A Short Course Book
Using Your Digital Camera
A Guide To Great Photographs

Macro Mode And Macro Lenses

Click to explore macro lens enlargement factors.
The universally accepted icon for macro mode.
The ring flash fires a circle of light although the two sides can be fired independently or with different intensities.
Click to see the effects of parallax when shooting close to a subject.
In close-up or tabletop photography, digital cameras have a huge advantage over traditional film cameras because you can review your results and make adjustments as you shoot. If a photo doesn't turn out as you'd hoped, just delete it and try something new. Film photographers have to wait to get the film back from the lab before they can make adjustments. By then, the moment has passed, they have probably left the scene, taken apart the setup, or they have forgotten what it was they did. Take advantage of your instant feedback to experiment and learn.
When photographing small objects, your lens' focal length and minimum focusing distance affect how small objects are captured in photos. For example, if you're photographing a small coin, you probably don't want it to appear as a tiny coin surrounded by a large background. More likely you'd like a photo showing a large coin surrounded by a small background. For many pictures, just zooming your lens in on the subject will suffice. However, macro lenses or lenses with a macro mode allow you to get a lot closer to the subject, making it much larger in the final image. If you can't get close enough to an object to fill the image area, you can always crop out the unwanted areas later. However, the more you crop, the smaller the image becomes.
  • Point-and-shoot or other fixed lens cameras usually have a macro mode that lets you get close to a subject. When using one of these cameras, you should compose the image on the monitor, especially when closer than about 3 feet (90cm). If you don't, a subject centered in the scene won't be centered in the photo unless the camera has an electronic viewfinder so you view the scene through the lens.
  • SLRs show the scene through the lens and have macro lenses and other lenses with a macro mode that let you get closer than normal.
If you look at some close-up photographs, you will notice that very few of them appear to be completely sharp from foreground to background because the depth of field in a close-up tends to be shallow. You can increase depth of field by using a small aperture but when you get the camera really close, don't expect much depth of field—maybe less than a half-inch. It's best to arrange the objects so they all fall on the same plane. That way, if one's in focus, they all will be. Another thing to try is a shorter lens with a wider angle of view. This will give you more depth of field and include more of the background for context.
For maximum magnification, follow these three steps:
1. Use macro mode or a macro lens.
2. Zoom the lens to it's longest focal length.
3. Set focus to the minimum focus distance.
4. Look through the viewfinder or use the monitor as you focus the subject by moving the camera toward and away from the subject.
Macro lenses let you get very close to subjects but have very shallow depth of field. Here I focused on the eye of the newt so it was the sharpest part of the photo.

When you focus close up, keep in mind that depth of field includes the plane you focus on plus an area in front of and behind that plane. You'll find that in close-ups half of the sharpest area will fall in front of the plane on which you focus and half behind it.

Shallow depth of field has its own benefits, so you don't necessarily have to think of it as a problem. An out-of-focus background can help isolate a small subject, making it stand out sharply.
When taking closeups on a point and shoot camera without an electronic viewfinder use the monitor to compose the image. On theses cameras the viewfinder is offset from the lens so the area seen in the viewfinder will differ from the area included in the image.

Many close-up photographs are of small objects that don't entirely fill the viewfinder frame. Automatic exposure systems can be fooled if the brightness of the small object is different from the brightness of the larger background. The meter averages all of the light reflecting from the scene and may select an exposure that makes the main subject too light or too dark. In these cases, use spot metering or exposure compensation to adjust for the background. If an image is too dark, increase the exposure. If the image is too light, decrease the exposure.


. Increase the illumination of the subject to stop down the aperture.
. Don't get any closer to the subject than you have to.
. Focus on something in the middle of the scene (front to back) since in close-ups, depth of field is half in front and half behind the plane of critical focus.
. To increase depth of field, switch to aperture-priority mode and select a small aperture such as f/11.

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