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Friday Foto Talk: Macro & Close-up Photography, Part V   6 comments

Some of the simplest things make the nicest photos. This is probably my favorite thing about macro photography.

Some of the simplest things make the nicest photos. This is probably my favorite thing about macro photography.

Okay, this is it!  The final part of my mini-series on macro and close-up photography.  I haven’t explained step by step how exactly to do macro photography, but I hope you’ve gotten enough tips to be confident getting started, and that the more advanced photographers among you have gotten something out of it as well.

An organ pipe cactus once it's dead turns into a sort of honeycombed sculpture.

An organ pipe cactus once it’s dead turns into a sort of honeycombed sculpture.

Depending on how serious you get with macro photography, consider one or a few of these accessories:

  • A tripod that can get close to the ground is probably the most important thing to have with macro.  If your tripod has a center column, removing it can get you much lower.  Some tripods have the ability to rotate the center column to a horizontal position, which allows you to put the camera pretty much at ground level.  My Manfrotto does just this.


  • A flash can fill shadows nicely, but you either need a specialized flash called a ring flash, or have a synch cord or other way to move a standard flash unit off the camera.  A camera with a built-in flash really doesn’t work; subjects are too close.  Same goes for mounting the flash on your camera’s hotshoe.


  • If the sun is bright and somewhat harsh, a portable diffuser is very worthwhile having.  You don’t need a super-big one because of the size of your subjects.  One that spreads to a diameter of about two feet or a bit more is perfect.  They fold up into a flat bag that can be clipped to the outside of your camera pack.  Get the diffuser as close to your subject as possible without it being in your shot (use a tripod plus LiveView).  A small reflector is nice to have as well, sometimes in combination with the diffuser.  You can reflect sunlight to fill shadows on the back side of your subject.
Tiger Lily in perfect bloom: Oregon

Tiger Lily in perfect bloom: Oregon

  • I’ve recommended this before, but Canon’s 500D close-up filter is a great accessory to carry.  If you don’t have a macro lens, it can get you close-up without the weight and cost of an extra lens.  It can’t get you as large a magnification as a true macro lens can.  But when you have one of these plus a macro lens, you can screw it on to the end of the macro lens and really crank up the magnification.  A caution: you also narrow depth of field even more.


  • A set of extension tubes can also stand in for a macro lens, but it’s been my experience that the quality suffers a tad more than using a quality close-up filter (and the only real quality one I know about is the Canon mentioned above).  This is counter-intuitive since with a close-up filter you’re adding glass between the subject and your sensor, whereas extension tubes are hollow.  But tubes do move your lens further from the sensor, affecting focus as well as the way that light strikes the sensor.  I consider them a little less user friendly than close-up filters too.

This is one of my favorite close-ups of mine. Shot w/macro lens but hand-held while on XC skis in Oregon’s Cascade Mtns.

  • A rail is good if you want to really get close and you’re doing a lot of macro.  Rails attach to your tripod head and allow you to move the camera using small, gradual movements.   It avoids clumsily trying to move your tripod a quarter inch here or there, easing the whole process of attaining precise focus.

A drawback: it’s one extra piece of equipment, and some rails are not exactly small.  I have one but don’t use it as much as I probably should.   Genuine macro enthusiasts can’t live without them, especially those who have macro lenses that can attain greater than 100% magnification.

NOTE:  In a couple days I will post a follow-up where I show exactly how to use a rail in the field.

 Have a wonderful weekend and happy shooting!

Not my usual sunset, and not a macro. I was recently in the neighborhood so stopped for a brief visit at Carlsbad Caverns. This is King's Chamber.

Not the usual sunset.  I was recently in the neighborhood so stopped for a brief visit at Carlsbad Caverns. This is King’s Chamber.

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