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Macro photography allows us to bring a small part of the world to larger than life proportions. Bugs, flowers, and blades of grass become skyscrapers populated by unusual beings that don't meet the average eye. With macro photography, your back yard becomes a treasure trove of subjects.

In this lesson, we are going to explore how to make a simple flower a mesmerizing study with some macro techniques and some small reflectors that could easily be a part of your camera bag. After the lesson, you'll see how these types of photos can really expand your portfolio: tiny subjects that deliver a huge impact!

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

Topics Covered:

  • Introduction to close-up and macro photography
  • Constraints of shooting close-up and macro
  • Keeping the camera stable
  • Controlling focus
  • Setting the white balance
  • Setting exposure in Manual mode
  • Simple lighting for dramatic results
  • Using the Live View LCD for easier macros

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


Recently, we stopped in to our friends at Sierra Azul Nursery (figures 1 and 2) here in Watsonville, California and they let us tromp through their garden to get "close up" and personal with some of their flowers. A big thanks goes out to Ann and the whole staff. We always appreciate the chance to get out in the fresh air and smell the flowers!


Introduction to Close-up and Macro Photography

True macro images are those that show the subject at a 1:1 or life size, meaning the image captured is the same size on your imager or film as it is in real life. Macro lenses will provide this type of magnification, or greater, while many popular zoom lenses are really “Close-up” lenses, and not true macro lenses. Even when using a macro lens as we have in this lesson, we do not always shoot at life size or 1:1 but at lower magnifications to get the composition we want for a pleasing image.

So most of the time we shoot close-up photography, it’s not truly macro. Most of popular close-up zooms allow a “close-up” magnification of around a 1:4 ratio, or 1/4 life size. When these pictures are printed to the typical size, they are enlarged to a (4X6 print) to bring them to the 1:1 ratio or greater - 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 Close-up and Macro

The primary pitfalls inherent with close-up and macro photography involve the “working distance” and “depth of field”. The working distance is the distance from the front of your lens to the subject. While the depth of field is simple what is in focus in your picture.

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 “working distance” to augment and adjust the lighting.

With respect to depth of field, the closer you get to a subject, the less you have in focus. To counteract the limited depth of field, one needs to use very small apertures such as f22 to get the greatest amount of the subject in focus.

Keeping the Camera Stable

Because maintaining sufficient depth of field is so vital when shooting macro, very slow shutter speeds are often required, often slower than you can hand hold.

One option is to use a tripod. A good tripod support will go a long way in helping you get sharp macro images. Another method is by using an electronic flash designed for macro photography such as the Olympus STF-22 Macro Twin Flash or RTF Ring Flash. These are often very specialized and can be expensive. For this lesson we will concentrate on using a tripod and reflecting light on to the subject as an economic solution to close up and macro photography.

We chose a tripod by Manfrotto that has a convertible center column that can be inverted for shooting low angle shots or positioned horizontally.

The EVOLT E-330 like all Olympus SLR cameras accepts tripod mounting plates. The plate screws into the threaded hole on the bottom of the camera.


To attach the mounting plate to the camera, orient the plate so that the arrow points toward the lens on the camera. Hand tighten the plate to the camera (figure 3).

Place the camera on the tripod by inserting the camera plate into the front cleat on the tripod head then rock down to the locking pin (figure 4).


Figure 5

We used a tripod with the ability to use the center column in a horizontal position. This can sometimes help you support the camera closer to your subject without the legs getting in the way.

To begin, we placed our camera less than a foot away from the subject (figure 5). And since we would be using light reflectors, we oriented the camera so that the sun would serve as our backlight. The front of the lens was positioned about 5 or 6 inches from the flower.


Controlling Focus

We wanted to have complete control over the point of focus, so for this lesson we used the Manual Focus mode, one of five available focus modes for the EVOLT E-330. Although we highly recommend manual focus, for close-up photography you can also use the other focus modes, but we find that manual gives us the greatest amount of control in shooting.

If you choose Auto Focus we recommend you use the Single AF, S-AF plus Manual Focus Mode S-AF+MF so you can tweak the focus when needed. In the Single AF mode by depressing the shutter half way you can lock the focus point by keeping the release button pressed. This may take some practice.


Figure 6

To set the EVOLT E-330 to Manual Focus mode, press the AF button (next to the OK button) on the rear of the camera. The AF Field on the main navigation window will be highlighted.

Press OK to enter the AF Focus Mode menu (figure 6).

Use the arrow buttons (surrounding the OK button) or the Control Dial to navigate to MF (Manual Focus).

Press OK to set.

Figure 7

Once Manual Focus mode is selected, the focus ring (located near the front of the lens) is enabled for manually focusing the lens (figure 7).

Figure 8

The zoom ring (located near the back of the lens) can be used to zoom in or out on your subject. This operates for any of the focus modes (figure 8).


Setting the White Balance

No matter where you are shooting, you should always white balance your camera to ensure proper color renditions in your images.

The EVOLT E-330 offers a variety of White Balance (WB) settings so that you can render natural-looking colors in your photographs.

  • AUTO
    You can leave it on AUTO and let the camera interpret the correct color temperature for any given situation. The camera is quite adept at determining the appropriate color temperature in most situations. However, there will be times when you will want to either choose a Preset WB setting or create a Custom/One Touch WB setting.

    There are many different preset White Balance settings from which you can choose that will color balance such situations as sunny days, cloudy days, shade in daylight, and many different artificial lighting conditions. You can experiment with different color tones by selecting different preset WB settings.

  • Custom White Balance
    The Custom White Balance (measured in degrees Kelvin) allows you to fine tune your system. Up to 2000K can be set incrementally at 50K, from 2000K to 4000K by 100K and from 4000K to 14000K by increments of 200K. This allows you to get proper color representation no matter the situation, lighting requirements or time of day.
  • One Touch White Balance
    This setting is useful when you need a more precise White Balance than the presets can provide. In the One Touch setting, you can point the camera at a neutral gray card or sheet of white paper under the light source you want to use, and can capture the best possible White Balance setting. This can then be saved in the camera for future use. We recommend this setting if color reproduction is critical.

Follow these steps for setting the White Balance mode.

From the main menu, use the arrow keys to navigate to the WB field, located just to the right of the ISO field (figure 9). Use the Control dial to select the desired White Balance setting. Most of these settings are represented by an icon such as the sun for shooting in daylight, a cloud for shooting in cloudy conditions, and a light bulb for shooting indoors.

A more direct method to reach the White Balance menu is to press the WB button located dirctly above the OK button (figure 10). Use the arrow keys or the Control dial to set your desired White Balance setting.



Specific Kelvin color temperatures can be set within the "CWB" field of the White Balance menu.

To set a specific color temperature setting in the White Balance main menu, use the arrow keys or the Control dial to highlight the "CWB" field at the bottom, right of the White Balance menu. Then press and hold the +/- button (located next to the ON side of the power switch) and rotate the Control dial until the desired setting is shown in the CWB field (figures 11 and 12).


Figure 13

It is also possible to enter the Resolution settings menu from within the Resolution menu. In the main menu, press OK, then use the arrow keys to scroll to the Resolution field. Press OK to enter the Resolution menu. To select a Resolution mode, use the arrow keys or the Control dial until the desired Resolution is set. Press OK.

Figure 13 shows the Resolution menu with the TIFF Resolution mode highlighted.

Figure 14

Setting Exposure in Manual Mode

In order to have maximum control for your depth of field and your exposure, you need to manually adjust your aperture and shutter speeds. To be able to manually adjust your aperture and shutter speed settings, first turn the Mode Dial to M (figure 14).


We also set our ISO to 100. Then it was time to start shooting.


Simple Lighting for Dramatic Results

In our first result here, we have a shot of the flower with no light reflectors (figure 15).

We set the camera so that the darker-toned background of green plants would be our visual backdrop, allowing the flower to "pop" forward. Seasoned photographers will typically use tonal contrast and color contrast to their advantage when framing up a shot.

Our aperture was set to f/5.6 to throw the background out of focus. Remember that working up close in macro greatly reduces your relative depth of field. But from this distance, f/5.6 appeared to keep the subject sharp. And by shooting at f/5.6, we were able to use a faster shutter speed to "freeze" the subject that was moving in the breeze.

Note that the backlight of the sun here was very strong, which rendered a strong silhouetting effect on the flowers in the foreground. Backlighting objects can provide some very nice results. Still, we can light the flower further by reflecting light back to the subject.

Figure 15


To really make this subject "pop", however, we must control the light somehow. For this purpose we brought 12" LiteDisc reflectors that collapse down to 5". Collapsed they are the size of a CD and weigh next to nothing, so we didn't break our back lugging equipment out to the location (figures 16 & 17).



First we brought out our reflector, a 12" Photoflex White/Gold LiteDisc, and positioned it (white side facing the flower) to the right of the lens out of frame (figure 18). This gave us a slight fill. Notice how the shadows are brought up just a touch without much change in our overall lighting ratio (figure 19).



Next, with our versatile double sided LiteDisc, we just flipped it over for a gold reflector and tried a different angle. We brought it above and just to the left of the lens (figure 20). This created a nice effect, instead of the light seeming to come from two sources, it now appears to wrap around from the strong backlight giving, perhaps, a more natural look (figure 21).



Figure 22 shows our results so far of using no reflectors, one white reflector, and one gold reflector.


Figure 22


Next, we grabbed our Silver LiteDisc and gave the subject the same treatment, one shot with a reflector on the right side (figure 23) and one shot with a reflector on the left (figure 24).

The Silver casts a noticably "cooler" and whiter light, but has a similar reflectivity to the hard Gold in terms of amount of light. It also brought out the highlights just little bit more, making them whiter rather than warmer.


Reaching back into our bag of tricks (which is remarkably light!) we pulled out the 12" White/Translucent LiteDisc. We used this LiteDisc to diffuse, soften and cut down the strength of the backlight. This is done by inserting the translucent disc between the light source (sun) and the subject (flower).

In the first result, we achieved our goal of reducing the harshness and strength of the back light (figure 25). But the image seems a little dim or "flat", and there isn't a great sense of three-dimensionality.

We can use this as an advantage. This "flat" lighting will serve as a good base. We can then reflect light back into the shot to build up some contrast.

Figure 25

Figure 26

So we went back to the bag and we got the Soft Gold LiteDisc out. The Soft Gold reflector is as reflective as a silver or a gold reflector. This reflector provides a color tone about half-way between the cooler silver reflector and the warmer gold reflector. This is a favorite reflector (in larger sizes) for photographing people.

Since the photographer only has two hands, we pulled out the Photoflex LiteDisc holder. This is basically a telescoping pole that provides secure positioning of your reflectors.

Since the key light (the sun) was also aiding our reflective light source (the LiteDisc), we had to be careful in placing the Translucent LiteDisc so as not to block the reflective LiteDisc (figure 26).

Figure 27

Now we have an image that exemplifies the qualities of studio photography (figure 27). The benefits of our method are the natural diffused background and the ability to be outside!

Here, our key light has become the LiteDisc and the front of the flower is glowing with soft reflected light. The Translucent LiteDisc has cut the backlight down to a much closer ratio and there are no out-of-control "hot spots" now. Also note that the dimension of the flower is rendered with soft light spilling across the front of it.

Figure 28

In this example, we allowed a little bit of the back light to get by our Translucent LiteDisc (figure 28). Our result gives a little of the best of what we have already tried.

With the subject we have chosen, the backlight shows the depth of the flower and creates defined highlights on the front. Plus, the stamen were practically invisible with just the front light, but now they appear silhouetted. Bringing these tiny details to life are the kinds of things that make macro photography interesting.


Below is a comparison of our progression from using only average daylight to using diffused light and a reflector (figures 29 and 30).

Note: Remember, you can click on any of these images to see a larger view.


Figure 29

Figure 30


Using the Live View LCD for Easier Macros

But, wait, we didn't want to go back to office yet, and since we were already on location we decided to find another subject to apply our new skills and fully test the EVOLT E-330. Also with our EVOLT E-330 there is the new feature of Live View LCD. In this feature are two modes, the B mode setting allows us to not only see what the lens is seeing, but we also get a depth of field preview and manual focus abilities with critical focusing.


Figure 31

The primary chanllenge for this subject was its elevation. In order to get a macro shot the camera will have to be about eight inches off the ground. This provides very little "working room" for the photographer to be able to see through the viewfinder.

The first thing we had to do was re-orient our tripod. Using the Manfrotto's versatility we inverted the center column so that the camera could be hung near to the ground (figure 31).

Next we got in close and framed up our shot. Now the Live View B mode proved its worth. In order to see through the viewfinder the photographer would have to lay on the ground, or do a headstand. The Live View B allows us to view comfortably, and cleanly, the image being made. It also delivers a couple of great features that ensure great results (figure 32).

First is the Depth of Field preview that shows in real time what your effective range of focus is going to be. Combined with the manual focus this gives the photographer great control in defining the focus.

Next the photo can be enlarged by ten times on the LCD in order to exact critical focus in the areas that need to be most sharp. When shooting a flower or bugs you want the sharpest area to be the point of interest, and the focus fall off to define depth and three dimensionality.

While viewing the Live View B, press INFO for the enlarged display. Use the Arrow Pad to choose the area of enlargement and then press OK to enlarge. You can now use the Focus ring (forward ring on the lens) to focus on what you need to be sharp (figures 33 & 34).

Figure 32


The Live View LCD feature is really an asset when shooting macro. The ability to zoom in on an area to focus will take a lot of frustration and guesswork out of your photo sessions. The LCD screen of the EVOLT E-330 also can tilt to assist viewfinding when holding the camera low or high.


Figure 35

Now that we have our image framed and correctly focused with a good depth of field, lets get back to lighting. In our first shot we used no reflectors or diffusers to show how our subject looked as we found it.

Hard shadows and varying tonal values chop the image up, not leaving us with a pleasing image of an already prickly subject (figure 35).

Figure 36

Next we pulled out the 12" Translucent LiteDisc or diffuser and held it in between the light source (in this case the sun) and the subject. The result works well, softening hard edged shadows and evening out the tonal varieties in general (figure 36).

But, once again, the subject doesn't "pop". It is a little flat on the page, and we chose this subject for its visual interest and its depth. For the next image we set up the LiteDisc Holder once again and set up the Gold LiteDisc behind our subject (figure 37).

Figure 37

Figure 38

In this result the hard shadows are gone, but the gold backlight has lent a soft, dimension defining light (figure 38). Plus the thorns that seemed to blend in with the rest of the plant in the first diffuser shot, now appear lit up and stand out as highlights in the image. This really shows off the elements of the plant as well as its shape.

But the gold gives a color shift to the plant, that has an icy bluish/green color. This would be fine for a "sunset" shot, but in terms of being true to the plant we could "cool it down" a little bit.

Figure 39

We went back to the bag and grabbed the Silver LiteDisc. We reasoned that this would be the proper reflector to achieve all our goals. In our result the lighting is the same as the Gold LiteDisc, but our colors are much truer to life (figure 39). The thorns still retain beautiful highlights and the plant is well displayed with the icy bluish/greens remaining.

We like both results, but they are much different in their mood and, possibly, their applications. Just be sure to explore your options and as always be open to "accidents".


Below is a comparison of our progression from using only daylight to using a translucent diffuser and a reflector (figure 40).


Figure 40


Below are the same shots without any text obstructing the view (figure 41).


Figure 41


Macro photography is a fun experience and easily attained with minimal equipment purchase. All we used in this lesson was an Olympus EVOLT E-330 camera, an Olympus Zuiko 50mm f2.0 lens or their new 35mm Macro lens and a couple of 12" Photoflex LiteDiscs; hardly enough to weigh your bag down, even on a long trip. With this simple set up, you can show your friends back home what that tropical flower really looked like!


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

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
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