New Projects During Shelter In Place — First Attempts At Macro Photography
This is a strange time—no doubt about it.
Many photographers are staying home as they’ve been instructed, which may seem difficult at first if you’re used to getting out in the field and taking sports photos or street shots. You might think to reach for your telephoto lenses to create some cool bird photos in the backyard as Spring hits and the tree buds start opening up. We keep hearing wonderful stories about portrait photographers doing family photoshoots from the front porch and that's a great idea if you're into shooting portraits or wedding photos.
I, on the other hand, have started to dabble in macro photography. It’s been almost meditative for me to really take a close look at my daily surroundings. A very close look.
Macro Lens of Choice
I’ve yet to attempt the focus-stacking post production method because I’m typically the kind of guy who likes to try and get the shot in-camera. The lens I’ve been using to shoot around my house is one of my favorites—a Sony 90mm f/2.8 Macro G. Built like a tank, it’s got Optical Steady Shot stabilization inside so I’m able to shoot handheld which is great for me. I love tripods but I prefer being more mobile.
Shooting with the lens actually feels a bit like using a classic lens, with its all-metal construction and finely-knurled focus grip. There are no questions about quality here. In my opinion, it feels substantially better to use than Canon’s 100mm f/2.8 Macro L-series, and that one’s no slouch either.
The autofocus is pretty snappy when using the focus selection switch on the side of the lens. Of course, any macro is going to take a little longer to find its mark when it has the option to focus from infinity to 0.28m, so being able to select between long or short distances is welcome.
It also works well as a portrait lens, with a wide f/2.8 aperture with 9 rounded blades. With the macro capabilities of this thing, you can easily get stunning subject isolation. Not as wild as, say the Sigma ART 135mm f/1.8 but this is a post about macro shooting, not subject isolation or bokeh obsession.
The one drawback to the Sony 90mm G lens is that the focus breathing is unreal. Focus breathing refers to the effect that some lenses have where the closest point of focus of the lens has a drastically different frame than the furthest point of focus. You can sometimes see this in movie scenes where the camera is still and the focus goes from very near to the lens to very far away. It almost looks like a very short zoom effect. If you’re the type who sets their camera frame first and finds focus second, this will likely drive you nuts.
Other Macro Options
If a Macro lens isn't in your budget right now, you can also try some other shooting options to get the same larger-than-life effect. To read more about other gear like conversion lenses, extension tubes, lens reversing rings or even specialty lighting and flashes, check out our Introduction to Macro Photography Gear blog.
In any case, getting up-close to some of the things in my apartment has been a zen-like exercise at times, and other times revealed exceptional lapses in my cleaning abilities by showing me dust I didn't even know was there.
However, finding unique features like the intricate nylon weave of a kitchen placemat,
pores on the leaf of a houseplant,
blue, long-limbed starfish reflections in water droplets on a shower curtain,
or the soft, luxurious wheat fields in the fur of a pet (there’s my one-per-article)
can be uniquely rewarding in a way that one might not expect when observing them through our normal view.
Tips For Better Macro Shots
Like I said earlier, I'm not a macro magician. However, I have found a few key tips that might be able to help you out if you are also just starting.
My sample images above are all evenly-lit, edge-to-edge textures. We're used to looking at everything large, but try thinking small and framing from a bug's-eye-view. Above is a photo of a ring on a table. Framing it off-center gives it a sort of over-the-shoulder look, and you can't help but wonder what lies in store for the ring.
Add some dynamic lighting to prevent your subject from being too flatly-lit which can sometimes be boring. Try an extra light source or a white or black card in order to add some interesting play to the image.
As tempting as it may be to open your lens's aperture up fully, keep in mind that the closer your subject is to the lens, the shallower your depth of field is going to be. It's possible to completely lose all detail except for a tiny hair's breadth of your subject. Closing your aperture a little more will allow you to get more of your small subject and its surroundings in focus.
Lastly, it may be tempting to go with autofocus mode, but I've found that manually focusing gives me more precise control when shooting on such a tiny scale. Try setting the focus on your lens and then moving your camera to match the photo you want to take.
Share Your Photos
We as individuals may be stuck inside for a while, but we are more connected as a society than ever before. Social media may not be perfect but it's a great way to share some of your photos with the people you know and the ones you love.
Send photos to your loved ones through social media, phone messages or email. It may seem silly at first but I can almost promise they'll be thrilled to see it. Photos have a way of bringing people together through a shared connection. Looking at a photo can be like looking directly through someone else's eyes, and what could be more uniting than a shared experience like that?
Whether it's snapshots of your pet, your workstation, your camera collection or that awesome loaf of bread that you managed to make, share these moments with your friends and loved ones through your photos. Just because we're indoors for a while doesn't mean that we aren't still connected.
See our blog on How To Be A Productive Photographer When You're Stuck At Home
More of a nature-loving telephoto photographer? Read about Andrea's First Time Using A Telephoto Lens