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Macro Photography
by Ruben Dario Cruz


Macro photography, commonly referred to as Close-up photography, although not the same thing, explores the world of detail often not seen with the naked eye.

Here is some basic technical data on the subject. The Magnification Ratio of a lens describes a mathematical relationship between the object being photographed and how large it will be recorded on film or digital media. In the world of optics, a lens having a ratio greater than 1:4 is said to have macro capabilities, however a life size reproduction requires a lens to have a 1:1 ratio. Macro lenses are designed to reproduce an object at life size when focused at the Minimum Focus Distance (M.F.D).

So as an example, if you were to photograph a nickel with a 1:1 macro lens at the M.O.D to film, after development you would be able to lay that nickel on the film and have it cover the image completely. This is the same with digital, only if you are using an APS-C size sensor, then your magnification increases slightly.

A few rules of thumb apply when shooting with macro lenses, be aware that most macro lenses cause a loss of light at the 1:1 setting. If your camera’s meter is set to Program, Aperture priority, or Shutter priority the meter will automatically compensate for this loss of light. If you are shooting in a completely manual mode then you must adjust your exposure according to your meter. Most 1:1 macro lenses have up to a 2 stop light loss but consult with the manufacturer’s specifications to know exactly what the exposure rate of your lens loses.

This type of photography is especially given to capturing great detail of flowers, jewelry, and insects but is not limited to those subjects. When photographing flowers with available light take great care to allow sunlight to fall on your subject and be careful not to cast a shadow. In order to create a more dynamic and three-dimensional floral image shoot from various angles such as a worm’s eye or birds eye view. Using a light reflector 45 degrees off your subject will also add volume and dimension.

If a more two dimensional or flat look is what’s desired than shoot parallel to your subject. When shooting in harsh daylight, use a diffuser panel, or Scrim to soften the sunlight. This will reduce stark shadows and spread the light evenly.

An extremely helpful tool with Macro photography is a Ring Flash or Macro flash. These flash units mount to the end of the lens achieving several benefits. The first is adding light to your subject without casting a shadow. The second is freezing motion of an insect or swaying flower. The third is adding highlights or catch lights to detail.

If you are shooting objects such as figurines or detailed jewelry indoors then strobes, and soft boxes or light modifiers are necessary. This will soften and evenly distribute light filling in the smallest crevices of your subject as well as offer complete control of shadow detail. Elevating your objects on tables with curved backdrops will add to the dimension of the final image and provide the needed separation of background, middle ground, and foreground.

When shooting at a 1:1 ratio be aware that your depth of field becomes extremely shallow because the closer you are to your subject the more shallow your field of focus becomes. This can be particularly helpful in leading the viewer’s eyes to areas in your image. This effect is exaggerated when a long focal length is used. If a greater depth of field is desired then adjust your aperture to the smallest opening possible, i.e. F32.

Whatever your subject is, macro lenses can be extraordinary tools in capturing the details of life that are often not seen and create a world as interesting and exciting as those that are. Happy shooting!

Ruben Dario Cruz has worked in various facets of the photographic industry for 20 years. He spent ten years at Jovon Studio then Avidon Studio specializing in event and portrait photography in the greater New York area. He served New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury, New York as an adjunct instructor of photography and fine arts for five years. Ruben was employed by Tamron USA, Inc. and Olympus Imaging America as a Technical Representative and Regional Account Executive respectively. To those roots, he has traveled extensively throughout the United States where he has conducted macro workshops with a wide variety of professionals and enthusiasts alike. As an Independent Manufacturers Representative he currently travels the states of Texas and Louisiana sharing his love for the craft. You can learn more about Ruben and his work by visiting his website.

Click here to download a printable version of Macro Photography.

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