The How Zone

Point and Shoot Macros

Magnification and Aperture

Nikon 4500 Normal Salt MacroNikon 4500 w/25mm Salt Macro

Nikon 4500 Normal Macro and with 25mm Eyepiece
(click each for larger version)

To provide a better perspective of the varying magnification levels here are two shots taken with a Nikon 4500. The one on the left is using the built in macro capabilities to photograph granules of salt scattered on a piece of stained wood. The shot on the right is with the 25mm eyepiece attached.

There is another component to your macro shot’s outcome that isn’t always obvious: aperture. If your camera is in automatic mode it will decide what aperture and shutter speed to use based on the available light. Your camera might have the option of manually setting the aperture (look for an A or Av mode). This can be very handy although it requires more messing around and experimentation.

When using a camera, a smaller aperture value (i.e. 2.8, 4.0, 5.6) lets more light in. The more light you let into the camera, the quicker you can take the picture (digital pictures need to be exposed just like film). The downside is that less of the picture will be in focus.

This can be useful for portraits and other, less zoomed in shots. It makes your subject stand out while objects in the background get blurred and aren’t as distractiing.

Side Shot of Strawberry
Side Shot of Strawberry
(click for larger version)

On the other hand when you are taking a macro shot you usually want as much focus you can get. To do this close the aperture down (larger numbers like f/11, f/16, etc.). The more you close the aperture down the deeper the field of focus, but also the less light that is getting in. To compensate for less light, the shutter must stay open even longer.

Closing down the aperture is ideal for taking a photo of flower pollen on a bright sunny day without any wind. Under less light or with moving objects, the subject might end up out of focus.

Adjust the aperture based on how much of the photo you want in focus and how steady you can hold the equipment or how still the subject is. There’s not much you can do with a moving subject other than increase the amount of light and/or open the aperture.

By the way, what you see in your camera screen isn’t necessarily what you will get in the final photo, especially if you are adjusting aperture. Typically the viewfinder shows what the subject looks like with the aperture wide open.

Unless you have an extremely well lit subject the camera is going open the shutter for a long time, seconds even. This doesn’t seem like much, but it is plenty of time for small movements to cause a blurry photo. For macros a tripod is your best friend. Setting the camera on a beanbag is another option. Whatever you use you’ll want to use the camera’s self-timer (usually buried in the menus), which let’s you prepare the camera, push the shutter, and then back away to let things settle until the camera times out and takes the shot.

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