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The world of close up photography can be broken down into three categories; these are 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 less than life size but still close to the subject.

The second is called macro photography and is defined as shots that range from a life size reproduction to ten times life size. This is typically what we talk about when we talk close up photography with normal cameras and lenses.

And the last category is micro photography. These are images made with a microscope and greater than a ten times enlargement of the original subject.

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

(Click on any image below for an enlarged view.)

Topics Covered:

  • What is macro?
  • Choosing a subject
  • Choosing a camera support (the tripod)
  • What is working distance?
  • Adjusting ambient light
  • Adding artificial light
  • Controlling the depth of field

Equipment Used:
You can click on the blue links below for more info.

Lighting Equipment

  • Photoflex LiteDisc 12" White/Silver
  • 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 actual 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 the practice of some manufacturers labeling zoom lenses and digital cameras with “macro” modes that are not truly macro either. Most of these devices get to a “close up” point of 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

Some of the other pitfalls inherent with macro photography involve the “working distance” and “depth of field”.

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

Another problem relates to depth of field. The closer you get to a subject, the more the depth of field is reduced. To counteract this we need to use very small apertures to get the subject in focus.



Choosing your subject

When we talk about macro or close up photography, the choices for subject matter is endless. Things that are boring 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 458B NeoTec tripod and the 222 (3265) pistol grip action ball head. The Neotec is one of the newest innovations from Manfrotto, with the awesomely fast and easy to use rapid opening and closing mechanism - just pull each leg downward to open and automatically lock it in any position, with no screws, knobs or levers to tighten or loosen. To fold it back up again, press the mechanism release button and push the leg closed. It’s that simple!

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.


Figure 1

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, attached between the lens and the camera, 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 the first part of this lesson, we used an Olympus 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 Digital Zuiko Zoom 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 Focus and Exposure 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 1 above 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 2 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 2

Figure 3

As figure 3 shows, we reduced the camera-to-subject distance from three feet to a foot and a half.

The quick controls on the Neotec tripod allow this to be done in just seconds by simply moving the tripod into position then pressing the release buttons to adjust the camera height with one hand.


In figure 4 the red box shows the approximate area shown in figure 5. The camera was about 18 inches from the subject. For this result shot we did not need to make any exposure adjustments.


Figure 6

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


In figure 7, the red box shows the approximate area shown in figure 8.

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.

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 9

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 9).


In figure 10, the red box shows the approximate area shown in figure 11. 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 12 shows a review of the lens-to-subject distance for each of the results shots we have made so far.


Figure 12


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” we 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 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 13

In figure 13, 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.

After deciding on the pine cones, we switched lenses to an Olympus 50mm Lens, to which we added an extension lens shade, mentioned earlier.

In figure 14, 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 14


To remedy this situation, we will install the Olympus Twin Flash unit. This dual flash unit attaches to the lens on a bracket, then connects to a controlling unit on the camera.

The first step is to attach the bracket to the lens by screwing the bracket to the threaded section on the front of the lens (figures 15 and 16).



Once the bracket is secure, you attach the twin flash units to the clips on the bracket, one on each side. These units attach much the same way the flash attaches to the cameras hot shoe. Slide the unit into the slot until it clicks into place (figures 17 and 18).



The next step is to connect the controller to the camera. The controller looks very much like an on-camera flash unit but without the flash. This is installed onto the hot shoe connection on the top of the camera. Once you have the unit in place, use the locking ring to secure the unit to the camera (figures 19 and 20)



Now with the controlling unit installed we can connect the two mini flash units to it. First press the release button and remove the plug cover (figure 21). Then install the plug from the flash on the right into the receptacle on the right (figure 22).



Then repeat these steps for the second mini flash (figure 23). When you have finished the set up will look like figure 24.


Figure 25

Now that we have the unit set up, we can make adjustments to the position of the lights on the bracket. On the clip that holds the flash, there is a release button that allows you to independently position the lights anywhere on the bracket (figure 25).


In figure 26, we see the adjustment of one of the lights while the second light stays in the original position.


Figure 26


The twin flash unit offers a number of set-up options providing control over the output of the unit. However, the coolest thing is that you can control the ratio of light coming from the units from 1:1 to 8:1. This means you can, by simply turning a dial, go from even light on both sides to one side being 8 times brighter than the other.


Figure 27

In figure 27, we illustrate the functions of the dials and the corresponding setting on the screen of the Macro Flash Controller.


In figure 28, we see examples of the results of three ratio settings.


Figure 28

Figure 29

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 29).

We made the following adjustments to the exposure setting for our next 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.

In figure 30, we see the results.

Figure 30


Figures 31 and 32 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 33

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 458B Neotec 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 33).

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 34).

Figure 34

Figure 35

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 35).

In figure 36, we gained detail in the leaf but lost the interesting light coming through the leaf. By shortening the shutter speed we lost the translucent quality of light we had in figure 34.

Figure 36

Figure 37

To fix this we did three things. First we moved in just a little closer to the leaf for more detail, to do this we reattached the 14-54mm Macro Lens, and then set the shutter speed to 1/15 of a second to allow more light through the leaf (figure 37).

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 38).

Figure 38


In figure 39 we see the progression to the final shot.


Figure 39


We touched on some of the basics of close up and or macro photography. 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 a macro shot.

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


Equipment Used:
You can click on the blue links below for more info.

Lighting Equipment

  • Photoflex LiteDisc 12" White/Silver
  • Olympus Macro Flash Controller FC-1
  • Olympus Twin Flash TF-22
  • Olympus Twin Flash bracket

Recommended Links

  • To learn more about Photoflex equipment, go to www.photoflex.com
  • For more tips and techniques on lighting and cameras, visit www.webphotoschool.com and sign
    up for access to the Member Lessons.

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