Posts Tagged ‘Macro’

Lensbaby launches $50 macro filter kit

13 Jan
Background Photo by Kathleen Clemons, courtesy of Lensbaby

Lensbaby has launched a 46mm macro filter kit that can be combined with several of the company’s “bokeh effect” lenses, expanding their scope of application to close-up photography.

The filters screw onto the front of the lenses and the kit comes with three diopter options (+1,+2, and +4). The individual filters can be stacked for even higher levels of magnification and LensBaby says multiple coatings have been applied for enhanced contrast.

The 46mm kit is compatible with the Sweet 35, Sweet 50, Edge 50, Edge 80, Twist 60 and Creative Bokeh lenses, as well as the LensBaby macro converters, allowing for a multitude of close-up effects. In the Lensbaby product line-up it sits alongside the effect filter kit that was launched last October and comprises of an eight-point star filter, a three-stop neutral density filter and a circular polarizer.

The new macro filter set is available now for $ 50. You can find more information and additional sample images on the company’s website.

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Weekly Photography Challenge – Macro or Close-Up Photography

13 Jan

Last week’s challenge was to get out and shoot some winter photography. Maybe you already tried some macro then – if not, now’s your chance.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Weekly Photography Challenge – Macro

Close-ups of snow, icicles, frost patterns, etc., can be stunningly beautiful. So bundle up, grab your macro lens or extension tubes and a tripod and get out there and shoot some winter macro photography.

Need more help? Try these dPS articles:

  • 7 Different Ways to Approach Macro Photography
  • 5 Quick Tips for Outdoor Macro Photography
  • How to Get Stunning Macro Photos with Your Mobile Phone
  • Behind the Scenes of Marvellous Macro Insect Imagery
  • Tips for Depth of Field Control in Macro Photography
  • 5 Macro Photography Tricks to Make Your Images Stand Out
  • Getting Started with Abstract Macro Photography

Simply upload your shot into the comment field (look for the little camera icon in the Disqus comments section) and they’ll get embedded for us all to see or if you’d prefer, upload them to your favorite photo-sharing site and leave the link to them. Show me your best images in this week’s challenge. Sometimes it takes a while for an image to appear so be patient and try not to post the same image twice.

Share in the dPS Facebook Group

You can also share your images in the dPS Facebook group as the challenge is posted there each week as well.

The post Weekly Photography Challenge – Macro or Close-Up Photography by Darlene Hildebrandt appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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5 Tips for Killer Macro Backgrounds

20 Dec

You’ve got a perfect macro subject, the perfect angle, and the perfect composition. You’ve checked your focus, and it’s spot on. Your finger hovers over the shutter button. One quick press, and you’ll have the shot. It’s all there before you…right?

Maybe not. There’s one more thing that I’d urge you to check before you shoot – and that is the background.

Macro backgrounds coneflower 1

See, while subject, lighting, and setup matter a great deal in macro photography, the background matters too, far more than people often realize. This is quite understandable; it’s the background. As long as you’ve got the perfect subject, why worry?

But when it comes to macro photography, the background can make or break a shot. You’re often working with a limited compositional palette, of sorts. Lines, colors, shapes; macro photography simplifies things, which is not to say that it makes photography easier. Instead, it magnifies each element, making attention to detail all the more important.

Fortunately, getting good backgrounds is not that difficult. As you start to become conscious of backgrounds and of their importance, your eye will develop. But to jump-start your technique, here are five tips that will dramatically improve your macro images right away.

1. Simplicity is key

I said I’d give you five tips, but this one right here is the big one. This is the starting point that should drive all other background considerations.

When I say simplicity, I’m not necessarily advocating a static, uniform, black or white background (although that can work well). What I mean is that you don’t want clutter. You don’t want a background full of distracting shapes and lines that draw the eye away from the main subject.

For instance, one of my favorite types of backgrounds is just a single color. Nothing fancy, but nothing distracting, either. If you’re shooting in a natural area, maybe you can position yourself so that your subject has some trees behind it. Then you can capture a nice, green wash for your background.

Macro backgrounds pink cosmos 2

The background here is a simple green, which allows the colorful subject to pop.

And if it’s autumn, even better. The golds of the changing leaves make for some beautiful hues.

Macro backgrounds daisy 3

Once I found this flower, I shifted my position to include distant trees, which were exhibiting some lovely fall colors.

The key consideration here is that the background isn’t distracting. Aim for the background to complement the subject without overpowering it. In general, you’ll be safe with a uniform wash (but it’s also possible to go with something a little more complex, as you will see in tips four and five below).

2. Achieve good subject-background separation

When it comes to macro photography, sufficient separation between the subject and the background is crucial. That is, you’re going to want to find a subject that is a significant distance away from whatever sits behind it. When you focus on your subject in the foreground, distant background elements will generally become a pleasing blur, creating the solid wash that I discussed above.

So what exactly is a significant distance? In general, this is going to depend on a couple of things.

Macro backgrounds blackeyedsusan 9

First, camera to subject distance. The closer your camera is to the subject, the closer the background can be to the subject. If your camera is just five inches from a flower, then you’ll probably be okay with a background that’s only 10 inches behind that flower. However, if your camera is five feet from the flower, then you’re going to need perhaps ten feet of distance between the flower and background.

Second, depth of field is a factor. Briefly, depth of field refers to the amount of the subject that is sharp and in focus, which is altered by widening and narrowing the lens’s aperture.

The shallower your depth of field (achieved by using a wide aperture, generally in the f/1.8-5.6 range), the closer your subject can be to the background, while still allowing for a nice uniform wash. But when you’re using a narrow aperture (e.g., f/8-32), you’ll need to be a lot more careful. Without a large distance between your background and subject, you’ll find that whatever exists in your background (leaves, stems, trees, etc.) will remain well defined, and will, therefore, distract from the subject.

Macro backgrounds cosmos 4

This flower was a few feet in front of the background. The large distance, plus the shallow depth of field at f/2.8, allowed for the background leaves, drenched in evening sunlight, to blur in a pleasing manner.

3. Shoot toward a cloudy sky

This one is easy to pull off, and can result in some really pleasing images. All it takes is a willingness to get low to the ground so that you can place the sky behind your subject. If you take the picture as you normally would, exposing for the main subject, then you’ll find that the background will be rendered as a pleasing, uniform white.

Macro backgrounds highkey 5

I got down to a level with this subject so that it was positioned just above the horizon, and I could capture clouds as the background.

4. Shoot into the sun

Often, macro photographers like to position the sun behind them, so that the light is coming over their shoulders and falling on the front of the subject. While this can be a great strategy, sometimes switching things up can result in creative effects.

One of the most interesting techniques is to wait until the sun is low on the horizon. Then position the subject between yourself and the sun, get down low, and expose for the main subject. Don’t aim to get the sun in your shot. Instead, try to capture some of that golden light that sits just beside the sun.

Macro backgrounds sunflower 6

I took this image while lying on my front lawn, as the sun sank below the horizon. These colors are essentially straight-out-of-camera.

It’s critical that you do this in the late evening. Any earlier and the sun will be too bright. You won’t get those rich, golden colors, and it will be tough to expose for the main subject.

I’d also urge you to be careful; do not look at the sun through your camera viewfinder. This will be damaging to your eyes. Instead, capture the image while using your camera’s Live View function.

5. Use the surrounding color

While a uniform wash often works quite well as a background, you may want to give your shots something extra. A little bit of pop. That’s where vibrant colors can come in handy.

For now, I’m not necessarily suggesting that you match colors like clothes, nor am I suggesting you use color theory. There’s no need to be that particular, not when you’re starting out. Instead, just try to look for colorful spots in the background, and compose the shot so that the main subject has a bit of color behind it.

Macro backgrounds fairytale 7

For this image, I angled my camera so that a few yellow flowers in the background contrasted with the reds of the subject.

When you’re out in the field, you may not see an abundance of options, but pause and glance around. Try looking through the viewfinder while shifting your camera angle. It may turn out that certain areas become startlingly beautiful once they’re out of focus.

One of my favorite techniques when shooting flowers is to adjust my composition so that a second bloom is a bit behind the first, while shooting with a shallow depth of field. Rendered as an out-of-focus patch of color, this background bloom complements the main subject.

Macro backgrounds yellow 8

Here I positioned myself so that a second flower, a little behind the first, was rendered nicely out of focus.

In conclusion

Macro photography requires careful attention to your background, but don’t let that hold you back. By achieving good separation between the subject and the background, by shooting toward the sky, the setting sun, or including vibrant colors, and by—above all—concentrating on simplicity, you’ll be well on your way to getting fantastic macro images.

If you have any tips that I didn’t mention here, I’d love to hear them in the comments!


The post 5 Tips for Killer Macro Backgrounds by Jaymes Dempsey appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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How to Use Natural Light for Macro Photography

19 Dec

I have to admit that the sun is one of those things in life that intrigues and fascinates me. When I was a kid I remember laying on the floor looking at the sky, watching the sun changing its position during the day and casting different types of shadows and reflections.

Natural light is the term we use in photography to refer the light of the sun. This, as opposed to artificial light that is usually created by the transformation of electricity into light through the use of light bulbs.

Even though natural light has the sun as a starting point, it can look very different depending on many factors. Time of the day, the season of the year, weather conditions and various other circumstances may influence the way sunlight reaches the earth and can be captured in a photograph.

As photographers, it is our job to understand the way it works and make the best out of it. In this article, we will explore the way natural light works and how to apply it in macro photography work. Let’s start with the basics.

Quality of Light

Quality of light is a term usually used by photographers to refer to the “hardness” or “softness” of a light source.

This quality is determined by the way a given light source produces the transitions between the highlights and shadows.
Soft light produces smooth transitions, while hard light produces abrupt transitions between the tonal areas, therefore giving the image less or more contrast.

The basic principle is: The larger the light source, the softer the light.

This means that sunlight gets softer closer to sunrise and sunset and harder closer to midday, due to the changes of distance between the sun and the earth during the day (and the angle at which it enters the atmosphere).

Lighting macro photography 01

Left: Image photographed at sunrise. Right: Image photographed at midday.

Direction of Light

The direction of light refers to the position of the light relative to the subject. This positioning determines the width of the shadows it casts creating the sense of texture and shape.

The basic principle is: Shadows fall to the opposite side of where the light is located.

Frontal lighting has a flattening effect on most subjects as it casts the shadows on their back, removing the three-dimensional effect.

Side lighting accentuates the texture of the subject as it casts side shadows creating the sense of dimension and volume.

Backlighting creates an outlining effect on the subject separating it from the background, making it more dominant.

Lighting macro photography 02

Color and Contrast

The color of light, or white balance, and contrast in natural light is mainly affected by two factors:

#1 – Time of day affects the position of the sun. The closer the sun is to the horizon, the less contrast and warmer is the light. This phenomenon happens mainly because sunlight has to cross more atmosphere which gives less contrast and filters the blue light resulting in a yellowish tonal effect. Closer to high noon the higher the contrast and less color variation it has because the sun is further away from the horizon.

#2 – Weather which affects contrast and color of light mainly by the presence of clouds which act like a huge diffuser resulting in less contrast and a blue color cast.

Lighting macro photography 03

Diffused and Reflected Light

Even though you cannot control sunlight, it doesn’t mean you cannot modify it to suit your needs.

Diffused light is achieved by sending a beam of light thru a semi-transparent surface resulting in lower contrast and feathered edge shadows.

Reflected light is achieved by bouncing the incident light off a reflecting surface onto the subject resulting in a change of direction and intensity of the light.

Lighting macro photography 04


Basic tools like reflectors and diffusers are fundamental resources for natural light photography. Even though there are a lot of macro photography dedicated gear options available, if you don’t want to spend your hard earned money on them, you can just build your own with things you probably already have around the house.

Tracing or baking paper and aluminum foil are great materials for building custom diffusers and reflectors. Just cut them to the size and shape that best suits your needs.

Lighting macro photography 05

Light diffusion materials range from nylon to translucent paper, plastic or acrylic. Here is a good example of a macro shot of a quarter dollar coin with direct side natural light and with tracing paper sheet diffuser.

Lighting macro photography 06

Left: Direct sunlight from the side. Right: Diffused sunlight from the side.

In this particular situation, the diffuser acted as a light softener and a reflector creating the highlights that give volume to the coin engraving.

Adding more light

Even though sunlight is only one light spot it is easy to simulate additional spots with reflectors. Take a look at this example of an old pocket watch photographed with side natural sunlight.

Lighting macro photography 07

Even though the light on the watch’s face is good, the rest just fades to black, making it flat. Another light spot would really help to get the right image volume. So we will add a mirror reflection on the opposite side of the main light for better definition of the object.

Lighting macro photography 08

And here is the final image

Lighting macro photography 09

That small spot reflection from the mirror on the left side of the image was enough to create the right volume, and give the image depth and ambiance.

These kinds of reflections can be created with different types of materials. A mirror like the one used in this image gives a narrow and intense reflection. While materials like aluminum foil create a broader reflection that can be scattered if you crumple the foil making it reflect light in different directions.

White surfaces like cardboard are also good reflection materials, giving a softer and less contrasted reflection than aluminum foil.

Background Separation

In photography, there are many factors that can influence background separation; focal length, aperture, distance between the subject and its background and lighting.

But because macro photography is such a specific subject that happens in a very small area, all these factors become critical as every small change translates to a big difference in the captured image. Because of the highly enlarged capture area, it becomes very difficult to use a camera handheld. A tripod and a shutter release cable are a must have for macro photographers.

The “Boogie Man” in the macro photography world is without a doubt the depth of field. In most macro circumstances the focus area is so shallow that a minimal change in the distance to the subject or aperture results in failure. This shallow depth of field can also be used as an advantage point to create background separation.

Both of these images were photographed in the same position with a 100mm macro lens. The difference here is the depth of field created by different apertures.

Lighting macro photography 10

Left: f/32. Right: f/11.

The image on the left gets confused and overcrowded with information. While the image on the right gets separation between the main focus subject and the background making it simpler and more appealing to the eye.

Another way to get background separation is to use the position of the light to create separation.

Lighting macro photography 11

This image was done using a simple and monochromatic background and backlighting which creates overexposure in the background, making the main subject stand out.

Mixing Natural Light with Flash

Sometimes natural light just isn’t enough for the image you want to create. Mixing natural light with flash is not an easy job, as flash usually overpowers natural light, giving the image an artificial look.

However, mixing the right amount of these too light sources can give some interesting results.

Lighting macro photography 12

This image was created with the use of a ring flash that created the specular highlights in the water drops, and a longer shutter speed that allowed the background to capture some natural light.

This result could only be achieved by the mix of these two light sources. Using only natural light would result in dull water drops without the flash sparkle, and artificial light background if only the ring flash had been used.

Mixing Natural Light with LEDs

In the past few years, LED light has become a valuable resource for photographers that want to use continuous light but don’t want to deal with incandescent or fluorescent bulbs and all their associated problems.

LEDs are very energy efficient as they convert about 80% of the energy they use into light, while incandescent only converts about 20%. They also don’t generate much heat and are available in many colors.

Lighting macro photography 13

This image was created with the mix of natural morning light shining through a window, and a simple and inexpensive cool white LED pocket flashlight.

The overall look was created by the use of a light painting technique with a 2-second exposure. Moving the flashlight on the top of the table created the texture and blue cast, while the diffused backlight from the window illuminated the food.

Final Thoughts

I guess light in photography is not what you start with, but what you make out of it. Once you know the rules, you can adapt yourself to what you’ve got and transform a bad lighting situation into great images.

Don’t be afraid to experiment, as trial and error is the best way to success. Use and abuse natural light, after all, it is free and is for sure different every day!

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I Spy With My Little Eye: Macro Photo Gold

13 Oct

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The magic of ultraviolet nature and macro photography

13 Oct

Ultraviolet photography is something that relatively few photographers explore, but it’s a fascinating realm to explore with less of an investment in equipment than most people think.

Much of my photography revolves around the world that we cannot see with our own eyes. This “unseen world” approach can make otherworldly beautiful images from everyday ordinary subjects. Using light beyond our own spectrum is a great way to start these explorations—enter the world of ultraviolet photography.

To clarify: There are two types of ultraviolet photography. UV reflectance and UV fluorescence. UV reflectance is using a light source that contains UV light (such as the sun or a full-spectrum light source) and collecting only the ultraviolet light that hits the camera sensor. This requires a camera modification similar to what you would do for infrared photography, but on the other end of the spectrum.

It can reveal hidden patterns in flowers that only insects can see, like a bulls-eye pattern in sunflowers and what effectively appears as a “landing strip” in many flowers to attract pollinators.

The bottom-right image above is made by collecting UV light. The bottom middle is visible light and the left is an infrared image of the same sunflower. While the dark pattern is certainly interesting, things become almost magical when you make the flower fluoresce (large image). UV fluorescence requires a regular unmodified camera, but careful attention to ensure only pure UV light hits the subject. If anything in the frame fluoresces, visible light bounces back to the camera.

Interestingly, just about everything in nature fluoresces to some degree. You may have heard about scorpions or certain millipedes glowing under UV light, but if you bring forward enough UV-only light, everything can “glow”. The intensity of the light is key, and it needs to be “pure” as even a fraction of a percentage of spill-over into the visible spectrum will contaminate your results.

This is a typical setup for an ultraviolet shot. Each of these Yongnuo 685 flashes has been modified to output exclusively UV light, and the process only takes about five minutes. You need to disassemble the flash (Warning: this is high voltage equipment you’re opening up. You can seriously hurt or kill yourself if the flash isn’t properly discharged and you touch the wrong components. If you’re unsure how to deal with equipment like this, give it to a professional.) and remove two pieces of plastic that are in front of the xenon flash tube. These control the flash beam but also block UV light.

There are two screws and a few clamps under the rubber circles on the sides of the flash, it’s not a complicated procedure. With these gone and the flash reassembled, you need to filter the light down to UV-only. I use a combination of two 77mm filters that do an awesome job: the Hoya U340 and the MidOpt BP365. Each of these filters on their own leak a very small portion of the visible spectrum; one leaks red, the other leaks violet. Together, they block it all. Conveniently, they also allow infrared light to pass through which the camera can’t see either, so they can serve multiple purposes.

The cost for each flash modification was around USD$ 500, so getting into this area of photography costs less than a good lens.

With three of these flashes at point-blank range at 100% output, the above image still needed to be shot at ISO 5000. Aphids being feasted on by a ladybug on a plum leaf never looked so bizarre. I’m unsure of the exact reason, but aphids and small spiders tend to fluoresce green.

Most insect eyes fluoresce blue, but flowers can contain many different colors—a yellow lady slipper orchid maintains its yellow “shoe”, but the ordinarily-green leaves glow red.

The key here is constant experimentation. Some flowers or insects are completely uninteresting in the way they fluoresce, while others are shockingly vibrant. It’s important to note that nothing can ever see the world this way—it requires that all visible light be filtered from the light source. Insects can see reflected UV, like this cicada image:

But when you photograph that same cicada in a dark room and collect the visible light? The clear wings turn into a science-fiction shade of glowing blue. The same is true for certain species of dragonflies, though most insects with smaller wings are unresponsive. Some research has been done into this and seems to link the elastomeric protein “resilin” and its nitrogen content to these glowing features but I’m shocked at the lack of scientific articles on the topic.

As a photographer (and not an entomologist or scientist in any way), I simply explore this unknown realm with childhood curiosity.

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Don Komarechka is a nature, landscape, and macro photographer based in Barrie, Canada. His macro work has been highlighted in international publications. Don is an author, educator, and adventurer with a passion for revealing “the unseen world.”

To see more of his work, visit his website or follow him on Facebook and Flickr.

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10 macro photography tips for beginners

03 Oct

1. The Lens

There are several good lens options out there for macro photography. You could use extension tubes combined with a normal lens, which gives you some magnification; or, even better, you could reverse a normal lens which, when combined with extension tubes, gives even more magnification.

The most convenient and flexible option though, especially for a beginner within macro photography, is to get a dedicated macro lens.

The most popular models come in focal lengths between 90-105 mm, and have a 1:1 magnification ratio. There are also shorter focal lengths such as 50 or 60mm, but these have shorter working distances, which means you have to get very close to your subject and risk scaring it away. 1:1 magnification means that, when you focus as closely as possible, your subject is as big on the sensor as it is in real life. So if you have a full frame sensor of 36×24 mm, it means that any insect you want to shoot that is 36mm long just about fits in your picture.

If you use an APS-C or Micro Four Thirds camera, you will get your subject magnified even more at 1x, as the sensor is smaller. These normal, 1:1 macro lenses are made by most major brands, such as Sigma’s 105mm, Canon’s 100 mm, Nikon’s 105mm, Samyang’s 100mm, Tamron’s legendary 90mm, Sony’s 90mm and Tokina’s 100mm. They cost around $ 400-$ 1,000, and they are all sharp and a great value for the money.

Many of these lenses have image stabilization, which is a good thing, as it makes composition a lot easier. Have a look at reviews and buy one that you like. You can’t go wrong with a ~100mm 1:1 macro lens—image quality wise, most of them produce comparable results.

2. Location and weather

Some of the most interesting subjects to photograph with a macro lens are small bugs and insects. Flowers and various plants are also fun, and can often make interesting abstract images. The locations that offer the most to a macro photographer are, in my experience, places with lots of flowers and plants. Botanical gardens are especially great.

The best time to go out if you want to shoot bugs and insects is whenever the outside temperature is about 17°C (63°F) or warmer, as insects tend to be more active when it is warm outside. On the other hand, if you are good at finding insects where they rest (I have personally found this very hard), they hold still longer when it is cold. Some macro photographers like to go out on early summer mornings to catch the insects when they’re not quite so active.

Overcast weather is usually better than sunny weather, as it gives a softer light.

3. Flash

If you are shooting very small subjects, such as insects, the focal plane will be extremely narrow—a couple of millimeters or so. Thus, you will have to set your aperture to at least F16 to have a chance of having most of an insect in focus.

With a small aperture like that, and the need for a high shutter speed due to the shaking of the lens and the subject, a flash is a must. You can use any flash for macro photography, in most cases even the built in pop-up flash of cheaper DSLRs can work well, but my personal favorite is the cheap, compact and lightweight Meike MK-300.

There are some macro photography situations in which a flash is not strictly needed. One situation is if you are okay with shooting at F2.8 or F4, and there is plenty of sunlight. This could be the case if you are not going all the way to 1:1 magnification, and thus can get a good depth of field with a large aperture (when you move away from your subject, the depth of field will increase).

The upside with not using a flash is that you get more natural looking photos with natural light. But if you are going to shoot insects up close, and want to have more than a small part of them in focus, you will have to use a flash.

4. Diffusor

If you are using a flash for your macro photography, I highly recommend using a diffusor as well. A diffusor is simply any white, translucent material you can find, which you can put between the flash and your subject.

The larger the light source, the smoother and softer the shadows in your photos become. This is why huge octaboxes are popular in portrait photography. And this is why you should use a diffusor in macro photography: it makes the size of the light from the flash much larger, and thus the light in your photos will look less harsh, and the colors will come out better.

In the beginning, I used a normal white piece of paper that I cut a hole in and stuck the lens through. It was a bit flimsy though, and would get crumpled during transport. My next diffusor was a filter for a vaacuum cleaner, which I also cut a hole through and put around the lens. This was a great diffusor as well.

Currently I use a purpose-built soft diffusor, which can conveniently be folded together when not in use.

5. Shutter speed

In macro photography, you will find that the small vibrations from your hands when holding the camera will be enough to make the whole picture jump around like crazy. Combine this with trying to photograph an insect sitting on a plant that is swaying in the wind, and you have a real challenge on your hands. See the video at the top of this article to understand what I mean.

A high shutter speed is therefore to recommend, especially for beginners. Begin with a shutter speed of 1/250 or faster.

However, the light duration from a speedlight is usually extremely short, and can alone freeze your subject, even combined with a slower shutter speed such as 1/100 s. The reason is that the flash will stand for the majority of the light in the photo, so even if you happen to shake your camera, it will be barely noticeable in the exposure. With a short focal length macro lens, you can take nice looking photos even at 1/40 s shutter speed.

The benefit of using a slow shutter speed is that you can avoid the black background that you otherwise often get in macro photos taken with a flash. Instead, you can get some color into your background, making the photo look a bit better (at least in my opinion).

In summary: start out with a fast shutter speed. When you have practiced a bit, try gradually lowering the shutter speed, combined with a flash.

6. Focusing

First of all, you can forget about autofocus right away. Most macro lenses’ autofocus is not fast enough to keep up with the jitters and shaking that comes with 1:1 magnification. It is helpful to just give up the thought of autofocus from the very beginning, and learn to focus manually instead.

Second of all, forget about tripods. Unless you are shooting something completely static, such as a product in a studio, tripods will be very impractical to use in macro photography.

For shooting insects or flowers outside, you will be disappointed to spend time setting up the tripod, only to discover that the small vibrations of the flower in the wind makes the photo blurry anyway. Not to mention that any insect will have flown away during the first 10 seconds of your 1 minute tripod setup.

Over time I have developed the following method of focusing, which I think gives the best results: Hold the camera with both hands, and preferably anchor your elbows against your sides or legs to give even more stability. Next, turn your focusing ring to approximately the magnification you want to get. Then focus, not by touching the focusing ring, but by slowly rocking towards the subject, while trying to snap the photo exactly at the right moment. See the video for a visualization of this technique.

If you can get one out of 5 photos focused and sharp in the right place, consider that a good ratio. Expect to throw away a lot of photos when doing macro photography, especially at the beginning.

7. Focal plane

As I already mentioned, a close focusing distance will mean an extremely narrow focal plane. And since we’re not talking about advanced techniques like focus stacking, you will find that the best macro photos come when you utilize the narrow focal plane in clever ways.

Try to find subjects that are flat, and put them in the focal plane. Examples are small, flat flowers, or butterflies photographed from the side, or beetles with fairly flat backs.

Another example of utilizing the narrow focal plane in a creative way is to make an insect’s head “stick out” of the blurry bokeh. This makes for an interesting and aesthetically pleasing effect.

8. Angles

A common newbie mistake is to conveniently snap the photo from where you stand, at a 45 degree angle towards the insect or flower. This will make your photo look like every other newbie macro photo out there—in other words: it will be boring.

Try to find uncommon angles, such as shooting the insect from the side, from the front, or from below. Make use of your flip out screen if you don’t want to crawl on the ground. If the insect sits on a plant or a leaf, try pulling up that plant to hold it against the sky—it gives you an interesting angle and a more beautiful background.

9. Magnification

Something I did a lot as a beginner in macro photography was to always go for maximum magnification. I thought, “the bigger the insect in the frame, the cooler the photo.” But the truth is that you can often find a more beautiful or interesting photo if you back off a little, and let the insect look just as small as it actually is, depicted in its surroundings.

10. Sharp objects

And lastly, never put sharp objects such as knives or drills against your expensive macro lens. Despite what some YouTubers seem to suggest in their thumbnails, also avoid cigarette lighters and toothpaste. Putting stuff like this against your lens is only useful for clickbait thumbnails on Youtube!

Micael Widell is a photography enthusiast based in Stockholm, Sweden. He loves photography, and runs a YouTube channel with tutorials, lens reviews and photography inspiration. You can also find him as @mwroll on Instagram and 500px.

This article was originally published on Micael’s blog, and is being republished in full on DPReview with express permission.

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Make a Macro Lens with Just a Drop of Water

27 Sep

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Photo Experiment: Shooting macro photos of boiling water

21 Sep

Recently I’ve become interested in photographing boiling water in a glass tea kettle. It may sound boring and uninteresting, but with the right lighting you can get some truly interesting images.

It began when I was boiling my tea water one day in January this year, and I happened to have my camera with a macro lens and a speedlight mounted, laying nearby. I decided to try what would happen if I photographed the boiling water in the glass tea kettle and was very surprised by the results! It looked like melted metal, and the shapes were a lot more intricate and detailed than I would have expected.

When experimenting with this, I have gotten the best results when using a macro lens with a long focal length. I used my trusty Sigma 150mm f2.8 macro. You could probably get interesting photos with a non-macro lens, but you would likely have to do some cropping to take away the edges of the teakettle and the background, as you wouldn’t be able to focus as closely.

I set the aperture to around F6 or F7 for the sharpest results, and I focus fairly close, but not all the way to 1:1 magnification. I make sure that the room is as dark as possible, as this gives the photos a calmer background. I use either a normal speedlight mounted on the top of the camera, or, for more interesting results, I use two speedlights with colored gels, placed at different angles towards the teakettle.

In this case, I used two Godox TT 685s: cheap but incredibly well-built wireless speedlights.

Finally, I turn on the teakettle and let the water start boiling, while I press the shutter as many times as possible. Be prepared to take a lot of photographs, and know that most of them will turn out only okay. When I recorded my video about this, I took thousands of shots, and only deemed around 10-20 to be “good.” But when you get a nice composition of bubbles, with perfect sharpness and that metallic, futuristic look, it is worth the effort!

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The most interesting photos seem to come at two stages: when the water is boiling the most – when it is total chaos inside that teakettle—and when it has stopped boiling and you only see small, flat bubbles rising from the bottom with some distance between them.

Again, this might seem like a silly, boring idea but photographing boiling water is a fun and interesting experiment to try at home on a rainy day!

Micael Widell is a photography enthusiast based in Stockholm, Sweden. He loves photography, and runs a YouTube channel with tutorials, lens reviews and photography inspiration. You can also find him as @mwroll on Instagram and 500px.

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DIY: How I built my own super macro rig for less than $250

14 Sep

Last year I bought a macro lens for the summer—just a normal one with 1x magnification—and I immediately found myself in a beautiful and mesmerizing world of minuscule flowers and bugs. I found that in macro photography, you don’t have to travel to beautiful places to take beautiful photos—you can just walk around in your backyard, and discover a whole new world. Also, you don’t have to wake up at 4 AM to catch the golden hour…

This year, however, I decided I wanted to take things to the next level. I wanted a super macro lens with 2x or more in magnification, so that I could take closeup portraits of ants and bees. I started Googling around for the right lenses and soon discovered that there are only a couple of them out there. The best known is the Canon MP-E 65, but it costs north of $ 1,000. There is also a 2x macro lens from Venus Optics, but it’s still $ 400 for the lens alone… and then you need to add some kind of flash setup.

I thought this was way too much money to just try super macro photography, so I decided to look around for cheaper solutions.

That was when I discovered this excellent article on a Swedish site. It describes how you can build your own super macro rig with cheap parts off Amazon or eBay. This build works with any Canon EF compatible camera, meaning most Canon cameras and also mirrorless cameras with adapters. After some browsing, I was able to find all the parts on Amazon and I ordered them.

The rig is based around the Canon 40mm f2.8 STM lens. This lens is excellent for this purpose as it is very cheap, small, light, sharp and has beautiful bokeh (possibly more beautiful than the Canon MP-E 65). For this particular setup, the lens is mounted reversed to get more magnification using a Meike reverse adapter. The adapter, in turn, has a cable that allows you to keep control over aperture despite having the lens reversed.

You will need a 52-58 mm step-up ring to fit the Canon 40mm with the Meike reverse adapter. Then, if you put an extension tube before the Meike adapter, you have a super macro lens! Just add more extension tubes for more magnification.

I have found that 36mm of extension tube is my sweet spot—it gives me 2.3x magnification, meaning that the subject will be 2.3x bigger on the sensor than it is in real life. So a bug that is 10mm tall will cover all 24mm of a full frame sensor.

The rest of the parts are the flash and parts needed to mount it in a way that puts it as close to the subject as possible. You should also try to make some kind of diffuser, as shown in the video.

All essential parts:

  • Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM Pancake Lens (around $ 50 used)
  • Meike reverse adapter (around $ 55)
  • Meike MK-300 Flash (around $ 33)
  • Vello CB-600 Straight Flash Bracket (around $ 10)
  • Articulating arm, 7” (around $ 14)
  • Fotga Extension tubes for Canon EF (around $ 40)
  • Vello TTL-Off-Camera Flash Cord for Canon EOS 0.5 m (around $ 20)
  • Goja 52-58MM Step-Up Adapter Ring (around $ 8)

In total (if you buy the Canon lens used): $ 230 USD

See the video up top for detailed instructions, and scroll down to see some sample photos. The parts can be put together in a few minutes, as shown in the video.

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Lastly, a small tip for shooting super macro insect shots with this rig: use a slow shutter speed, such as 1/40s. That way you will get a lot of color and light in your photo, making it more interesting and beautiful. Don’t worry about sharpness, the flash is a lot faster than 1/40, and it will make sure to freeze your subject in most situations.

Micael Widell is a photography enthusiast based in Stockholm, Sweden. He loves macro and nature photography, and runs a YouTube channel around these subjects. You can also find him on Instagram and 500px.

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