to change what's in the background, or I can underexpose the background, and use the flash to light up the foreground to create isolation that way. The important lesson here is to understand that you really need to pay attention to background in your macro shots, because with your everyday eyes, it can be very difficult to predict exactly what the background is going to look like.