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Macro photography

Macro photography - Ben Boswell shows you how you don't have to spend huge amounts of money to get great macro results.

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Words and images by Ben Boswell.

Much of the equipment on the market today has a facility for Macro photography and some of it is very good. However some of it isn’t and some of it does not really deliver what I would call ‘Macro Photography’, it just gets a bit closer. For anyone who would like to do some really interesting close-up work there are ways that will not break the bank! Some of the photos illustrating this piece were taken on film, using a Holga 135BC and a variety of Magnifying glasses that I found around the house; my total outlay including the camera was well under £50! (Details of the particular challenges of doing this with a toy camera are available in a fact sheet.)

Poppy taken with a Holga 135BC and Portra 800

This is not specifically about travel and holidays, but there are often great opportunities to do macro work when travelling: exotic flowers and animals or even the food in your hotel, what better way to remember new experiences? Try this as home before you go away though, you may need to tweak the technique to suit the equipment you have available. The minimal gear requirement means that you can travel prepared and start looking for beautiful things to photograph.

I will not advocate that you ditch your digital cameras and buy a Holga, unless you want to of course. This will work for a range of different cameras, but you do need to have a camera with a lens that does not retract into the body. DO NOT TRY THIS WITH A RETRACTING LENS! My preference is for a standard lens, but I have used a short zoom successfully. Round up as many magnifying glasses as you can find, these should be as big as the front of the lens if possible, though if they are slightly smaller all that will happen is that the corners of your pictures will be cut off which you can crop. Different magnifying glasses will give different results so try a few until you find the one that does the best job. It is also easiest to use ones that don’t have handles. I have used a ‘linen tester’ and even a paperweight. The best results will be had with a tripod, but if there is plenty of light then you can manage without. You will also need some masking tape and a ruler.

Tool kit for macro work

To give yourself an idea of the distance at which your magnifying glass will focus, hold it close to your eye and then move towards a page of text. When the text is sharp that will also be the distance between the camera and the subject when you have fitted the magnifier. You may like to measure this distance since knowing roughly how close to get will help you to set the camera in the right position. Now position the magnifier against the filter mount of the lens and be very careful not to touch the lens surface with anything. If the magnifier is not big enough to reach across the filter mount, either find a bigger one or make a card frame with a hole in the middle to hold the glass surfaces apart. The magnifier should be centred carefully and then taped to the filter mount of the lens. If your filter mount rotates and the magnifier has a handle BE CAREFUL!

Marigold. Taken with a Holga 135BC and Portra 800.

Now go and find something to photograph. I find it best to switch to manual focus since the camera may struggle to ‘find focus’. The depth of field will be very shallow and typically the possible range will also be very limited. The requires a different approach to what you will be used to, moving the camera in and out rather than using the focus ring on the lens, but looking through the lens or at the screen is quite easy.

Poppy and Hoverfly. Taken with a Nikon D100/ 35/70 f3.5/4.5

Don’t expect to get every picture sharp! The slightest movement of the subject or the camera will also be magnified but the more you do the easier it gets. You are also likely to find things in your pictures that you didn’t know were there: in this picture the big beetle (which was about 3mm long) was plain to see but I had no idea there was another smaller one among the stamens.

Marigold. Taken with a Nikon D100/ 35/70 f3.5/4.5

Words and images by Ben Boswell.

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