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June 13, 2015
Crop Macros

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Crop Macros

Recently I went for a morning venture into some Gloucestershire crop fields to capture some macro (extreme close up) images. Macro images are generally considered to be defined these days by an image where “the size of the subject in the finished photograph is greater than life size”. The exact terminology varies but we will stick with the generally accept digital age definition (further information about macro photography can be found here).
Similarly, the definition above can be applied to what is a macro lens, namely one that can produce a macro image, or in other words a reproduction ratio of greater than 1:1.

My favourite choice of lens for taking macro photos is without a doubt the Canon 2.8L 100mm lens, which is widely accepted as being a superbly sharp and capable lens (if only I could find a mid-range landscape lens which matches this quality!!!).

So what makes a good macro image and how do I go about taking one?

Firstly, I would say that the foremost rule of taking close ups is to have zero, or as little as possible wind disturbing the subject. You may need to think about taking a small shelter with you to cover your subject (without altering the light levels on the subject and the background). Several options are available for this purpose in all good camera stores. In terms of actual shot set-up, I use tripod if there is no wind at all (not very often in the UK!), otherwise I would turn on the stabilisation option on the camera to assist with hand shake. Macro images require without doubt the steadiest hand of all! One tip for shot stability is to fire the shot after taking a deep breath and slowly exhaling. Once you have reached 2/3rd of your exhale, press the shutter button. This is exactly the same method used by snipers in the armed forces to shoot a target (cheers for the advice Dad 🙂 ). In terms of actual exposure times you should be aiming to be using no slower than 1/125 sec in my opinion, which may mean increasing the ISO from 100 to upwards of ISO 800 dependant on your F number selection and the available light (I am not one for using flash… ever!). Auto focus is generally your best friend for shooting hand held macros although I do often use manual focus as a personal preference quite often. 🙂

Secondly and equally important is to spend time finding the perfect subject. By this I mean spending plenty of time surveying the flowers/crops until you find the one you like the shape of most, that is well lit, not obscured and offers the chance to obtain some nice background bokeh. I see thousands of “ok” macro photographs of flowers e.t.c, which clearly show the photographer can get the subject in focus, which is a great start, but in all this the composition has gone out of the window. Simply taking a photo of your flower straight on with it perfectly in focus, doesn’t very often make for a good macro image. Look for angles, even interesting curves and structure within a single flower head itself, or find a pair of subjects where you can have the other one slightly offset and behind your main focus. Also try not to have too much “fuss” in your image, simplicity is often best. If you think along the lines of minimalism and try to capture the structure of your subject in one clear and non cluttered image, it will go a long way to getting the best you can from your images.

Depth of field is always important taking any photography and it’s certainly vital in macro photography. Generally, most good macro images are shot in the F4-F8 aperture range. Below F4 often tends to show too little detail and leaves awkward areas of blurriness where it would look better sharp. Conversely, above F8, too much of the background is clear and the subject gets lost in the background and tends to look very flat. Equipment quality, wind and available light all play a large part in determining your choice of field depth.

The image above I took without a tripod on a slightly windy morning using F6.3 to put just enough of the target stalk in focus and yet allow the foreground/background stalks to blur and give the feeling of being in the field better. Because of the wind I had to reduce the exposure to 1/250th of a second, which meant I was at ISO 200 (perfectly acceptable and in fact on this lens anything up to ISO 800 is still clean enough to post process).

This image and others from the day can be found in my portfolio or in the shop.

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1 Comments

A really good article, with some good pointers – I’ll be trying the sniper technique next time I’m out with my macro lens.

One additional thing for getting sharp focus with macros is that you can also get approximate focus and, because the depth of field is generally so small with macro lenses, just rock your upper body backwards and forwards slowly over a small distance. This can help you bring the subject into focus more easily than trying to play about with the focus on the lens itself, or adjust the autofocus.

And for the flash lovers (!), an off-camera flash cord is great for adding a small splash of light in any desired direction; you’re too close to make on-camera flash an option. The flip side of this is that you’ve got your flash in one hand and the camera in the other, so it can make getting focus that much harder, at least without a tripod.

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