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Getting Up Close and Personal
by Caroline Ulbrich
Macro photography is officially defined that the object being photographed is captured on the film or digital sensor at life size. It therefore has a 1:1 scale. Most SLR macro lenses achieve that, and some accept a 1:2 scale.
However more recently, the term has become relaxed and point-and-shoot digital macro cameras actually shoot at a 1:4 scale. At this size, when the image is printed as a 4x6 the subject should appear to be life size or even a little larger. This way it can loosely be considered "macro photography" and is much cheaper for lens and camera manufacturers to produce.
Whether your camera can shoot at the true definition of macro photography or not, there are a lot of fun images to be made using the macro mode. There are many things right outside your door that can make great macro photos. It may be a flower, some bugs, even a rock. Other objects that make interesting macros are items that show a lot of texture and detail up close.
First, find out if your camera has a macro mode. It is usually symbolized by a flower, specifically a tulip. Some point-and-shoots include a "D" within the flower to show that it is digital macro. What this does is allow you to focus much closer to an object than normal. All cameras and lenses, even when on macro mode, do have a limit to how close they can focus. Refer to your manual or look up the specs online to see what your equipment can do. Also try experimenting by moving the camera closer to and further from the object to see where it is the sharpest.
This mode will also generally use a wide open aperture, to create a shallow depth of field. This means the subject can be sharp and the background blurry. This creates a beautiful look and really emphasizes the subject. However, be sure that you are focusing on the right thing. Try setting the focus point manually, and once you take the shot, zoom in on your LCD to check the sharpness.
Even with the background being out of focus, be aware of what it is. You don't want distracting objects or shapes interfering with your subject. Try shooting from several different angles to get the best combination of background and subject. You also want to fill the image with the subject. The goal is to get a life-size picture that shows all the beauty and detail of the little object you are photographing.
Also pay attention to the lighting. When you get that close to an object you may have to worry about where your shadow is cast. You may also want to use flash, but that can be a very tricky thing with macro photography. If you are too close to the subject the flash will overpower it and blow out the image. If you can turn down the power on your flash put it on a low setting, just to fill in details. Otherwise, consider covering it with wax paper to diffuse the light. Also try using another source of light, such as a work light or even a flash light to create a nice effect.
When you combine all these factors of lighting, depth of field and distance to subject you will want to be sure to keep the camera steady. If you can use a tripod and still be close enough to your subject then do. You can then also use the self-timer option so you don’t worry about shaking the camera as you hit the button. If you can’t get close with a tripod then use whatever possible to steady the camera. It may be the ground or a tree branch. Some photographers carry around a simple bean bag to rest the camera on and position it as desired.
For Digital SLR photographers there are many different types of equipment you can buy to achieve great macro photos. Many lenses are available with a macro setting that will focus closer and sharper. These lenses are often telephoto to help you get even closer without physically having to move close to and possibly disturb your subject. Other options are to buy extension tubes or teleconverters to get your current lenses closer to your subject. Close-up filters are a quick and easy solution as well. They magnify your lens and allow you to focus up much closer. You can even stack multiple ones to create a different effect. If you do end up shooting a lot of macro photography you may also look into ring flashes, which surround the lens and will create even lighting on a close subject.