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Macrophotography is taking larger than life photographs with normal photography lenses. It is also called close up photography. To do this sort of thing you will likely need a tripod or other steady rest and macrophotography equipment or a digital camera with macro compatibility.
Macrophotographs can be made with: extension tubes; bellows, lens reversing ring, macro lens, and diopters or filter-like adapters.
Many digital cameras have a macro or super macro lens built in. On these cameras the macro setting will focus to seven or eight inches. The super macro setting will focus to one-inch or so. These cameras make the taking of macrophotographs a pleasure as all focusing and exposure is taken care of without intervention, usually, by you.
Extension TubesExtension tubes have no optics they are installed between the camera body and your lens. Their function is to increase the distance from the camera body to the lens. This allows the lens to focus sharply at distances closer that what it would normally focus at without the extension tube. One great advantage is that you maintain the quality of your original lens.
Automatic extension tubes will allow all the cameras auto-focus and exposure functions to remain in effect. In any set of extension tubes you will find three or perhaps five separate units. The extension tubes themselves will be three separate lengths and older tubes may have removable ends that fit into camera and lens. Late model tubes will likely be of the three unit type. The units will be listed in terms of their length in millimeters. Something like 12mm, 20, and 36mm will be found in the directions.
Some manufactures allow you to purchase these separately. Which is nice if you don't need the full range of functionality. Before you purchase these things be sure that they will offer the functionality that you want with your particular camera. Not all extension tubes are automatic. Should you purchase non automatic extension tubes you will be relegated to that no man's land of manual mode.
BellowsA bellows is just what the name implies it is an adjustable, variable length extension tube. With a bellows you attach the camera to one end, the lens to the other and simply crank the thing back and forth until you have the composition focused in the viewfinder.
You can expect it to provide magnifications up to about 4X (that's four times) life size on the film with a standard 50mm camera lens, on a 35mm camera, and up to about 25X life size with a special bellows lens. The bellows will be attached to a focusing rail that will likely have a tripod socket installed.
This makes using the bellows much easier on you and on your camera body as well the weight is not hanging from the lens mount. With a bellows adjust the lens to obtain the magnification you want and then adjust the rear of the bellows to focus. In this way you will not change the size of the image in the viewfinder. This is a real advantage of using a bellows. When using a bellows you can use this equation to calculate the exposure correction:
Lens Reversing RingThis is one of our favorite pieces of equipment and one which has remained on my old Nikon for years. The reversing ring has no optics. It simply has a filter mount on one end and a lens mount on the other. You literally attach it to your camera body. Now the lens in on backwards. With the lens on backwards it will focus down to three or four inches. This is the most inexpensive way to do close up photography.
The reversing ring has no downside it is light in weight, very inexpensive, and can be kept on the camera all the time. Once the lens is reversed all automatic functions are gone. You are in that dreaded land of manual mode.
Macro LensA macro lens will focus much closer than a standard lend. In fact, these lenses are designed and optimized to do just that. Modern macro lenses will do this and more; they will focus all the way to infinity and provide superb results. Should you need a short telephoto and a macro lens you would be well advised to look into a macro lens of about 90mm or 100mm focal length, on a 35mm camera.
For shadowless lighting consider a macro lens with a built in ring light. A ring light is an electronic flash that encircles the lens. With the flash tube wrapped around the lens there are no shadows. Be sure to inquire about the power supply for the ring light and if it is not included be sure to order it as well.
Macro lenses come in several focal lengths. The 50mm - 60mm focal length, the short telephoto or 90mm - 105mm focal length, and in the 180mm - 200mm range. These longer lenses will produce the same magnification as a shorter lens, but at greater distances because they have more telephoto effect. For example a 180mm macro lens will produce a life-size image from 3.6X as far away as a 50mm macro lens.
That can be a good thing is you are photographing a snake or a little critter that may get scared off. Also the added distance between you and the subject can be used for added lighting, maybe an umbrella flash or perhaps a reflector.
DioptersThese devices thread on to the end of your lens like a filter would. Each one has a different ability to provide close focusing. For maximum closeness use more than one diopter by simply attaching one in front of another. Diopters are easy to use and will come with a chart showing how close each one will focus and how they will respond when they are all connected together.
Macro ExposureWith through the lend (TTL) viewing and exposure calculation of digital and film cameras calculating the exposure is almost never a problem. To make things simple just put on your macro tool of choice and forget about exposure as your camera with its internal light metering system will tell you the proper exposure for the subject.
However, if you are one of those diehards that likes to do things for yourself, or are using a large or medium format camera, then this is for you.
The following table will give you the exposure compensation for about 1/10 of life size to 100% of life size. The term life-size refers to the size of the subject. For example if you are photographing a marble that is one-half inch in size, then life size is one-half inch. To create an image on the film in the camera of the marble that, the image, is one-half inch increase the exposure four times or two stops. Remember that an increase of one stop will double the exposure. See the chapter on exposure.
Using a Tripod to Photograph a Cold BugAlmost always will you need a tripod, except for those times when your subject is cooperative and your shutter speed is fast enough to hand hold. Certainly for those times when you wish to copy slides with a digital camera, photograph a postage stamp, or photograph a bug you will want a tripod.
Can't photograph a bug with a tripod because the little critter runs away? Yes you can. Just put that guy in the refrigerator or freezer for a few minutes and he, or she, won't be in a hurry to go anywhere.
That's when you get the shot, because you planned for it. Your batteries are charged, the lighting is ready, the camera is set up with the exposure calculated and the focus set. All that is needed is our chilly bug. And he, or she, is ‘on ice' as they say, with nothing to do but wait for you.
Go take close up pictures. And have fun.