Introduction to macro (and close-up) photography

Shivan Parusnath Macro, Shivan 12 Comments

Hi everyone!

My name is Shivan Parusnath. I am excited to introduce myself as a guest blogger here on the Wild Eye Blog and over the next few weeks I will write detailed articles to introduce you to the genre of macro photography. I am a PhD student in the Alexander Herp Lab at Wits University, doing conservation research on reptiles.

Over the past few years, my interactions with smaller animals have drawn me into the world of macro photography.

An ant harvesting honeydew from its aphids. Photographed with a Canon MP-E65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro lens at 1/200th sec, f/16, ISO 200.

An ant harvesting honeydew from its aphids. Photographed with a Canon MP-E65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro lens at 1/200th sec, f/16, ISO 200.

This is the most exciting genre of photography to me. With the right equipment, you can reveal details otherwise invisible to the naked eye, see life from the point of view from an animal so small you might normally bypass it, and open up a new world of possibilities in what you can photograph. There is also an entry point for anyone – whether you start with a Canon L-series macro lens, or an extension tube for your kit lens, anybody can experiment with macro photography.

 

Bitis inornata, an Endangered South African snake species. Photographed with a Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS L lens and a macro twin flash at 1/200th sec, f/20, ISO 50.

Bitis inornata, an Endangered South African snake species. Photographed with a Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS L lens and a macro twin flash at 1/200th sec, f/20, ISO 50.

 

Over the next few weeks I will be sharing my personal thoughts and experiences on the following topics:

  • Lens choice: almost every lens manufacturer makes at least one dedicated macro focal length lens, with most brands offering several different options. I will explore what focal lengths are out there, and which are ideal for different subject types.
  • Alternatives to macro lenses: while picking up a proper macro lens is without doubt the best way to get into macro photography, there are alternative, cheaper options that won’t break the bank, but still allow you to get close-up to your subject.
  • Flashes: after your lens equipment, a flash will be your next most important consideration in macro photography. In the macro range, your depth of field is always fairly thin and to get more than just the eye of your subject in focus, external lighting is almost always required. There are various types of flashes that can be used in macro photography, and I will explain which flash types are best for certain macro applications.
  • Diffusers: many of the animals we often photograph in macro photography tend to be shiny. Lizards, snakes, beetles, ants, and almost everything else tends to have a gloss to it. When a bright light is applied to the animal, you get harsh catch-lights on the body and eyes, which are ugly and tend to take your viewer out of the photograph. Flash diffusers are important to avoid these obvious catch-lights and create more pleasing, natural images.
  • Techniques: now that you’ve acquired and learnt about your macro equipment, there are several techniques that will allow you to make the most of your kit, and successfully work with your subjects (small subjects tend to be quick-moving and finicky). Some examples are manual focusing, focus stacking, finding and handling small animals, and the ethics of macro photography.

 

Giant Ground Gecko (Chondrodactylus angulifer), Gobabeb, Namibia. Photographed with a Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS L lens and a macro twin flash at 1/200th sec, f/5, ISO 50.

Giant Ground Gecko (Chondrodactylus angulifer), Gobabeb, Namibia. Photographed with a Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS L lens and a macro twin flash at 1/200th sec, f/5, ISO 50.

 

In the near future, we hope to offer dedicated macro photography workshops that will provide in-depth, hands-on advice on how to delve deep into the small side of life so please let us know in the comments section if you have experimented with macro photography, or are interested in doing so.

Please also feel free to ask any questions that you would like to see addressed in future posts. In the mean time, see more on Facebook, Instagram and 500px, and enjoy a few more of my favourite macro photos!

 

Mantis portrait. MP-E65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro lens at 1/200th sec, f/16, ISo 100.

Mantis portrait. MP-E65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro lens at 1/200th sec, f/16, ISo 100.

Wide-angle macro of a locust. Photographed with a Venus Optics 15mm f/4 1:1 macro lens at 1/200th sec, f/16, ISO 320.

Wide-angle macro of a locust. Photographed with a Venus Optics 15mm f/4 1:1 macro lens at 1/200th sec, f/16, ISO 320.

A robber fly shot handheld in natural light with a Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS L lens at 1/125th sec, f/7.1, ISO 2000.

A robber fly shot handheld in natural light with a Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS L lens at 1/125th sec, f/7.1, ISO 2000.

A Cape Thick-Toed Gecko (Pachydacylus capensis) photographed with a Canon MP-E65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro lens at 1/200th sec, f/7.1, ISo 160.

A Cape Thick-Toed Gecko (Pachydacylus capensis) photographed with a Canon MP-E65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro lens at 1/200th sec, f/7.1, ISo 160.

Spotted Rock Snake (Lamprophis guttatus). Sigma 20mm f/1.8 lens with a 430ex Speedlight.

Spotted Rock Snake (Lamprophis guttatus). Sigma 20mm f/1.8 lens with a 430ex Speedlight.

A metamorphising cricket. Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS L lens at 1/200th sec, f/25, ISO 200.

A metamorphising cricket. Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS L lens at 1/200th sec, f/25, ISO 200.

Brown House Snake (Boadon capensis). Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS L lens at 1/100th sec, f/20, ISo 250.

Brown House Snake (Boadon capensis). Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS L lens at 1/100th sec, f/20, ISo 250.

Cheers for now.

About the Author

Shivan Parusnath

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I am currently doing my PhD research on the conservation of the Sungazer (Smaug giganteus), a threatened South African lizard species, at Wits University in JHB. Working with reptiles over the past 6 years has fueled my obsession with macro photography. My aim with photography is always to portray a subject on its own level, whether a lion, a lizard or an ant. I am also excited by in-habitat shots, where the subject is shown in the context of its natural habitat. This is great specifically for rare or threatened species, so people who might not readily get an opportunity to see these animals can gain a greater appreciation for where the species fits into the bigger picture.

Comments 12

  1. Pingback: Introduction to macro (and close-up) photography - Africa Freak

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  2. Naomi

    Thank you… wow, beautiful images and very inspiring! I’m going to give it a go here in the UK. Am interested to know more about using the flash and diffuser as these are way out of my comfort zone!

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      Shivan Parusnath

      Hey Naomi, thanks for the kind words! Glad to hear that you are inspired. Remember that subjects for macro photography can easily be found in your garden, or even in your house. I am sure the posts on using flashes and diffusers will change the way you do macro photography, since they are essential in exposing your subject properly when using small apertures. Hope you enjoy future posts 🙂

  3. Dave T

    Shivan, some great images here that also really inspire me. I’m UK based have been using the 100mm LIS macro for a couple of years now – mainly to photograph butterflies. I’m looking forward to expanding my horizons and learning more about using dedicated macro flash.

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      Shivan Parusnath

      Thanks for the comment Dave. Your butterfly photos are lovely! Natural light macro photos definitely have a special feel to them and there are many situations where this can produce more pleasing results than when introducing artificial light. However, you will find using a flash will open up new possibilities in the kind of photos and detail you can capture, while ideally, still retaining that natural looking light! Look forward to more feedback from you on future posts 🙂

      1. DaveT

        Thanks for the feedback on my butterfly photos Shivan. You can be assured i will be eagerly looking out for more posts from you

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