Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Skinny on Macro Shots

Digital technology has certainly made photography more accessible, enabling the average person without any formal training in photography to take  progressional-grade shots without the massive expense of a professional lab. Gone are the days when a camera served me only as a device I used at weddings, and family gatherings. I have become a serious photography afficianado, like many of my blogging colleages out there. I've discovered macro as one of my favourite styles of photography.

Through trial and error I have discovered what conditions produce the sharpest shot at a very shallow depth-of-field ~ meaning how close can I get to my subject so that a small area takes up the entire frame and still produce a sharp image? All this talk about aperture, f-stop, depth-of-field, resolution, exposure can seem unwieldy, complicated, confusing, overwhelming to the untrained photographer. Here's what I've learned along the way ~ what works and why.

First of all, let's talk about the sunny 16 rule. What's that? Essentially, it means that, on a sunny day, an aperture of f/16 and a shutter speed equivalent to the the inverse of the ISO speed of the camera's film, will suffice. Digital cameras use image sensors and so ISO refers to the light sensitivity of the camera's image sensor.  An ISO of 80 suits our purposes for a sunny day. This means low light sensitivity, minimal visual noise ~ fast  shutterspeed, short exposure.

A close-up shot requires a shallow depth-of-field, which decreases with f number. This implies a smaller aperture. Sunny conditions produce the best quality close-up shots. This makes sense because we need a smaller aperture for our shallow depth of field. As we reduce the distance betweem ourselves and our flower subject, with a smaller aperture, so that small details fill the frame, we need maximum light. NATURAL LIGHT WORKS BEST. The highest resolution possible will also reduce the depth-of-field. So, we want an f-number smaller than 16 ~ as in somewhere in the range of 4.5 to 8. A longer focal length also helps achieve a shallow depth-of-field ~ an effect we want in macro shooting.

I hope this makes sense and helps to demystify the science behind macro photography. I leave you with an visual example from my photo gallery.

Camera: Nikon Coolpix L110
Exposure: 0.013 sec (1/76)
Aperture: f/4.5
Focal Length: 15.1 mm


Anonymous said...

How I wish to be able to decide what my camera is doing - as until now I use a rather small "pocket-kind-of-camera", saving money for already half a year to get me a better one. Interesting to read though ! Please have a nice weekend.

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