So here is a situation. You see a good photo of a butterfly, flower or an insect and if the photo is a full length shot of the butterfly, you appreciate it by commenting: “Great Macro”. The person who photographed the subject, comments back saying, hey thanks!
Chances are neither the photographer nor the viewer has proper know how of what a proper “macro photograph” be like.
The question is the image that he/she saw, was it a macro photo or a close-up photograph?
Unlike wildlife photographs of mammals and birds where nomenclature is utmost important and looked into closely, in photomacrography, this is often ignored.
You read it right. It is “photomacrography”. Camera manufacturers from time immortal have devised the term as macro photography for marketing purposes. In reality it is called “photo-macrography”.
Photomacrography has many definitions; one of the prominent is from William Henry Walmsley in his book The A B C of Photo-micrography: A Practical Handbook for Beginners.
Photo-macrography. Worcester defined Macroscopic or Macroscopical as “noting an object which, although comparatively minute, is visible to the naked eye or to the eye assisted by a pocket lens,” usually an inch or more in focus and magnifying less than ten diameters. A delineation or picture of an object thus enlarged would be a macrograph, and if produced by the aid of photography, why should it not be termed a photo-macrograph ? At all events I have chosen to coin that word and to define it as a slightly enlarged picture or delineation of a macroscopical object produced by means of a lens and sensitized photographic plate.
While the terminology used is highly technical, the basis for photomacrography remains the same. A photograph of the object which fills the sensor size and covers 100% of the area is termed a photo-macrograph. If you take photos of a subject such that, the subject fills your entire frame then you are taking a proper photo-macrograph. Anything less than that and you are technically in the close-up range.
Now that the definition is established, let’s talk about this topic in detail.
Many expert macro photographers here believe in not going deep into the technical aspects and rather concentrate on the field taking photos. Though it is a right advice, often any style of photography is often governed by some basic rules.
Because photographers who begin with photomacrography delve into the unseen minute world, do not know whether the photo they take is a close-up one or a proper macro photograph I believe some initial theory and know how will help in achieving their goals in photomacrography.
I have discussed this topic with various local photographers and they either don’t bother with the terminology or ignore it completely, which may lay foundation to some problems and create chaos. Imagine if you take a photo of a blue Mormon butterfly in full at “close range” and your friend comments “great macro shot”. It implies that the butterfly was small to begin with and the camera settings and lens helped to capture the butterfly to fill the sensor size. Anybody who has seen a blue Mormon butterfly knows how large the butterfly is. This then creates confusion to other people who either wish to study the subject or want to participate and begin their macrography journey. Similarly if you take a photo of a fruit fly and then if somebody comments “Nice close-up, it implies the fruit fly is a big fly. Fruit flies are minute flies which is hard to photograph right at first instance.
In today’s scenario for pure marketing purposes, camera and lens manufacturers advertise their lenses with “macro capabilities”. Not all lenses can do “pure macro – 1x work”. Lenses which do take photographs at 1:3 are also advertised as “macro lenses”. But these lenses are essentially only close-up lenses. Normal wide angle and standard telephoto zoom lenses are not capable to reproduce true “macro photographs”. When the manufacturer says the lens has a reproduction ratio of 1:2, it means the lens is capable to reproduce subjects at 0.5x magnification at the closest working distance. This does not mean the lenses are poor performers in macro photography. They are excellent “close-up” lenses and with proper attachments can become into true macro lenses and beyond.
In order to simplify things, I am writing down a list of common lenses from Canon and Nikon that I know have true macro – 1:1 replication capabilities:
- AF-S DX Micro Nikkor 85mm F3.5G ED VR
- AF-S DX Micro Nikkor 40mm F2.8G
- AF-S Micro Nikkor 60mm F2.8G ED
- AF-S DX Micro Nikkor 85mm F/3.5G ED VR
- AF-S VR Micro Nikkor 105mm F/2.8G IF-ED
- AF Micro Nikkor 200mm F/4 IF-ED
Out of these, Nikon users prefer the 105mm and Canon users prefer the 100mm both outstanding lenses. There are some photographers who also use the more budget friendly lens from Tamron which is the SP 90mm.
Majority of these lenses have markings to guide the photographer, at what magnification the photograph is taken and the distance to the subject. When the reading on the lens without any kind of extra attachments such as extension tubes or Raynox, reads “1:1” you are taking the photo at true 1x magnification.
What if you cannot afford a macro lens but still want to enter the field of photomacrography? There are other accessories that can help you start with macro. I am listing the accessories in order of budget.
- Reverse lens ring – the most budget friendly adapter you can buy. It is used in conjunction with your kit lens. The lens is reverse mounted on the camera to change the optics and open up the working distance to take macro photos. Generally at 50mm you are taking photos at 1:1. Lower mm will give higher magnification. While it is the most budget friendly adapter, it also has severe limitations.
- Close-up Filters – these are cheap modified pieces of glass to give you more range when taking photos up close. Because of their build quality, they suffer from chromatic abbreviation and vignetting. The photos do not come tact sharp. I generally advise my friends to avoid this route.
- Extension tubes – the third budget friendly device used for photo-macrography. In this setup, the lens is extended further away from the sensor to change the working distance and invariably enable to take photos up close and beyond 1x depending on the lens and extension tubes attached.
- Raynox kit – this is the most expensive kit in terms of the other two above. They come in two achromat versions. The DCR 150 – 4 diopter and the DCR 250 – 8 diopter ones. The achromats can cost nearby Rs 6000 via Indian sellers. While the cost is steep, it is built for proper macro and super macro work. The build quality is superb and consists of group of elements. You can attach the Raynox to any zoom lens having a filter diameter of 52mm-67mm.
I will cover the accessories points in my future articles.
Being humans, we all rely on visual cues for many a times. I thought of showing the difference between a normal photo, a close-up photo, a macro photo and a photo which goes beyond the 1x macro category.
Here we take an example of a hibiscus.
- Photo taken at near infinity.
- Photo taken at 1:5
- Photo taken at 1:3
- Photo taken at 1:2.
- Photo taken at 1:1.5
- Photo taken at 1:1.
- Photo taken with Raynox DCR 150, 100mm kept at 1:1. Effective magnification 1.75x.
So in the photos above, as we progress from infinity to beyond 1x, we start to realize a trend. Our field of vision becomes narrow as we take photos up close. There are lot of things that happen behind the shot as we progress into the macro level in terms of depth, sharpness, light, ambient light etc.
Simultaneously as we go deep, we are showing to the viewers, details which are not easily visible by the naked eye. Take for example the photo taken with a Raynox. The viewer will not be able to track the small ant which is on the style of the hibiscus and wandering around.
With this comparison, I hope it is now clear which photos can be tagged as close-up photographs and which ones can be tagged as proper macro photos.
Photomacrography can sometimes be as frustrating and time consuming style of photography. It is one of those genres which fail to give instant gratification. You will not be a rockstar macrographer in one go. It may take you months/years to get a grasp of the vast and never ending wonders of macrography or the unseen macro world.
Through future articles, we will try to cover some more interesting topics on macrography. Until then, stay tuned. .