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Close-up vs. Macro Photography

Close-up and macro photography is fascinating because of the incredible discoveries we are able to find in our otherwise mundane surroundings. By moving in closer and closer to our subject, we get a uniquely different perspective on our world. It also allows us to find new ways of framing and composing our images since now we have to work within a tighter, more controlled working area.

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, “close-up” and “macro” are not synonymous. Even though many camera manufacturers mark or call their built-in close-up feature ‘macro’ it rarely is a true macro function. The terms relate to the ratio between the subject’s actual size to the sensor size.

In the examples above we have a standard dSLR sensor, proportionate to a 35 mm frame, in front of a bouquet of flowers. The first image shows the bouquet filling the entire frame. In order to fit onto the camera’s sensor the flowers need to be reduced. In this case 3 inches on the flower equals one inch on the sensor.

The second image is a close-up of one of the flowers. Here the relationships is almost equal, but not quite. 1.1 inches on the flower is 1 inch on the sensor. The perception here is of getting up close to the subject even though we are not magnifying the subject in relation to the sensor size. While the singular flower fills the frame, giving a perception that we have gotten really close to the flower, we see that it still had to be reduced in order to fit into the frame.

The last example is of a macro shot. Here we are seeing the details within the center of the flower. In order to get this type of shot the actual dimensions of the flower are smaller than the sensor size. In this example half an inch on the flower is enlarged to a full inch on the sensor.

In order to be considered a macro shot the ratio needs to be at 1:1 or greater. Greater meaning that the second number is larger than the first.

To exercise your close-up and macro abilities you need to think about getting as close to your subject as mechanically possible. However there are technical problems you need to be aware of;

Depth of Field: The closer you are the shallower the DoF. Use a smaller aperture (larger number) on your lens. in order to get deeper sharpness.

Focal Plane: Because of the shallower DoF, your focal plane is touchier. You may need to pre-focus in AF then switch to manual focus to fine tune the focal plane.

Movement Blur: Tiny movements become exaggerated. Use a tripod and try to minimize air movement around your subject. Use mirror lock-up and shutter release cables.

Patience: Close-up and macro photography WILL test your patience. Take deep breaths.

Suggested Shot List

Insects: Although commonplace, insects become a fascinating subject once we are able to get up close and personal with them. Shoot low and focus on the eyes.

Flowers: Another typical subject, however if you focus in on some interesting detail such as veining or color, you can get unique results.

Wood and Stone: These elements ofer a wide array of possibilities in both colors and textures. Low side lighting will help pull out the texture.

Leaves: Everything from seedlings to decaying broad leafs, many plants offer interesting compositions. Look for texture, shape and color. Water droplets can enhance an otherwise static display.

Patterns: Light and natural elements in your subject can contain interesting patterns. Try looking for them and compose your shot accordingly.

Details: Some subjects have a lot of interesting stuff going on. Instead of trying to capture it all, focus in on a single detail.


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