Macro photography in its truest form is concerned with shooting tiny things to make them appear larger than life, features that the naked eye would often miss. That in itself can make things magical – making the everyday look great! That flower that you see from afar, so beautiful can be very captivating up close, with the anthers, pollen, petals that make you think if that botany class at school was really boring.
The epidemic had brought most of the country into lockdown, minimizing human movement. This allowed us to explore our backyards/gardens a little better. We wanted to take pictures to share with friends/family. More often than not, the image that would be shared bore little resemblance to the actual creature, and needed an elaborate explanation of how that red blob was actually a beautiful ladybug.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve sent or received such an image. Let’s take a sneak peek at the options available to budding wildlife enthusiasts/photographers to showcase the wonderful world of macro photography.
Watching my daughter grow up has taught me to understand things with basic building blocks – what, how and why?
Wildlife photographers are constantly striving to show the world our unique perspectives. This genre brings endless possibilities with texture, hidden color all around us that can be unraveled.
Insects, spiders, flowers, herbs in the kitchen, a pot washer, soap bubbles, etc. – you get the hint, all potential topics. A close-up of a bubble even made it to the list of wallpapers on Apple devices.
A) Magnification: Ratio of the subject that can be resolved on the sensor. This directly depends on the type of lens. A dedicated macro lens can go up to 1:1, a subject the size of the sensor (varies based on the size of the camera system) can fill the frame.
For a DSLR system, there are several options to get close focus/macro capabilities. The obvious would be a dedicated macro lens rendered by a 1:1 reproduction ratio. These have been corrected for close-focusing and deliver great edge-to-edge sharpness. Specialist lenses such as the Canon MPE-65mm 1-5x and Laowa 2.5-5x blur the lines of a lens and a microscope, the prices often remind us of the specialist label.
Other lenses in the camera bag can be used with some extra gear to focus accurately:
- extension tubes — These hollow tubes fit between the lens mount and the actual lens, reducing the working distance and increasing the magnification of the final image. Pros: Great to see if macro photography piques your interest without investing in a dedicated macro lens. Disadvantages: Can cause optical problems and results in light loss. Loss of infinite focus. Limited focus range.
- achromats — These are short-focal lenses with high-quality glass that fit on the filter thread of the lens. These work best on mid-telephoto lenses in the 55-300mm range. The longer the focal length, the greater the magnification. Pros: Can be easily turned on and off to return infinite focus to the base lens. Cons: Needs a narrow aperture >f16 to get reasonable detail.
- Lens Reversal — A lens reversal ring fits over the filter thread of the lens, allowing it to be mounted upside down on the camera. Works best with short focal length lenses between 18-70mm. The smaller the focal length, the greater the magnification. Pros: Good option to use on subjects indoors. Most lenses in the camera bag will work with this. That often ignored kit lens can be put to good use! Cons: Extremely short working distances. Lens rear element and contacts left open.
For those interested in going down this rabbit hole, some more details in an old blog post.
Something most of us carry in our pockets – the smartphone. Modern smartphones come with pretty good close-focus capabilities. Spend time understanding Pro mode to control focus and exposure. If you find this limiting, there are achromat-style snap-on macro lenses that fit on top of the camera lens. These reduce the focusing distance and provide a larger magnification. There are commercially available options and domestically built macro lenses made from lenses salvaged from point-and-shoot cameras.
b) Exposure – How bright/dark the overall image is. This is determined by the camera if the mode is set to Auto, otherwise one of the programmable modes on a DSLR or Pro mode on the smartphone will be used to set the exposure. Subjects must be properly lit to show every detail or special color. Depending on the type of image being created, natural light or artificial light with a wide range of light diffusion options can be used.
Nature lovers often go to nature to unravel many mysteries, imagine you have a powerful medium to:
- Observe how small a real ecosystem can be.
- Understand how structural composition determines what an organism is capable of, how specialist interdependencies work.
- Generate thoughts that lead us to questions with interesting and amazing answers.
- Have a real chance to discover something really cool, possibly even new to science! Social (Facebook, Instagram) and specialized platforms (Inaturalist, Indiabiodiversity) offer unprecedented opportunities for citizen science.
Hayath Mohammed is an IT professional who turns to nature to manage mental health. Born and raised in Bangalore, open areas fueled the interest in insects and butterflies during the developmental era.
He now uses macro photography as a means of exploration and as a way of showing the many wonders of the arthropod world to the human world.
This series is an initiative of the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), under their program ‘Nature communication’ to encourage nature content in all Indian languages. For more information about birds and wildlife, Join The Flock.
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