Macro: It's Not Just About Flowers (Thank Goodness!)

An up-close look at macro photography


Flower photos, according to battle-worn cynics in the photographic world, are cliché, and there's a glut of extraordinary flower photos available. Think you can make a living selling photos of flowers? Good luck with that!

And yet, despite the fact that they are as plentiful as the dandelions currently growing on my front lawn (see photo, above, shot in front of my house a few days ago with a Canon 7D and Canon 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro lens at 1:1 magnification), we love to photograph flowers. Why?

Flowers are pretty. They are multi-dimensional. They don't move (unless there's a breeze). They can be lit in many ways that can provide you with insights about form, line, and lighting. They help you get to know to your close-up (or, better) macro lens. And since the page of the calendar has now turned and it's May, they are in abundance.

And when we make a successful photo of a flower, we proudly blow it up and put it on our walls and happily accept the accolades of our non-photographic friends.

And so, this month, the Adorama Learning Center will focus on the best method to photograph flowers: Macro photography.

Macro—and its kissing cousin, close-up—is about much more than just shooting flowers. At its core, Macro transforms the world you see. Photograph everyday objects at 1:1 magnification (true Macro) or even at 1:2 or 1:3 (“close-up”) and these things become something uniquely photographic. The extremely narrow depth of field forces certain exposure and composition decisions, and practically begs for you to play and experiment with line, form, light, and shape.


Here's a non-flowery example...


On a dewy spring morning, I photographed my Toyota Camry with a Nikon P7000, which I'm field-testing. Here it is from 6 feet away. Boooring! But look at what happens when I zoom out to 28mm (equivalent), set the camera to Macro, and shoot from an inch away!


Shooting from an inch away transformed the car's surface into an abstract interplay of form, tone, color and line. More photos from this shoot below.

Specialized Macro lenses on DSLRs and MILCs will bring you 1:1 or 1:2 magnification, but many compact cameras, when set in “flower” mode, let you shoot as close as half an inch away from your subject when the lens is at its widest angle setting, giving you near-macro results. In fact, the “macro” shots used in this article were shot with a Nikon P7000 set in Macro mode.

While you could use a flash ring to get up close, you could also simply take your shoe-mount flash off the hot shoe and point it towards your subject, playing with modifiers and adjusting position just as you would with bigger subjects. In fact, what you learn from lighting a macro subject can be applied on a larger scale to bigger subjects. But since everything is small, you have more opportunities to easily make changes and adjustments.


What is this? Why, it's the rim of my car's hubcap, with the tire below, shot so close (about 2 inches away) I had to be careful not to include the camera's shadow in the shot.

Macro photography has creative, scientific, and even commercial applications. Getting up close details of something you want to sell on eBay can improve your chances of having a successful sale. (Potential buyers, by the way, appreciate when photos faithfully reproduce both the good points and any defects, so there are no unpleasant after-sale surprises.)

This month we'll look at macro photo techniques provided by master shooters, refreshed buying guides, and will explain the differences between different types of Macro and close-up optics.

Are you ready for your close-ups?

Macro turns the mundane into the amazing (or at least, interesting). What can you transform by shooting macro? The only way to know is to get close and start clicking!


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