Macro & Close-ups

Macro photography

Written by Deb Tappan

Macro mode enables you to get very close to your subject and capture its delicate structure. You don’t have to resort to enlarging then cropping when editing.

Morning GloryOne of the pleasures of having a compact digital camera is being able to shoot lovely macro images without having to purchase extra accessories or lenses. If you haven’t had time to experiment with the close-up mode on your camera, do so. You’ll love it.

Macro mode enables you to get very close to your subject and capture its delicate structure. You don’t have to resort to enlarging then cropping when editing.

Let’s begin by making use of some of your automatic settings for now. Here’s all you need to do to get started:

  1. Select the Macro Close-up Mode on your camera.
  2. Select the finest image quality available (HI=no compression TIFF or RAW if you have them. If not, choose Fine (JPEG) and the highest resolution ( largest image size) available. This helps ensure you will be able to print your image at the largest size possible for your particular camera (this is megapixel-related) with photographic quality results.
  3. Unless you are clear on ISO values, simply use the Automatic ISO (sensitivity) feature of your camera.
  4. By the way, avoid using your popup flash at these near distances.
  5. Select the Programmed Auto exposure mode.
  6. Now get very close to your subject: closer, closer. I mean VERY close (within a few inches of your subject.)
  7. Frame your subject using your LCD monitor (not the viewfinder). Most non-DSRL compact digital cameras are effectually range-finder cameras. This means that there is a shift in view. What you see in the frame of your viewfinder won’t be what you capture so do use the LCD for framing!
  8. Carefully depress the shutter halfway to make sure you’re at an acceptable focusing distance for your specific camera, then take your photograph.

Remember: remain as steady as you possible can. At these extremely close distances and with large apertures (F5.6, etc.) you have a VERY short depth-of-field (DOF). Any movement on your part or on the part of your subject (watch out for that breeze) is amplified and will result in a blurry image.

You can avoid one of these factors by using a tripod or by bracing yourself against something solid (like a tree trunk or photo buddy). You can avoid the latter factor by asking the winds to cooperate or, if you’re adept at one handed shooting, hold a piece of firm cardboard at an angle to block the breeze.

That’s all there is to it. Have fun!

About the author

Deb Tappan

Natural history photographer Deb Tappan, a native of Indiana, received concurrent degrees from Indiana University in both Telecommunications and Environmental Studies before eventually calling Tennessee home with husband Paul and dog Utah.
Involved with newspaper production for many years, she "retired" from the University of Tennessee where she had served for 15 years. Deb now is dynamically engaged in her other life's passions.

For more than a decade, Deb has hiked in and
explored many of our national parklands. Through her photography, she has attempted to "transport" the magnificent topography, life forms, and natural history from wherever she finds them.

"Invariably the uniqueness and beauty of wild lands
always manage to move me. I'm awestruck by their diversity of texture and essence. It brings me great joy to be able to share those sights in this way and to, hopefully, nurture the same sense of awe and devotion to their protection and
preservation."

Deb's interest in photography was kindled when she was quite young. "It is a gift from my Dad. He was the one who introduced me to photography and black and white printing. Using the furnace room of our house as the darkroom and
an old movie projector as an enlarger he showed me the magic of print making and capturing those moments of time."

Deb's photographic skills have continued to evolve. She maintained a wet darkroom (in a closet) initially and now has moved into
the digital age. A digital SLR rounds out her equipment. Not foregoing film, she uses a high end film/slide scanner.

In the spring of 2003, Deb launched her site and store which showcase her photographic work. Currently, her photographs hang
in residences and offices across the country.

In addition to her photography, Deb is involved with the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and other academic pursuits and environmental causes.

"Life
isn't static."

Thumbnails are of photos by Deb Tappan - used with permission. Copyright Deborah Siminski Tappan. All rights reserved

14 Comments

  • Hi, that’s partly true. While not as controllable as using a SLR or DSLR with very fast lenses (f stops in the 1.2, 2, etc. range) or using rail systems or bellows, it is possible. Actually, some of the compact cameras have “macro” modes (which is technically what this article was originally addressing) and so shallow depth-of-field can still be accomplished.

  • Hi, the blur may be due to shooting beyond the minimum focusing distance for that particular focal length, camera/subject movement, too slow a shutter speed, too shallow a depth-of-field, or any combination of these factors.  Quite a challenge, yes? But keep experimenting. You’ll soon have the kinks worked out and get stunning results.

  • Hi, We have both the Nikon P90 and P80’s and though still getting use to the differences between them one of the things they both share is you don’t dare use the zoom feature during real close macros when it would be nice if you could. On occasion I’ll try to capture an insect on a wildflower but in my attempt to get to it quickly if I don’t have the
    zoom all the way reduced it’ll blurr. I would think you could use the zoom to move in closer or enlarge the item much like a microscope would. But it doesn’t seem to work that way with the newest digital cameras.

    When I have a set up shot with camera on tripod and lens is almost touching subject say inside a flower up close and personal…..I select the timer-mode just as you would if you
    were setting up a group shot so you and everyone is in the picture. These cameras don’t have a remote control like the older Nikons did so the timer mode allows you to not touch
    the button and by chance blurr the picture.

  • Hi there, it looks like the P90 has two close-up modes determined by the amount of Zoom applied. One that allows for a minimum shooting distance of 4 inches (10cm) and another that allows for a minimum shooting distance of 0.4 inch (1cm). If you don’t want the flower to touch the lens, I’d try using the first close-up mode option, then, as Gail suggested, cropping as needed.

  • TC, Make sure you’re taking close-up shot with the lens at wide angle. If your camera is like others, the macro mode works best at the widest focal length (Unless, like Panasonic, it has a special mode to take macro shots with the telephoto lens). You may just have to pull back a little, then you can crop the image close to the center when editing.

    I looked at the Nikon site, and I can’t find whether or not the P90 takes converter lenses and adapters. If it does, Nikon may offer a macro converter lens. If the lens has threads or can use a lens adapter, you may want to try close up filters.

  • Hi Gail,
    I want to get “inside” the flower. The problem is that when I get too close, the flower touches the lens. How do I get extreme close-ups without having the flower touch the lens? I have a Nikon P90. Thank you much.

  • Scavo, please do an internet search on the subjects. While some pointers in the article apply to film, we focus on digital photography at this site.

  • Hi Kami, as Gail wrote, “yes you can.” Just be sure to watch out for glare bouncing off of the surface of your photos when you shoot. It might be best to light them from two sides at an angle.

  • I want to take pictures of old printed pictures through my digital camera Panasonic TZ3. Can macro function works for such items as well? if not pls help.

  • The article offers general guidelines. If using manual mode, change the aperture to increase or decrease depth-of-field. If you have no control of aperture, move slightly away from the subject to get more of the subject in focus. It’s important where focus is locked on a subject. Like so much in photography, experiment and take plenty of shots to achieve your desired results.

  • This article is useful to a certain degree. By following the theory, one will not generate the sample photo result. As stated, “…get very close to your subject: closer, closer. I mean VERY close.”, but once inside the flower petals, in this case, due to DOF; how do you keep EVERYTHING  tack sharp?