Some folks get strung up about macro vs close-up. There is a difference, but in reality, if it looks good, it's great. For this, I'm going to bundle macro (bigger than life-size onto the sensor) and 'closeup' into one term. Much easier.
Also, please click through to the full size images of the thumbs featured here - they are fine pieces of work often deserving of more recognition than they have. I have only used my own images as a last resort, when I could not find a specific idea (or wanted to show how not to do it!)
You will most likely need something more than a cell-phone for closeup work. A cellphone/ iPad can get quite close, and with a little cropping, is certainly playing in the closeup world — but you may well get frustrated quite soon.
Most of macro is in the lens - getting that great big closeup image onto the sensor. There are various options, ranging from free to cheap to sell-your-car expensive.
Reversing the lensIf you have a removable lens camera, taking the lens off, reversing it, and holding it against the body is a quick and cheap way to focus really close. Here is a quick guide to the reversing-the-lens technique. Just watch the dirt on the sensor and back of the lens, particularly if you get really close, or start spraying water around with a spritzer bottle.
MagnifiersYou can fix a magnifying glass to the front of you camera with sticky tape. You can get screw on 'filters' - diopters - which do the same thing with better quality glass, and lens alignment, and doesn't leave a sticky residue on the focussing ring! Here's an eBay search - just add in the filter diameter of your lens
If you have a fixed lens smartphone camera, you can get add-on lenses for these. However I would recommend being careful - you can spend the price of a nice second-hand camera on some of those lenses, and get poorer results than a 'real' camera will give.
Extending the lens Essentially, macro is about really close focus, so anything that moves the lens out from the body will also work - cardboard tubes can do the job in a pinch, but extension tubes are a better bet (Amazon has them for less than U$20).
Bellows are my favourite though:
Macro Lenses These can head off into serious money, but also deliver a lot of convenience - autofocus, portability and flexibility - great if you want to work out in the field or with things that move a bit. These are certainly popular with the macro photographers here on dA. If you have that much money to spend, enjoy the research!
If you have a (D)SLR, don't overlook older equipment from analogue days - there are some great M42 (and other mount) lenses that can do awesome work! A lot of macro work is quite 'manual', so this kit is quite up to the job. My bellows were bought for a Minolta SRT 101b about 35 years ago, and, with the addition of a US$10 adapter, they still work!
Tripod Macro can take time to set up, and small movements can mangle focus and composition, to say nothing of blurring the image. Some of the exposure times also stretch out, so a tripod of some sort - a gorrillapod, or an old dusty one from the garage, or resting the camera on a cushion - can make the difference between "a nice idea, but not quite" and "nailed".
If you've got U$25 or so to spare, a fine grain slider can be very helpful - you really are looking at movements in the millimetres with macro.
Light Lighting an object that may be 10mm from your lens can be challenging! I'm a fan of natural and flood lighting, and desk lamps, LED's on stalks (the kind you use for reading), torches and windows can do a great job.
A lot of folks like flashes - they are bright, and they deal with the shake inherent in the magnification of macro. They also open the option of high-speed macro - drop splashes, and the like.
This is a quick and cheap way to use your on-camera flash for macro work!
Macro has a lot in common with still life studio work, and many of the lighting techniques -light boxes, 3 point lighting, catch-lights for highlights, side-lighting for texture - all work in the small really well:
Composition It is easy to get caught up in all the technicalities of getting in close to a subject and then not paying attention to the composition. There are really lots of composition tutorials out there, but this one is a great start!
A couple of other points:
- When you get in close, your Depth of Field (DoF) becomes very shallow - a couple of millimetres quite often, even when stopped down to f16. This means that perspective has to be created differently, or the lack of perspective used creatively. It also makes focusing a challenge - the electronic viewfinder cameras are a boon here!
- One can lose track of the background all too easily, thinking that the shallow DoF will make for beautiful bokeh. If it doesn't, a sheet of paper curved up in mini-studio style, under and then behind the subject can work wonders.
- If you succumb (as you will, at least once!) to droplet photography, remember that they work like lenses, and you will see straight through them. This can be very effective, or very off-putting, depending on how you manage your composition.
Ideas - what to shootSo, with some appropriate kit and a refresher on composition, the question is what to point the camera at?
Running through the macro folder here on dA, there seem to be some favourite and common themes. (There are also a pile of miscategorisations, of non-macro images, and even some non-photographic work — so do be careful when submitting, please!)
So what do they have in common? There is only one DD here, and some with very few views indeed, so that's not it!
A couple of things for me, apart from being in nice and close:
- Crisp contrast. Looking through the folder for shots to illustrate these ideas, I went past a few that were a little soft when you got close in. One has to take the time to get the focus and exposure 'right'.
- Often, something shiny, which, it may be argued is what leads to the contrast, but is not quite the same thing.
- Evocative texture. Maybe it's just me, but I can feel these things.
As gigi50 says "I did spend a few hours on my back deck doing these". Macro is not really a drive-by shooting style, although you might get lucky occasionally. It is worth the time and effort to set things up carefully, and be willing to try, see what works, and try again, slightly differently. A small change to lighting - either from the passing of time, or moving a light, can make the difference between "nice" and "WOW". A small change in camera angle can pick up a highlight, or clean up the background. Moving focus by a tiny amount can highlight a fascinating texture.
I prefer to run exposure manually, picking the spot that I want to be "averagely" exposed, and then working around that. With high contrast subject, the camera can try to average over everything, and blow out highlights, or clog up shadows. If in doubt, bracket your shots, preferably with shutter speed, since f-stop is trying hard to get decent depth of field, and ISO should be just below where noise gets noticeable, to allow for the closed down f-stop. The extra second or two in bracketing is often rewarded in post-processing, when you have something really nice to work with.
Post-Processing This is not photojournalism, so one has a little more latitude in what you can do to the image. It seems that many people don't spend time "developing" their images, which is sad, because often, half and hour with Photoshop, or in my case, the free GIMP, can make all the difference to an image.
Apart from cropping, which the excellent composition tutorials handle, here are some other options to consider. In my workflow, I usually use them in this order, but often crop near the end
- Flip the image. The difference in the path the eye takes through the image can be huge with a Left-right flip. And of course, the flip doesn't have to be left right!
- Use an unsharp mask, which, despite its name, gives an image a nice snappy crispness, or sharpness.
- Adjust the contrast via the curves. The curves tool allow fine control of exactly where the contrast is increased. It takes a little time to master, but the degree of control it gives is really worth the effort:
If you want to watermark your work, do it here, rather than using the dA one, which is quite intrusive.
And a last thought. Since the camera is setup on a stable tripod, and if you are running continuous light, try pushing the "video" button on your camera. Drops splashing, insects stepping, flowers blowing in the breeze, clocks ticking - it opens up a whole new world.
Good luck, and please share your comments, tips, tricks and ideas in the comments!