Friday, February 28, 2014

Tips to Improve Your Macro Photography

What is Macro Photography?

Macro photography is a way of looking at and recording the details and minutiae of the world. A macro photograph allows you to see a subject enlarged beyond life size and to capture subtle details or amazing facets that might be overlooked at a normal scale.

Macro and close-up photography are related but not identical fields. There is actual a technical definition for macro photography, and it is related to the ratio between the size of the subject being photographed and its size on the camera's sensor. A true macro photograph will record the subject equal to (1:1) or larger (2:1 or greater) than the true life size of the subject. For a crop sensor camera with an APS-C sensor, the sensor size will be around 25 x 17 mm, while a full frame sensor matches conventional 35 mm film, with a size of 36 x 24 mm. This would mean capturing a subject at that size sensor for a true macro photograph.

What is True Macro Photography? | Boost Your Photography

Close-up photography is a more loosely defined term. A close-up photograph will also feature a smaller subject shown magnified, but the subject may not be as small as the actual camera sensor. Since most photographs are viewed at larger sizes than camera-sensor-size, such as 4 x 6 inches, it is easy to print a close-up photograph at a larger size and show off larger-than-life details. All of the suggestions in this article apply equally well to macro and close-up photography.

Bugs and insects are classic macro photography subjects, but you are not limited in your choice of subjects. Everyday objects can take on an unexpected appearance when viewed through the lens of macro photography. Other good candidates include subjects with interesting textures or colors. You might be amazed at the possibilities you will discover!

Depth of Field in Macro Photography

Depth of field refers to the width of the part of your photograph that is in focus and is of particular interest in macro photography. The closer you get to your subject, the relatively smaller (thinner) your depth of field will become. If you are focusing on a subject at your camera's minimum focusing distance, it may mean that your depth of field is only millimeters thick. This can make focusing particularly difficult, as any slight movement in the camera or the subject may throw the entire subject out of focus.

Tips to Improve Your Macro Photography: narrow depth of field | Boost Your Photography
Depth of field is visible as a narrow slice through this hoarfrost on a chain

Use a Narrow Aperture

One solution is to use a narrower aperture when shooting, such as f/22. This will maximize your depth of field and allow you to get more of your subject in focus. The trade-off, however, is that you will need to use a much longer shutter speed to compensate. This may not be possible if you are shooting a quickly moving, crawling, or flying subject, as it may move while the camera is recording the picture, causing blur. In that case, you will need to open up the aperture or raise your ISO to get a quicker shutter speed.

Wide Aperture for Greater Depth of Field in Macro Photography | Boost Your Photography

Use Your Tripod Effectively

If you have a stable subject, such as a still life or a household object, you can use a tripod in combination with that longer shutter speed to keep your camera rock steady and maintain a sharp focus. Use a remote release or two-second timer to avoid adding shake to the camera, turn off any image stabilization on your lens, and consider turning on the mirror lock-up option to completely avoid transmitting any shake to your camera. Read more about How to Maximize Your Tripod here.

Focus Stacking

One post-processing solution to increase depth of field is to utilize focus stacking. Focus stacking allows you to shoot a series of pictures with incremental changes in the location of the depth of field and then combine all those separate regions in focus into one fully in-focus final image. Read more about focus stacking later this month in a full post how to.

Focus Stacking Increases Depth of Field in Macro | Boost Your Photography

Composition: Clear the Clutter

Depending on your subject, you may not have a lot of control over your final composition. A quickly moving insect may not be considerate enough to land on the right flower or at the proper angle. At the same time, if you keep some simple compositional ideas in mind, you will have great success getting the shot you want.

Beware of the Background 

Be sure that you are paying attention to the background and not just your subject when shooting. It is always a temptation to zero in on your subject to the exclusion of all else, but you will be surprised at how many flaws you will find later when you review your photographs. Aim for simple, uncluttered backgrounds. Contrasting colors work really well. You want your subject to be the star, not the distracting patch of bright light right behind it. A pattern like a mass of branches can blur into a pleasing background, but a single out-of-focus background branch can pull the eye away from your subject and into distraction. Try to take that extra half-second to survey the background. Often simply changing your perspective slightly can alleviate the problem. Read more about Remembering the Background and Moving Your Feet here.

Choosing Background for Macro Photography | Boost Your Photography

Try Filling the Frame 

Better yet, don't worry about your background at all, and simply fill the frame entirely with your subject. This works particular well for a subject like flowers or a repeating pattern, like rust stains, where you can compose for only a portion of the entire subject. Filling the frame gives your viewer an up-close and personal encounter with the subject and can make for a memorable macro photograph.

Fill the Frame Macro Lily Photograph | Boost Your Photography

Orient for Focus 

In general with macro photography, you will only have a portion of your subject (and of your image) in focus, depending on your depth of field. Think about what part or parts of your subject are the most important to keep in focus (think eyes for bugs and insects or the centers of flowers, etc.). Because depth of field is a plane parallel to your camera, you can move yourself or your subject to place that plane in the best place. For insect wings, for example, place your camera parallel to the wing to keep the entire thing in focus.

Compose to Keep Your Subject in Focus | Boost Your Photography

Improve Your Macro and Close-Up Photography

Now that you have the basics, take the time to try them out and see what works for you! If you are intimidated by the idea of chasing moving subjects (or you live somewhere cold, like I do and think you might never see Spring again), then start with stable subjects like flowers or household objects. Work on getting your focus spot on, extending and contracting your depth of field, and cleaning up your composition. Then you can build your confidence for shooting on the fly (or at least, shooting things that fly).

Looking to get macro-level photographs without expensive equipment? Check out our Cheap and Easy Macro: comparison and recommendations.

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This post also linked up at Mums Make Lists.

Boost Your Photography: Learn Your DSLR is now available from Amazon. Get the most out of your camera with practical advice about the technical and creative aspects of DSLR photography that will have you taking beautiful pictures right away.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Winter Round Up

Welcome to the Winter Round Up. This is a chance to look back at the posts from the last three months and catch up on any posts you might have missed.  You can also check out the previous round ups for Spring 2013, Summer 2013, and Fall 2013.


If you missed the big news, my new eBook, Boost Your Photography: Learn Your DSLR is now available from Amazon! Carrying the style and tone of the Boost Your Photography web site into a full-scale book, Learn Your DSLR will help you get the most out of your camera. Read the full announcement here or jump on over to Amazon and check it out!

The Top 5 Top 5

We kicked off the New Year with a look back at five collections of Top 5 posts from 2013. Each of these top 5 lists has great details and links back to each of the top posts.

Top 5 "How To" Photography Posts

Top 5 Informational Photography Posts

Top 5 Guest Posts on Photography

Top 5 Instant Inspiration Posts

Top 5 Travel Photography Posts

For Beginners

This is a collection of posts geared towards beginners or those who want to learn to do more with their camera. Many of the 'Tips and Tricks' and 'Inspired Ideas' posts will also be applicable. You can find other posts geared toward Beginners here or in the tab up top.

Know Your Aspect Ratio
(How to Crop)

Must Have Accessories for Your (New) Camera

Improve Your Photography for Under $20

Tips and Tricks

Advice for getting the most out of your camera and your photography. You can find more Tips and Tricks posts here or in the tab up top.

How to Photograph Outdoor Holiday Lights

Creative Christmastime Photography

How to Take Better Snow Photographs

Favorite Photography Books and Authors: part 1

Favorite Photography Books and Authors: part 2

Boost Your Photography in the New Year

Inspired Ideas

This is a collection of posts containing ideas, both those that you can implement immediately and those that require a little more time, effort, and potential planning. You can find more Inspired Ideas here or in the tab up top.

How to Freeze and Photograph Bubbles

Fun with Fizzy Fruit Photography
Master the Heart-Shaped Shadow

All about Bokeh (the basics)

5-Minute Heart-Shaped Bokeh

Foldable DIY Light Tent

Guest Posts

During the winter, I became a regular contributor to Digital Photography School. These are my posts that were published over on their site in the last few months.

Using Sun Flares and Starbursts to Create Stunning Images

Jumpstart Your Photography:
Start a 365 Project

Perspective in Photography: don't just stand there, move your feet!

How to Use Lens Flare to Your Advantage

Beyond Full Moon Photography: shoot the moon all month

Do You Need to Upgrade to the Latest Camera?

Black and White Book Club

During the month of February, a group of photographers participated in a Black and White Book Club discussion of Michael Freeman's The Complete Guide to Black and White Photography. Participants read the book, took photographs, and discussed their thoughts and ideas on this blog, the Photography Book Club Flickr group, and Each of the posts below summarizes a section of the book and includes exercises and suggestions for improving your black and white photography.

Introduction to the Black and White Book Club

BW Book Club week 1:
fine art, abstract
BW Book Club week 2:
normality, street photography

BW Book Club week 3:
elements of design

BW Book Club week 4:
low key and high key

BW Book Club week 5:
putting it all together

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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Black and White Book Club: week 5 (Feb. 24-28)

Welcome to the fifth and final week of our Black and White Book Club study of Michael Freeman's of Michael Freeman's The Complete Guide to Black and White Digital Photography (or the Black and White Photography Field Guide. Be sure to read the overview and week 1, week 2, week 3, and week 4 posts if you are just joining in. Everyone is welcome to participate, even without a copy of either book, but if you do have the book, you will have more to draw on during the month.

Week 5, Feb. 24-28, will focus on Putting it All Together – a final week to go back to your favorite or most challenging ideas or styles of black and white photography. You can also explore topics not covered in the weeks above, such as Grain or High ISO photographs or HDR, Tone Mapping, and Adding Tints. We will be covering pgs. 62-67,166-187/60-65, 166-185 (optional processing pages: 122-137/120-137. (For the curious, we are not covering section four, as Printing & Display is not really applicable to the actual process of black and white photography.)

Black and White Snowscape | Boost Your Photography

Continuing with Creative Choices in Black and White Photography

This week we will finish the second half of the Creative Choices in Black and White chapter (pgs. 166-187) and add in the Film Qualities chapter from section one (pgs. 62-67). There are many different black and white techniques covered in these pages, and you are welcome to explore any or all of them or spend the week going back to ideas from earlier in the book.

The film qualities section provides an interesting historical overview of the physical reasons behind 'grain' in film photographs. In our digital-oriented world, we tend to conflate film grain with the 'noise' of higher ISO digital photographs, even though the process and results are quite different. These chapters demonstrate some interesting ways of using 'grain-like' effects to add a certain look to your digital image. Consider trying some grain effects or film emulators with your photographs this week.

Black and White HDR of Stage | Boost Your Photography
Overture Center, Capital Theater, 3-shot HDR by Archaeofrog on Flickr

The chapters on HDR in black and white provide an overview of HDR processing (using a series of bracket shots or even tonemapping an individual photograph). Several different methods and programs are discussed, but in the end, "Tonemapping calls for experiment" (pg. 180/).

The final chapters are about the process of adding tints or mimicking other older styles of photography. Monochrome does not have to strictly mean black and white photography, and these chapters explore toning and split-toning effects, such as sepia or cyanotype. Try incorporating some of these effects in your photography this week. (For Ace members, PicMonkey has a variety of such effects available.)

Self-portrait in the style of Julia Margaret Cameron. Effects added to mimic daguerreotype style.

Delving in to "Digital Monochrome" chapters

This week's optional section on digital processing considers issues related to skin tones and handling opposite or adjacent hues (pages 122-137/120-).

For the skin tones section, Freeman does an interesting comparison of how a small section of the skin changes through each of the processing steps. (In Photoshop, if you click on the 'info' tab above where the histogram is displayed, it gives you the option to then make a selection and receive the RGB and HSB readings that Freeman keeps referencing.) Particularly interesting in this section is how our eyes 'interpret' color from black and white and how slight changes in brightness can be read by our eyes as 'tan.'

Freeman provides several examples of the steps along the way toward processing a complex black and white image, particularly one where you want to treat objects with similar hues differently. Consider perhaps taking screen shots of your own processing steps along the way to share with the group this week.

Multiple Ways to Join the Book Club

It is not to late to join! Post a comment with your thoughts or a link to a picture you have taken for the Book Club and an explanation of how the book influenced your image. Or, you can post pictures and contribute to the discussion by joining the Photography Book Club Group on Flickr.

Parting thought for the week: as we reach the end of our month of black and white, how do you feel that the experience has helped you or changed your photography? What do you know or understand now that perhaps you did not at the beginning?

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Boost Your Photography: Learn Your DSLR is now available from Amazon. Get the most out of your camera with practical advice about the technical and creative aspects of DSLR photography that will have you taking beautiful pictures right away.