Macro Photography, sometimes referred to as Photomacrography, is a form of extreme close-up photography. It is typically associated with the capture of very small objects. With the advances made in digital camera and sensor technology in recent years, many entry-level cameras can rival the macro capabilities of much more expensive DSLRs fitted with extremely specialist equipment such as magnifying filters, extension tubes or bellows between the lens and the sensor, or actually using two lenses that are joined together using a macro coupler to allow the shooting of your subject at higher reproduction ratios.
For most of us however there is a much simpler solution; a dedicated macro lens.
All the major DSLR manufacturers produce various macro lenses to suit your pocket. They range from 40mm up to 200mm versions with the closest focusing distance ranging from 5”-6” out to about 16”. The measure of a ‘true’ macro lens is its ability to resolve an image on the sensor of your camera that is at least life-size, or a reproduction ratio of 1:1.
There is a formula that lets you calculate the reproduction ratio of a macro lens called the ‘35mm Equivalent Reproduction Ratio’, but let’s dispense with the maths, the good rule of thumb is that if you photograph an object that is 35mm wide or 24mm high (the proportions of an old 35mm film negative) and it just fits, or is too big for your viewfinder, then you are taking a macro photograph.
Prices will vary of course. Lenses such as the 40mm Nikon AF-S DX f/2.8G retails at about £180 and the 200mm AF Nikkor f/4D IF-ED at a less wallet-friendly £1,000. Canon’s 50mm offering the EF f/2.5 runs at about £220 while their 100mm image stabilised f/2.8 macro lens will set you back £700.
Sigma and Tamron also manufacture lenses that range from 50mm to 105mm costing from £180 upwards of £600. The major difference between a 50mm macro and a 200mm (apart from the price) is a greater subject-to-lens distance on the longer focal length lenses. So, your expensive 200mm macro lens lets you keep further away from that pesky butterfly you’re trying to photograph without spooking it.
It’s fair to say that if you are starting out, one of the cheaper 50mm-60mm options is as good a place as any. There are still a few high-street camera stores that will allow you to demo a lens, a try-before-you-buy approach that is sadly becoming rarer in this online age. If you have such a store nearby, it is definitely worth a visit.
So, you have your camera and a macro lens. One other piece of equipment is essential to get you started; a tripod. There are many brands to choose from. The tiny Gorillapod, good for smaller DSLRs, costs about £30, while a good mid-range tripod like the Velbon Sherpa 550R will set you back around £115. A sturdy high-end tripod from Manfrotto, with a good quality tripod head, will see you spending something in the order of £200 or more.
You see, when shooting macro, if you are taking shots at the widest aperture with the tiniest sliver of your shot in sharp focus, the slightest movement of your camera or your subject will result in the composition’s point of focus being very hard to achieve.
If, on the other hand, you are shooting with the smallest aperture to wring as much depth of field from the shot as possible, then depending on how much light you have at your disposal, your shutter speeds may well be very slow, certainly slow enough to record the slightest camera shake. Hence, a tripod becomes invaluable in helping you secure those amazing macro shots.
Many have found that once you start, macro photography can be quite addictive. The idea of exploring what is referred to as “near space” can be very rewarding. If your interest has been piqued, then read on, as we have some real world examples coming up on the next page.