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One of photography’s greatest qualities is its ability to show us things that are either outside our normal field of vision, or that we could see if we’ve looked but usually fail to register in the hubbub of daily life. In few fields of photography are these qualities more powerfully expressed than in close-up and macro-photography, whether it is the intricate vein of a fallen leaf, or the fine hairs on the knee of an insect whose entire body would go unnoticed unless it happened to land on us.
Almost anything can be a suitable subject for close-up or macro photography. Collectors for stamps, coins and other small objects can record their examples; electronic students can photograph circuit boards, and so on; but overwhelmingly the most popular subject for close-up photos is nature. Going in close, however, presents numerous technical and aesthetic challenges.
The term “macro” is one of the most misused word in photography. For years, lens manufacturers have been using it to describe any lens that focuses slightly closer than average. In fact, what they are refer to as macro, should be called close-up. Technically speaking, a photograph cannot be considered a true macro shot until the subject is reproduced on the film at life size (1:1) or greater. You will need a small amount of special equipment for macro-photography, but it is relatively inexpensive.
“Microphotography” is not about photographing very small objects close-up, but is in fact the process of making tiny photographic images, such as on microfilm. “Photomicrography” is the art of taking photos of things we can’t see with the human eye. You can do this by attaching your camera to the top of a microscope and shooting through it. To get the best shots you’ll need a good SLR camera for depth of field and focusing. Also, you’ll need the best lens you can afford. Prime lenses are generally more suitable than zooms for sharpness and a wider aperture. Consider the focal length of your lens. With a short (50mm) lens, you might be too close to your subject, creating shadow. A short telephoto is great, but also, ones with internal focusing is an advantage. Get a tripod if you can, to reduce camera shake and motion blur. There are accessories like a close-up diopter lens, which acts like a filter, but allows you to get closer to your subject. Extension tubes and bellows are good for focusing on subjects closely because it increases the distance between the lens and the film plane. Reversing Rings and Stacking Rings are also neat – they allow you to fit your lens on backwards, giving you a closer look.
In macro-photography, look for texture, design and pattern. You can get great shots if you get close enough to focus on a pattern on something. Also, keep in mind your depth of field: you can take a shot of the center of flower (which is crisp) while having the petals around it seemed slightly blurred. This is called a “limited depth of field” and it is achieved with longer lens at a wide aperture. They are great shots. Whatever your subject, experiment and have fun – there are so many things waiting to be photographed that you might normally not see.