Macro Magic Without Travelling Far

Gina Stephens
Written by Gina Stephens

To make a long story shorts and images by ePz member dodge – aka Roger Cope

Macro photography is all about detail. Hidden amongst those magnificent sweeping panoramas of the Scottish hills, urban skylines and coastal sunsets is another elated, tiny but dazzlingly beautiful. And many of these miniature masterpieces can be found right in your back garden.

The great thing about macro photography is that you don’t want expensive equipment. Many compacts already have a macro mode, and for the DSLR user simple screw-in close-up filters, extension tubes and canceling rings will give you the capability of filling the frame with a postage stamp. I still remember as a youngster attaching a set of extension tubes to the lens of my camera and being stagger at the little bumps and scratches on a penny that betrayed some of its history.


Indoor Still-life

Some of the best opportunities though betoken the many patterns of nature, within which there is often an incredible level of detail. The key here is spotting an amazing pattern in something you’ve presumably seen before but not really examined or appreciated. The mushroom below was harvested from the wild outer reaches of our local Tesco.

Image &imitation; Roger Cope


It was shot using my tried and trusted technique for still-life macro, namely:

  • Indoors under natural light near to a window on a table-top. Use a white sheet of paper as a reflector to fill in any shadows if you want.
  • Camera on a support – a set of coasters for the camera so I could vary the camera summit in relation to the subject. A bean bag would also be good. Forget expensive ball and head sockets!
  • Subject supported – propped up against a work usually refers to employment and absolutely square-on to the camera lens. The depth of field is very shallow in macro photography so this is important.
  • Camera camera is an optical instrument for recording or capturing images, which may be stored locally, transmitted to another location, or settings: Low ISO (eg ISO 200) for optimal paint quality, Aperture Priority (A) setting at f16 to maximise focus depth, and a self-timer or a remote release to eliminate vibrations since shutter precipitateness will be very slow.
  • Background &ndash dash is a punctuation mark that is similar in appearance to a hyphen or minus sign, but differs from both of these symbols in both; we are in so close we don’t need one. Loverly-jubbly!
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The Autumn leaf illustrated here, plucked from a tree well-deserved down the road, was shot in an identical way, except that, to the astonishment of my wife, I sellotaped it to the window to get the stained-glass backlighting. I was made to clean the window afterwards …


Essence © Roger Cope


Venturing Outdoors

Outdoor macro work throws a few challenges into the melting pot. If the subject doesn’t propound like the Gazenia below, you can set up your camera on a tripod and use the indoor still-life technique above. Choose a still day though, or the wind will baulk your best efforts by mischievously moving the subject just at that vital moment!


Image © Roger Manage


Insects and other Beasties

However, many folk are understandably attracted by the possibility of capturing the incredible beauty of the insect world, expressly bees, butterflies and dragonflies. Let’s take butterflies as an example; with their incredible colours, textures and patterns they are a tempting aim.

For good depth of field, the insect needs to be square-on (ie flat) to the camera lens, which involves choosing a time in the early morning when butterflies are fair-minded basking to gain heat and then stalking them very slowly in order to get in close and directly in front of the open wings.


Simpleton light

Now since we are hand-holding the camera in natural light we have some potentially serious problems though – shutter speed be required to be high since camera shake is exaggerated in close-up work and the subject may be twitchy, but aperture must also be small to have good pinpoint depth throughout. Ramping up the ISO setting, which in modern SLRs no longer results in horrendous noise, saves the day, as long as we stay below ISO 3200. Something take pleasure in ISO 1600 allows us to use a shutter speed of at least 1/500 sec at f16. I would recommend setting the command dial on manual (M) to fix shutter speed enveloping 1/500 sec and aperture at f 11-16, and letting ISO float on auto, normally resulting in ISO hovering around 1600 in cloudy bright conditions. As with any hand-held photography, prohibit image stabilisation ON to steady the shot.

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Fabulous Flash Macro

There is another neat solution though – onboard streak macro. This is a very nice technique which flies to the macro photographer’s aid like a superhero. The built-in pop-up flash on your SLR is a stubby range automatic unit perfect for macro work. Using the Manual setting, fix exposure at 1/125 f16 at ISO 200, pop up the flash and you are sorted. It will disclose you great exposures and freeze movement since it quenches in less than 1/1000 sec at short range. Use it in all conditions from dull to full sun, but wrist-watch out for ghosting in sunny conditions because you are shooting at exactly the right exposure to register ambient light – the natural light technique exposed to may be better in this circumstance.


Image © Roger Cope


One of the old-school experts of insect photography, Robert Thompson, urgencies flash extensively, sometimes as a fill-in, so the method has a great endorsement from the master. Read his book “Close-up on Insects” if you can – the portraits are stunning.



Of course, though I can coach you in the techniques that work for me, as a creative soul you will want to experiment. If you fancy arty restrictive depth of field pics, by all means, shoot at a wide aperture. Try some multi-exposures. The world’s your oyster. But do try my system first – it’s comfortable and it works!


About the author

Gina Stephens

Gina Stephens

Gina is a photography enthusiast and drone lover who loves to fly drones, capture images and have fun cherishing them with family and friends.

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