Macro photography in its truest form deals with photographing tiny things to make them appear larger than life, traits the naked eye would often miss. That alone can make things magical – making the mundane look amazing! That flower you see so beautiful can be quite captivating up close, with the anthers, pollen, petals making you wonder if that botany class at school was really boring.
The epidemic has locked down most of the country, reducing human movement to a minimum. This made us explore our backyards/gardens a little better. We wanted to take pictures to share with friends/family. Most of the time, the image that would be shared showed little resemblance to the real thing, needing an elaborate explanation of how that red blob was actually a beautiful ladybug.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve either sent or received one of these images. Let’s take a look at what options are available to nature enthusiasts / budding photographers to showcase the amazing world of macro photography.
Watching my daughter grow up taught me to understand things with basic building blocks – what, how and why?
Nature photographers constantly strive to show the world our unique perspectives. This genre brings endless possibilities with texture, hidden colors around us that can be unraveled.
Insects, spiders, flowers, spices in the kitchen, a pot mop, soap bubbles, etc – you get the idea, all the potential subjects. A soap bubble close-up made its way to the list of wallpapers on Apple devices.
THE) Enlargement: Subject ratio that can be resolved on the sensor. This directly depends on the type of lens. A dedicated macro lens can go up to 1:1, a sensor-sized subject (varies by camera system format) can fill the frame.
For a DSLR system, there are several options for getting close focus/macro capabilities. The obvious one would be a dedicated macro lens, represented by a 1:1 reproduction ratio. They are corrected for close focus and provide great edge-to-edge sharpness. Specialty lenses like the Canon MPE-65mm 1-5x and Laowa 2.5-5x blur the lines of a lens and microscope, the prices often remind us of the specialist tag.
Other lenses in the camera bag can be used with some additional equipment to achieve close focus:
- extension tubes – These hollow tubes fit between the lens mount and the actual lens, reducing the working distance, thus increasing the magnification of the final image. Pros: Great to see if macro photography piques your interest without investing in a dedicated macro lens. Cons: It can give some optical problems and result in loss of light. Loss of infinite focus. Limited focus range.
- Achromats — These are short focal lenses with high quality glass that fit into the thread of the lens filter. They work best on medium telephoto lenses in the 55-300mm range. The longer the focal length, the greater the magnification. Pros: Can be easily turned on/off to bring back infinity focus on base lens. Cons: You’ll need a narrow aperture > f16 for reasonable detail.
- Lens inversion — A lens reversal ring fits into the lens filter thread, allowing it to be mounted upside down on the camera. Works best with short focal lenses between 18-70mm. The shorter the focal length, the greater the magnification. Pros: Good option to use in internal affairs. Most lenses in the camera bag will work with this. This often-overlooked kit lens can be put to good use! Cons: Extremely close working distances. Rear lens element and contacts left open.
For those interested in going down this rabbit hole, there are some more details in an old blog post.
Something most of us carry in our pockets – the smartphone. Modern smartphones come with pretty decent close-focus capabilities. Spend some time getting to grips with Pro mode to control focus and exposure. If you find this limiting, there are achromatic mount macro lenses that fit on top of the camera lens. These reduce the focusing distance and provide greater magnification. There are commercially available options as well as natively built macro lenses made from lenses salvaged from point-and-shoot cameras.
B) Exposure – How light/dark is the overall image. This is determined by the camera if the mode is set to Auto, otherwise any of the programmable modes in a DSLR or Pro mode on the smartphone are used to set the exposure. Subjects need to be properly lit to show any detail or special color. Natural lighting or artificial lighting with various light diffusion options can be used based on the type of image being taken.
Nature lovers often go to nature to unravel many mysteries, imagine having a powerful means to:
- See how small a real ecosystem can be.
- Understand how structural composition defines what an organism is capable of, how specialized interdependencies work.
- It generates thoughts that lead us to questions with interesting and surprising answers.
- Get a real chance to discover something really cool, possibly even new to science! Social (Facebook, Instagram) and specialist (Inaturalist, Indiabiodiversity) platforms offer never-before-seen opportunities for citizen science.
Hayath Mohammed is an IT professional who turns to nature to keep his sanity levels in check. Born and raised in Bangalore, open areas during the development era fueled interest in insects and butterflies.
He now uses macro photography as a means of exploration and as a way of showing the many wonders of the arthropod world to the human world.
This series is an initiative of Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), in your program ‘Communication from Nature’ to encourage nature content in all Indian languages. To learn more about birds and nature, Join the herd.
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