When you have a basic knowledge of photography you probably have tried to take pictures of small things. To some extend this can be very challenging as the depth of field (the part in the picture that is sharp) is getting thinner the less distance is between the lens and the photographed object. Another problem is that the closer you are to your subject the less light will be available which leads either to a high ISO or to such a slow shutter speed that it is very likely that you have a camera shake in the picture.
So what is important in macro photography? How do I solve the most common problems? What can I do to improve my results?
Your main aim in macro photography is very similar to your aims in photography in general.
- In order to get the best quality you should try to keep the ISO down. Therefore you’ll probably need to use a tripod etc. in low light conditions.
- Choose your composition carefully. Try to remember what at first glance was attractive and caught your eye. Was it the colour, the shape, some leading lines or the texture? Or is the light special? Whatever you got try to make it stand out and the star of your picture. For more tips about composition click here.
- The parts that are actually sharp should fit your composition. Consider the background and try to avoid disturbing elements. Adjust the F number and check the DOF preview button.!
How do I solve the problems I have with my macro pictures?
My pictures lack sharpness:
Shooting with plenty of light: Check your settings. Try to use a higher f number. If you’re not sure how to handle all the camera settings at once (in Manual Mode) use the Aperture Priority Mode and the camera does the rest for you.
Try selective sharpening with a picture editing programme. This can only help you to some extend. Totally blurred pictures can not yet be repaired by software.
If you were shooting in low light conditions: You have three possibilities. You either use a tripod and a delayed shutter release, or a macro ring flash/ an off camera flash. The last possibility is the quick and dirty solution. Adjust your settings, take a smaller f number and a higher ISO but that will only cause the next problem, grainy pictures with a lot of noise.
You desire to get an ultra sharp picture? Then you should try to make a macro stack. You take 6 to 30 pictures (depending on the motive). Each picture shows a different totally sharp part and all those sharp parts are going to be merged in one super sharp picture. There are several picture editing programmes that are doing this automatically. One of the best is Helicon Focus. You can get a trial version for free. A fully free programme is e.g. Stack Focuser, a plugin for ImageJ. But you can also do it manually with CS4 or GIMP.
My pictures have a very grainy look:
The high ISO is responsible for the grainy look you have. Try to shoot with a lower ISO setting. And more importantly try to get more light using a reflector or a flash if you prefer not to use a tripod and a delayed shutter release. If you are really attached to your picture you can try to get rid of the grain with a denoising programme. Good ones are Topaz or Helicon Filter. If you want to try your luck with a freeware you could go with NDNoise.
Try to shoot in RAW! If your camera is able to shoot in RAW you got with your camera a software with which you can develop your pictures. There you can adjust the noise reduction. But be careful! The more you reduce the noise the more you are going to lose details.
The colours of my picture look washed out. What can I do about it?
Avoid taking pictures in harsh sunlight and wait until the sun has a lower angle. With light coming from the side you have also the opportunity to emphasize the shape of the photographed objects.
Sometimes it is best to bring your subject to a shadier place. If you can’t avoid the harsh sunlight you could use a diffuser that softens the light for you. Vary the height and the angle to see what suits best for your purpose.
Another solution would be to adjust your camera settings. Exclude more light from hitting the sensor using a higher f number, set the ISO on 100, choose a fast shutter speed. Take a test shot and check if you’ve got blown out highlights. If necessary stop it down. This is important even if you are shooting in RAW because you can’t recover blown out highlights and that definitely ruins your picture pretty much.
Attach a neutral density or a polarisation filter to your lens. A neutral density filter acts pretty much like sunglasses to your eyes and reduces the incoming light to a certain extent. A polarisation filter (polarizer) has even more advantages than just letting less light into the camera. The sky gets a deeper blue, reflections on leafs and other reflecting materials can be reduced. In general the colours get a more vivid look.
Read in Part II more about those common problems:
- After uploading my macro picture to Facebook it doesn’t look good any more. What can I do to avoid that?
- and much more tips about how you can improve your results …
Get involved and share your best macro shots in our upcoming Macro Contest ‘Little Landscapes’ which starts on 1st of February 2012! Click here for more info.
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