Macro Photography – Up Close and Personal

Presented by Billie A. Nicholson, M Photog., Cr.
Robert A. Nicholson, M Photog., Cr., MD F. Ph.


Definition: Macro- Photographing objects at nearly life size; ie., 1:1 or larger than life size.  



Needs – 

  1. SLR camera with thru the lens viewing and interchangeable lenses, capable of working in manual or aperture priority modes, thru the lens metered flash
  2. Electronic cable release, focusing rail, close focus lens
  3. Tripod to keep camera steady
  4. Light control – available light, diffusers, reflectors, off camera flash
  5. Cellphone with bluetooth shutter release, tripod adapter, auxiliary lenses
  6. Custom cellphone applications
  7. PC/Mac processing platform with Adobe Photoshop CC 2018
  8. Helicon Focus Software

Ways to go MACRO

  1. Enlarge prints and trim back to required size
  2. Use a close up magnifying lens (proxars, magnifying glass, loupe)
  3. Reverse lenses
  4. Add extension tubes.  
  5. Bellows
  6. Macro lens
  7. Use cell phone and accessories
Set of extension tubes





Cellphone with macro lens, tripod adapter and bluetooth remote
Macro lens







Basic Keys to a successful photograph

  1. Composition – remember the rule of thirds
  2. Lighting – directional, diffuse, reflected
    1. Available light – tungsten, fluorescent, daylight
    2. Light modifiers – reflectors, Aluminum  foil, white cards, black cards, light tent, umbrella
    3. Flash – off camera, back light, main light, fill light
  3. Exposure – spot meter, matrix metering, 18 % gray, bracket, shutter speed, subject movement
  4. Depth of Field – small in focus zone
    1. Small Apertures
    2. Subject parallel to film plane – improves focus, avoids key-stoning
    3. Simplify composition, simple backgrounds
    4. 50/50 focus distance around subject




Tips for Close Up Photography

Photographing everyday items extremely close will reveal a world of color, form, texture and shape often overlooked. “Macro” in photographic terms used to mean life-sized images. Most of us know it as that special focus setting found on some zoom lenses. Using this setting puts the lens well forward of the camera body and this allows very close focus. Close focus may not necessarily create life size images, but they will be awesome. Here are some things to remember when photographing up close.

  1. To take close ups you need equipment designed to increase the distance between the lens and the sensor. 
    1. Macro lenses or zoom lenses with a macro feature
    2. Extension tubes fit between the lens and the camera body. They add the needed space for image focus on sensor
    3. Close up filters can be added to the front of the lens to “magnify” the image and can be added together to increase magnification
    4. Use your zoom lens – set up at a distance that will allow you to zoom in close and keep the subject in focus
  2. The main technical problems are the difficulty focusing a sharp image and the very shallow depth of field.
    1. Use a tripod and wear knee pads
    2. Select the A or Av setting on your camera and you choose the aperture; the larger the number, like f11 or f16, the greater depth of focus or use the M (manual) setting and control both the aperture and shutter speed. Note the exposure meter showing in your viewfinder (a bar that has markings from -2 thru 0 to + 2) – move either the aperture or shutter speed control to move this setting to 0. 
    3. To avoid movement of the subject (if it is alive or outside in the wind), shoot at a fast shutter speed; you may also want to secure subject with a clamp
    4. Use your in-camera meter – pick a spot that simulates 18% gray or use an 18% gray card. Record the meter setting and then switch to manual
    5. Remember to add exposure to compensate for extension rings; whenever the subject is closer than about five times the focal length of the lens. Work out the magnification (image height divided by subject height, add one and square the result). This is the factor you must multiply exposure time by. So for an image the same size as the subject give four times the normal exposure.  Extension tubes are usually marked with the exposure correction required.
    6. Focus on some part of your image 1/3rd of the way into the scene to get the maximum field of focus.
    7. Bracket your exposure (less than 1-stop intervals is best) for best results, setting the camera to auto exposure bracketing.
    8. Use a “Multi-Focus” program like Helicon Focus (
  3. Backgrounds can be distracting. Make them as plain as possible
    1. Use a fabric sweep to eliminate the breaking line of a horizon
    2. Use a contrasting color
    3. Common fabrics are: black velveteen, white polyester, blue or bright green for video or to “drop out” the background easily; white shower curtains work well, too.
    4. Make sure the surface is super clean of lint or other flecks. They’ll look like logs later.
    5. Make a light tent to soften light and reduce shadows
  4. Lighting is critical in close up photos. 
      1. Early morning and late in the day will provide naturally oblique light to cross over your subject and help create a third dimension in the image. Avoid direct sun or partial sun and shade mix.
      2. Arrange studio lights to create dimension (add appropriate shadows)
      1. Use reflectors to fill in shadow areas
        1. White fabric or white cards (scrap foam-core works great – cut one side to create hinge)
        2. Mirrors
        3. Aluminum foil
        4. Photo reflectors
    1. For flat or round objects, the best camera position is directly above the object; this eliminates shape distortion – use a bubble level to confirm. Light should be very oblique to exaggerate the pattern or design.
    2. For other shaped objects, the camera should be parallel to the subject to avoid distortions
    3. A ring flash gives complete frontal lighting for complex subjects where side lighting would only add confusion with complicated shadows.
    4. Some subjects require diffused light (add a translucent material between subject and light source – another good use for that white shower curtain – put it in a sunny window for beautiful natural light).
    5. The best times to photograph flowers
      1. On cloudy overcast days
      2. Early morning or late afternoon on sunny days – nice light & low wind
      3. Just after a rain – or carry a small spray bottle for water; just one or two spritzes
    6. If you’re working out doors, don’t shoot down on flowers, get lower; knee pads are a great addition to your camera bag
    7. Don’t fight the wind
      1. Use a plant clamp
      2. Switch to Shutter Priority (S or Sv) setting and increase the shutter speed higher to stop movement
      3. Make the wind your subject – slow shouter speed to capture movement
    8. Use the rules of composition 
      1. What is your subject?
      2. Select groups of three
      3. Find repeating images at an angle 
      4. Look for leading lines to bring the viewer’s eye into the image
    9. If using this technique for home inventory or products to sell, clean items so they are free of fingerprints. Use a soft cloth to buff out.

To Download these tips:Tips for Close Up Photography_bdp




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