Manfrotto ™
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Macro Photography

A Close up Look at Macro Photography with the 190PRO + 222

The world of close-up photography can be broken down into three categories, defined by how much magnification you apply in the photographic process.

The first is simply called "close-up" and is defined loosely as shots that are taken close to the subject but where the subject is less than life-size on film or on the digital sensor.

The second is called macro photography and is defined as close-up shots that range from life-size reproduction to 10X life size. This is typically what we usually mean when we talk about close-up photography with normal cameras and lenses.

The last category is micro photography. These are images made with a microscope and greater than a 10X enlargement of the original subject.

For this lesson we will focus on the first two, with the emphasis on the macro approach.

Topics Covered:

  • What is Macro?
  • Choosing a subject
  • Choosing the right camera support (the tripod) and head
  • What is working distance?
  • Adjusting ambient light
  • Adding artificial light
  • Controlling the Depth of Field

Manfrotto Equipment Used:

  • Manfrotto 190PRO Tripod
  • Manfrotto 222 (3265)Pistol Grip head

Oher Equipment Used:

  • Olympus 50mm f/2.0 Digital Zuiko Macro Lens
  • Olympus E-1
    • Photoflex LiteDisc
    • Olympus Macro Flash Controller FC-1
    • Olympus Twin Flash TF-22
    • Olympus Twin Flash bracket
    Introduction to Macro Photography

    True macro images are those that show the subject at a 1:1 to 10:1 ratio, or life size to 10 times the actual size of your subject. So most of the time we shoot close up photography it's not truly macro.

    This has been further confused by many of the manufacturers labelling zoom lenses and digital cameras with "macro" modes that are not truly macro either. Most of these devices get to a "close up" point or around a 1:4 ratio, or 1/4 life size on the film or digital file. When these pictures are printed to the typical size, they are enlarged around 4x (4X6 print) to bring them to the 1:1 ratio, the true macro ratio of life size.

    So the long and the short of it is that we are mostly talking about close-up photography when we talk about macro.

    Constraints of Shooting Macro

    Macro photography brings with it certain problems with the "working distance" and "depth of field".

    As you enlarge the subject, you must get very close to it. This means that in some cases the subject is almost touching the front of the lens, giving you little or no "working distance" in to adjust the lighting. Ring lights and macro flash attachments are designed to deal with this problem.

    Again, the closer you get to a subject, the more you reduce the depth of field. To counteract this we need to use very small apertures to get the subject in focus.

    The required tool for macro photography is the tripod. Without this, it would be impossible to get close to the subject to obtain the clean, crisp shots you want, and impossible to get stable shots - given that any camera shake from a hand-held photo will be magnified.

    Choosing your subject

    When we talk about Macro or close up photography, the choices for subject matter is endless. Things that are uninspiring at normal viewing distance can become very interesting when you start looking at them close up.

    Some of the typical or traditional subjects are flowers, bugs, and the like. For this lesson we have chosen several subjects that will help to illustrate the different aspects of macro photography.

    To start with, we will illustrate working distances and exposure compensation with some moss covering an old stump. To illustrate how to add or augment the light on the subject, we will shoot some very small pine cones and a leaf.
    Choosing a camera support

    For this lesson we chose the Manfrotto 190PRO tripod and the 222 (3265) pistol grip action ball head. The Manfrotto 190PRO is a mainstay in the Manfrotto line, featuring all-aluminum construction for years of solid performance. To make adjustments to the legs on the 190PRO simply release the clip on the leg, extend the leg to the desired length, and re-set the clip to secure the leg in position (figures 1, 2, and 3).

    Figure 1
    In figure 1 we extend the largest leg section first to give the tripod the maximum strength and stability.

    Figure 2

    Figure 3
    We chose the 190PRO because it's easy to adjust and position the camera. For example, once we have our tripod set up and we want to lower the camera, all we have to do is simply release the clips, adjust the leg and re-clip the leg. The 190PRO's high load capacity, its good minimum to maximum height range and its full range of professional features make it the ideal tripod for location work. The 190PRO features a two section center column for low angle or normal shooting and a top yoke that allows for side postitioning of the center column. It also has four independent leg angle positions so you can get your camera all the way down to the ground. (figure 4)

    Figure 4

    Figure 5
    Next, we need to choose the right head for the shot. We chose the Manfrotto 222 (3265) Grip Action Ball Head because, just like the 190PRO tripod, the 222 is fast and easy to use. To position the camera, simply squeeze the trigger on the head and you unlock the ball, which allows you to freely move the camera; then release the trigger and the camera locks solidly in position. For our macro photography, we want to easily move our camera right up close to the subject and lock it off, without ever having to turn a knob! With the 190PRO tripod combined with the 222 (3265) Pistol Grip, we have the solid yet quick and easy to use support we need to make this lesson a snap (figures 5 and 6).

    Figure 6

    Choosing a lens

    There are many options open to you when it comes to a close up lens. Applying lens diopters to the front of your existing lens is an option. These are a type of filter you attach to the front of the lens that allow the lens to focus closer that it normally could.

    The next option is an extension tube; this is a device that attaches in-between the lens and the camera that changes the point of focus of that lens allowing it to focus much closer than it normally could.

    And the last option, the one we chose for this lesson, is a macro lens. These are lenses that are specifically designed to focus close. They generally come in a normal focal length of 50mm and in medium telephoto length of 100mm and will work as a normal lens as well.

    For this lesson we will use the Olympus Zuiko 50mm Macro lens.
    Camera Settings

    Now that we have found our subject and placed our camera on the tripod, we can set the camera for the first round of shots. Since we are shooting outside in an open daylight situation, we chose the daylight preset for our white balance. Because we want as much control over the exposure and focus as possible we set them both to manual. We set our resolution to the TIFF setting for the maximum file size for later enlargements. The ISO was set to 100 for the minimum amount of noise.
    In figure 7 we see the camera set in its first position, about three feet from the subject, showing the entire stump using the 50mm macro lens in its "normal" setting. Figure 8 is the resulting image from this camera position.

    Our exposure settings for this first shot were 1/60 @ f/16. As we move through each of the following set ups, we want to keep the f-stop the same and make any exposure adjustment to the shutter speed.

    Figure 7

    Figure 8

    Figure 9
    As figure 9 shows, we reduced the camera-to-subject distance from three feet to a foot and a half. The quick controls on the 190PRO tripod allow this to be done in just seconds.
    In figure 10 the red box shows the approximate area shown in figure 11.

    The camera was about 18 inches from the subject. For this result shot we did not need to make any exposure adjustments.

    Figure 10

    Figure 11
    Figure 12 shows our camera even closer to our subject. We reduced the camera-to-subject distance from 18 inches to 6 inches.

    Figure 12
    In figure 13, the red box shows the approximate area shown in figure 14.

    For this result shot, we had to make an adjustment to our exposure from 1/60 @ f16 to 1/45 @ f16 or about a 1/2 a stop. Already the tripod is hlping to ensure that despite these exposure times, our shots are perfectly crisp.

    As we move in on a subject and we extend the lens out to get our focus closer, we need to add exposure. This is because the distance between the front lens element and the "film plane" (exposure plane) has increased. The light has to travel a longer distance to reach the capture device.

    This is called the extension factor. The closer you get to the subject, the longer the extension of the lens, so the farther the light must travel.

    Figure 13

    Figure 14

    Figure 15
    Once again we moved the camera closer to the subject. The lens was about an inch from the subject, within a true macro range.

    We now have the 1:1 ratio that defines the macro image. The subject is the same size in the view finder that it is in real life.

    As we have moved closer to the moss, the camera has blocked some of the light. We applied a reflector to this shot to bounce some light back into the subject (figure 15).
    In figure 16, the red box shows the approximate area shown in figure 17. Since we have moved in on the subject, we must adjust the exposure settings to compensate for the lens extension. Our new setting will be 1/30 @ f/16 or 1/2 a stop from our last setting and a full stop from where we started.

    Figure 16

    Figure 17
    Figure 18 shows a review of the lens-to-subject distance for each of the results shots we have made so far.

    Figure 18

    Working Distance

    This term describes the working space we have to light a subject, or the space from the lens to the subject. As we have illustrated, the closer you move into a subject the less "working distance" you have. In figure 9 we had to add a reflector to our shot but were very restricted as to where and how we could place it because we had very little space to work.

    To solve this issue, there are several products available from a multitude of manufacturers. For this lesson, we used a product from Olympus.

    The Macro Flash Controller FC-1 and the Twin Flash TF-22 lights are attached to the outer mounting ring of the camera lens with a rotating bracket. With this device, we can control the light on the subject by applying a set ratio programmed into the Macro Flash Controller.

    Figure 19
    In figure 19, we see the set up for the next subject, small pine cones. Our working distance for this image is about 3 inches from subject to lens. The level of light is rather low, because we are in a forest setting with no direct sun light getting through the trees. This presents two issues we need to address: the low, flat lighting and the effect the light has on the color balance of our image.
    In figure 20, we see the results. Because of the low light level, our exposure was set to 1/15 @ f/8. The resulting exposure was soft and flat.

    We could add more exposure to open up the light, but the shot would be even softer, because of movement of the subject at a slow shutter speed and the loss of depth of field at a wider aperture.

    We also see in this result the shift in color to the blue side. We could make adjustments to the camera settings and choose the "open shade" pre set selection or perform a custom white balance action. But in this case I would not, I feel the only thing this shot has going for it is the interesting monochromatic feeling it has.

    Figure 20

    Figure 21
    In this set up, we have applied the Macro Flash Controller and the Twin Flash units to the camera. We adjusted the ratio to a 1:3 level; one side is three times brighter than the other.

    The Quick Release mount on the Manfrotto 222 (3265) Pistol Grip made installing the macro unit very easy. We could leave the tripod in place, remove the camera, install the macro unit, re-install the camera to the tripod and start shooting all in a matter of seconds (figure 21).
    In figure 22, we see the results. We made the following adjustments to the exposure setting for this shot. Once the macro unit was installed, the shutter speed was set to 1/60 to sync with the flashes and the aperture was set to f/22 for the maximum depth of field.

    Since the white balance was set for daylight, we did not need to make any adjustments as white balance for a flash is basically the same as daylight.

    Figure 22
    Figures 23 and 24 give you a side by side comparison of our two results images, we see the improvement the macro unit has made in sharpness and depth of field .

    Figure 23

    Figure 24

    Figure 25
    In our next example, we show how to balance the light from the macro unit. We found a leaf toward the edges of the forest with sunlight coming through it that would work well to illustrate the next technique.

    We set up our Manfrotto 190PRO tripod with the 222 (3265) grip head and Olympus E-1 and 50mm macro lens and focused in on the leaf. You can see that we still had the macro flash unit still attached to the camera, but for this first shot we had the unit switched off (figure 25).
    In our results image, we see the light effect coming through the leaf, providing interest and graphic quality to the shot. To make improvements to the shot, we need to find a middle ground between the silhouette of light coming through the leaf and some light on the front, revealing the intricate details.

    Our exposure for this shot was 1/30 @ f/11 (figure 26).

    Figure 26

    Figure 27
    In this set up shot, we moved in close to the subject, switched on the macro control unit, and set it to the auto mode. With the flash unit on, we made some adjustments to our exposure settings; the shutter speed was set to 1/60 to sync with the flash and we left the aperture set to f/11 (figure 27).
    In figure 30, we gained detail in the leaf but lost the interesting light coming through the leaf. By shorting the shutter speed we lost the translucent quality of light we had in figure 28.

    Figure 28

    Figure 29
    To fix this we did two things. First we moved in just a little closer to the leaf for more detail and then set the shutter speed to 1/15 of a second to allow more light through the leaf (figure 29).
    Now we see the best of both, we have detail in the veins of the leaf and we have the translucent feel to the light coming through the leaf in the shadows areas of the image. By allowing the shutter to drag just a bit we have the shot we wanted in the beginning (figure 30).

    Figure 30
    In figure 31 we see the progression to the final shot.

    Figure 31

    We touched on some of the basics of close up and or macro photography and, as you can see, the everyday things we see can become very interesting photos when you look closely. And don't forget the value of using a tripod for stability when shooting macro shots.

    Shooting in the macro mode can fun and eye-opening as you discover the shapes and textures of the macro world.

    Equipment Used:

    • Olympus 50mm f/2.0 Digital Zuiko Macro Lens
    • Olympus E-1
    • Manfrotto 190PRO Tripod
    • Manfrotto 222 (3265)Pistol Grip head
    Lighting Equipment
    • Photoflex LiteDisc
    • Olympus Macro Flash Controller FC-1
    • Olympus Twin Flash TF-22
    • Olympus Twin Flash bracket