How to get up close

A Woodlouse. Taken with Tamron 90mm Macro Lense, 20mm Extension Tube and Ring Flash.

Getting up close to an object and exploring it can be a great way of creating photographs. I’m no expert, but here’s what works for me and how I do it, for the macro-curious.

Dandelion seeds. Taken with Tamron 90mm Lense, 12mm + 20mm +36mm Extension Tubes and Ring Flash.

The first stop is the macro lense. There are lots of macro lenses out there, but I went for the Tamron 90mm. It was cheaper than other brands at the time (many years ago now) but once I got it, I discovered that it has a wonderfully soft bokeh, as I’ve mentioned in another post. This lense can get up to 1:1 , which means objects are the same size on the sensor (or film) of your camera as they are in real life.

The fibres of a jumper. Taken with Tamron 90mm Macro Lense, 12mm + 20mm + 36mm Extension tubes and ring flash.

So, this is a good start, but how can we get closer? Well there are extension tubes, which sit between the lense and the camera. It really is worth spending out on tubes that keep aperture and computer connections between camera and lense. They aren’t too expensive nowadays. You can use any lense with your extension tubes, but one of the downsides of the Tamron is the long barrel, which extends past the optics. This means your lense gets very close to the subject, which, if it’s alive, might scare it off!

You can also get filters/dioptres/diopters that screw into the filter thread of your lense. I’ve had little experience of these, as I find extension tubes less finicky and easier to change in and out. They are however cheaper and less bulky than extension tubes. You can even get clip on ones for your phone.

Reversal rings also need a nod, though I’ve never used them, so can’t give any real advice on whether they are good or not. The closest I’ve come, is to reverse one lense on another and tape them together. This does work, though don’t do it with your expensive lenses!

The bottom of a leather camera case. Taken with Lensbaby Composer, Sweet 35 Optic, 12mm + 20mm Extension Tubes

Lighting is difficult with macro and I don’t profess to be an expert at it. I just use what works. I have a ring flash, which fits on the front of my lense. It was relatively cheap but does the job. It can leave what your photographing seem a bit washed out if you’re up close. This can be fixed when editing, but it’s not ideal. It does, however, help bring out detail and having a higher f/stop and shutter speed is a boon.

My other lighting setup is a normal angle lamp, with an LED bulb in it. I sort out a background, usually some paper of some sort, and move the lamp around until I’m happy. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who would be horrified at this lighting setup!

As for holding the camera, I prefer to hand hold. I like to move around the subject a lot, looking for views that work. I occasionally use a tripod, but don’t like how it holds me back. You can also get focusing rails for your tripod, which allows you to move your camera forward and backwards and side to side in small increments. I’ve never used one but can see how they’d be useful, especially for focus stacking.

A very macro flower. Taken with Lensbaby Composer, Sweet 35 Optic, 12mm + 20mm + 36mm Extension Tubes

While trying not to be a broken record, I’d like to mention Lensbabies again. Using an optic such as the Sweet 35 with extension tubes, you can get very interesting macro photos. It can be great for creating abstract images too. It’s worth looking into at any rate.

I hope explaining how I make macro images is helpful to anyone who is looking to dabble in macro photography.

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