This image consists of five single macro shots of sea anemone stitched in Photoshop to produce a single macro pano. Final image size 15,429 x 5131 pixels.
The absorbing realm of closeup photography (meaning image scales from 1:10 to 1:1) and photomacrography (meaning image magnification from 1:1 to 20:1 or more) often calls for special techniques and special tools to achieve optimum results.
For nature and wildlife subjects, it is prudent to plan for up to ~ 2X in the field, and to ~ 4X in the studio. In the closeup range to ~ 1:5 (20% of life size), conventional optics and normal techniques suffice, but the going gets tougher as the subject gets smaller. These problems involve: gaining sufficient working distance, focusing accuracy, depth of field, resolution loss due to diffraction effect, desired final (enlarged) image resolution, and, of course, lighting. Many books have been written that address solutions—we recommend John Shaw’s books.
While screw-on closeup lenses (particularly the special two element types corrected for use with telephoto lenses, e.g. Nikon’s 3T, 4T, 5T, 6T and Canon 500D) and supplementary extension tubes and teleconverters will get you close, there will come a time when every serious closeup shooter feels the irresistible lust to invest in what the trade calls a “macro lens.” These are special closeup lenses (also quite usable for general photography) that are highly corrected for close range imaging, and are capable of focusing all the way from infinity down to 1:2, or even to 1:1, all by themselves.
The most generally popular “macro lens” is about 50 to 60mm in focal length. That’s good for stamps & coins, but lousy for nature and wildlife work. That focal length is too short to provide adequate working distance, and the angle of coverage is too wide to isolate the subject.
The next step is a “macro lens” in a 100mm to 105mm focal length. These are better, but still entail a lot of compromise in actual usage. Here’s why:
- Working distance: It’s simply not adequate for live subjects. The modern 105mm focal length “macro” lens turns out to be 80mm when it’s close-focused.
- Angle of coverage: It’s too wide to provide good control of background selectivity. It’s very difficult to truly isolate the subject—make it “pop.”
- No tripod collar: Most 105mm “macros” don’t have a rotating collar. Given the difficulties implicit in careful closeup focusing and framing, it’s truly agonizing to begin all over again when you want to swing from horizontal to vertical aspect (although much less so if your camera is equipped with an RRS L-plate). Beware of the poorly executed collar on the original Canon 100mm/f2.8 lens (non-IS version): it’s much too close to the lens mount, and the lens plate on the foot will hit certain camera body grips when rotating from horizontal to vertical.
These shortcomings are all neatly solved by the 180-200mm “macros”. They offer double the working distance, tight acceptance angles for easy background control, superior balance & stability, and the convenience of a tripod collar. Love those 200mm macros!
This is the gear that was used to capture the anemone image at the top of the page. Click through to see a larger image. Or click here to see an image with each piece gear labeled for easy identification.
Another advantage gained when using any 200mm focal length lens for closeups is the more evenly distributed lighting that the subject receives when using flash. The lens’ longer working distance mitigates inverse square law light fall-off. A strobe can be applied with more natural results and there’s less background light fall-off.
In closeup work, flash will often be needed to permit the use of small (f/11-16) apertures to assure adequate depth-of-field at an acceptable exposure duration. Also—closeup subjects may require flash fill to reduce excessive contrast, or to produce catchlights, or to enhance modeling.
It is seldom viable, when working close, to mount a strobe in the camera’s hot shoe. That position is too low, does not offer the needed 15-30 tilt for beam aiming, and is off-axis in vertical aspect. Add one of our flash brackets for more effective flash placement. More than one off-camera remote strobe may be necessary to lighten a dark background, or to provide rimlight, or backlight, on the subject; to accomplish this, add a second flash mount to your flash bracket.