PhotoCall Competition - DECEMBER
The porcelain crab is 3cm wide; how best to capture its image.
Whats the difference between close-up, macro and super-macro, and how can you get big results from tiny marine life MARK KOEKEMOER tells all
APPROACHING SLOWLY, I steady my camera, the subject locked in sight. Camera tilted slightly off-centre, I gently depress the shutter release halfway. Green indicator, excellent, I have focus. Now, all the way.
Playback. I am thrilled to see that I have the shot I wanted of the spectacular nudibranch. Close-up or macro photography captures everyones imagination. The terms are often used interchangeably, but what is the difference
Close-up refers to photographing anything within close proximity. The subject will usually look smaller then life-size in the photo. For example, a porcelain crab 3cm wide that is recorded smaller than life-size on the cameras sensor will occupy a small portion of your photo - ratio 1:2.
When subjects are recorded as life-size on the cameras sensor, this is what is known as macro photography. So a whip coral shrimp that is half a centimetre in length will be replicated as half a centimetre on the sensor - the shrimp will occupy a larger portion of the image - ratio 1:1.
Photographing small critters often requires the capturing of minute detail. To do this, we need to be able to record the subject larger than life-size on the cameras sensor. This technique is what we mean by super-macro photography. The subject fills the frame, and much detail is captured - ratio 2:1.
If you have tried photographing small creatures without any accessories, you will have noticed that the pygmy seahorse, by way of example, was small in the photo, or perhaps that all your shots were out of focus.
There are two reasons for this. Firstly, most compact cameras have a minimum focusing distance of around 30cm. As your camera cant focus any closer, you wont be able to fill the frame with the seahorse.
Secondly, if you are not aware of your cameras minimum focusing distance, when you take photos at close range to fill the frame they will turn out to be out of focus.
There may well be a Macro (Flower) Mode on your compact. By switching to this function, the cameras lens can focus closer to the subject, usually within a 5cm range.
While the Macro Mode will allow the camera to focus closer and fill the frame more with the subject, it does have its drawbacks.
Some camera models have been known to automatically disable the flash when in Macro Mode, which could be a problem if you rely on the flash to trigger an off-camera flash.
The other issue is that being so close may restrict any light coming from the built-in flash.
Or there may not be enough room for off-camera flashguns to successfully illuminate
To capture the detail of these small creatures, you need to be able to focus the camera at such a distance that the frame is filled, and there is also room for flashguns.
To do this it is necessary to invest in close-up lenses. These are wet lenses that have certain magnifying properties. Depending on your camera housing, you can either attach the lens onto a dedicated bracket or screw it straight on.
Supplementary close-up lenses will magnify the subject to fill the frame and allow the camera to focus slightly further back, giving you more room for flashguns.
PERFECTING THE ART
Using close-up lenses can be tricky, and it takes time and practice to get the knack.
Once I spot a critter, I zoom the camera all the way into the telephoto end, making sure that digital zoom is disabled. By zooming in, Im taking full advantage of the magnifying lens.
I decide on the composition and then slowly move in. There is a very small window in which the lens will focus, but as I move in the nudibranch becomes sharp. At this point, I gently depress the shutter halfway to get focus confirmation, and then squeeze the trigger.
Any movement is exaggerated when using close-up lenses, so you need to have good buoyancy skills and a steady hand.
When photographing small stuff, there is a formula that will fast-track your success rate. The settings I use are based on the fact that my camera allows me to change the aperture and shutter-speed values.
If your camera will allow it, set the aperture to f8 and the shutter speed to 125th or higher. By using a small aperture of f8, you will have more depth of field.
However if you want to be creative and throw most of the subject out of focus and keep just the eyes sharp, try using larger apertures of f2.8. Large apertures give you a small depth of field.
I always use a base ISO of 100.
Make sure the flash is set to Forced Flash, and that white balance is set to Auto.
If you have an Auto everything camera, try using the exposure compensation to lighten
or darken the image.
Shooting macro, I often place the flash directly above the camera housing in the 12 oclock position, facing it straight out or angled slightly upward. This ensures even lighting across the frame of my picture. It helps to have a flashgun with numerous power adjustments.
When photographing close-ups, you may have to tweak the flash power to get the most pleasing exposure. Auto flash and auto cameras tend to overexpose anything that is too close.
Once you have viewed these fascinating creatures through the eye of the close-up
lens, youll never look back - its a world full of intriguing characters and psychedelic colour.
Next month - (January 2011 issue): Shooting video with your compact.
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