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Help! Macro focusing

bertie1983 6 12 England
5 May 2012 7:58PM
Hi im pretty new to photography and am keen to get in to macro. I bought a canon 100mm macro lens but am struggling to focus it at 1:1 to get the dramatic bug images I want to take! I have taken some ok shots with the lens but as soon as I try the super close ups the camera just cant lock on to a focus point. I attempted to manually focus too but have never tried this before so was not very successful. Any tips would be very much appreciated!

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Niknut Plus
8 1.8k 76 United Kingdom
5 May 2012 8:14PM
I've been in this dilemma ?......but the method I've settled on is to focus manually, then rock backwards & forwards to pinpoint the exact area I want sharp !

I don't use a tripod, they're too cumbersome for me, but I've found a lightweight monopod makes for a steady camera, with the freedom to move as above !!

I've found that autofocus struggles to lock on the exact point I want it to !......which it won't do if the focal point is off to one side, to make a nice composition......

I'm sure other folks have their own varying methods, you need to persevere & find a working method that you're happy with, given time & plenty of practice........

Take plenty of shots (it's costs nothing, whether you take 2 or 200 !), then sort out the successful shots, & bin the rest !!!!

Hope that helps in some small way ?.....it's a great subject to get into, but it ain't easy....good luck....regards....Keith.Smile
Overread 9 4.1k 19 England
5 May 2012 8:16PM
The camera will generally fail at AF for macro work (the 7D improves upon this however as does the 5DMIII and 1DMIV however all others its mostly pointless to try).

Instead the best way is to focus manually and I can assure you that manual is the way most macro work is done. To focus manually for macro the best way is to:

1) Set the focus to the magnification you want. This can be a bit of trial and error so don't be afraid to change it if the situation needs it. Typically starting at 1:1 (ie the closest possible focusing distance) is a good ballpark point to begin with; though it will depend upon your subject size and what kind of shot you want.

2) Move yourself and the camera closer to the subject; then gently rock the camera back and forth until you've got the focus just where you want it.

3) Exhale; squeeze the shutter - get the shot. Note I say squeeze not press, you want to press the button as smoothly as possible to avoid shake and focus shifts.

It will take practice, you will need to work on lighting and posture and how you shoot as well as getting an idea of what different magnifications give you. However with practice it shouldn't take too long to get good at it.
AndyMurdo 12 36 7 United Kingdom
5 May 2012 11:59PM
Hi Bertie,
Not withstanding Overread's comments, I would recomend using a tripod and pre-focus as outlined by the afore mentioned (manual focusing is a must but it takes practice to master, you may find a green dot light up on you viewfinder display when you are in focus or magnify the live view image if you can to check you focus) you can get good shots by using a monopod but the success rate may well be lower, the big problem with macro is the shallow depth of field (limits of sharp focus in an image) which can be only a few mm at 1:1. Note: image stablisation has a very limited effect at this sort of magnification and is almost useless, so to narrow down the fine tuning of focus move your tripod slightly till your subject hits the sweet spot, which should be an insects eye's/antenna. also try to keep the plane of your cameras sensor parrallel to the axis of your subject to maximise that depth of field, you will also have to watch out that you do not cast your or you equipments shaddow over the subject. for even more control over focusing at high magnification using a tripod, a focusing rack like Velbon's Mag Focuser (I got mine from Amazon for about 75 but there are other makes about) which has a fine fore and aft as well as lateral adjustment, and sits between your tripod head and camera body and essential if you wish to use focus stacking methods, thats taking a number of images of equally spaced focal grading then combining them similar to the way you would with HDR but with a focus stacking program, but this is getting very advanced. macro is a very involved subject and I would rccomend looking up some of the tutorials available on this site that relate to the subject, Outdoor Photography magazine also had a good macro guide in last months edition (April 2012, backcopies are available). you could also practice your technique on flowers or better still static household items that won't fly off the moment you get near them (many insects can do this trick because the tend to have wrap around vision with those compound eyes, which are often suplimented with tiny simple eyes on the top of their heads!) the best time to get insects is at dawn after a cold night being as they are cold blooded and need to warm up before taking off but you are only likely to have a moment or two and that's if you can cope with dawn raids. Whatever practice makes perfect and even pro macro photographers can suffer from relatively low hit rates with this kind of photography. Good luck and
regards, Andy M
PS; if you do not already own a tripod, I would reccomend one that has multi angle legs with a centre column that can swing to the horizontal as well as having vertical adjustment, just so you can get nice and low like those from Manfrotto or Giottos etc; I tend to use a good ball head with this kind of set up, make sure it has a weight capacity in excess of your whole setup (body/lens/extras etc.) you will also need a remote release for your camera and on the subject of the latter use your mirror lock up just before shooting if you have one on your camera or live view if you don't to keep those camera vibrations to a minimum, If at this stage you just want to keep it simple you may just get away with a camara bean bag and a remote release. what ever you do,just take your time and enjoy it all. AM
GarethRobinson 11 1.0k 2 United Kingdom
6 May 2012 12:51AM
The rocking method works for me, af is not for serious macro work as you have found out, just keep trying it is very demanding but worth the effort.
hobbo Plus
7 1.2k 2 England
6 May 2012 4:29AM
The rocking back and forth very gently is my method too......also use a diffused flash and set your camera to f16 to f11 .....S160.

Adjust flash power according to ambient light.

Shooting an insect sideways on will help with the loss of depth of field when using a macro lens......it is good to learn about stacking macro shots too.

Have fun.

george-dan 9 31 England
6 May 2012 10:08AM
i have just seen your ladybird shot, i see you used f/2.8 ! you will have no dof with that you need to use something smaller and an iso of about 1000, its no easy.
bertie1983 6 12 England
6 May 2012 12:44PM
Thanks everyone your tips are much apreciated! Watch this space to see if I get the hang of it Smile
Snapster 6 141 England
6 May 2012 10:25PM
I'm in exactly the same position as bertie1983.
Thanks for the advice people, it's very useful.
Nephila 6 22
6 May 2012 11:04PM
Hi, not sure if this will help but I can usually get 1:1 shots with AF, you just have to get in as close as you can so that the camera can focus automatically, this prob won't be 1:1 but you then just have to edge forwards, pressing the shutter button to focus repeatedly until you get it to focus at 1:1. This technique works most of the time but is by no means foolproof, as already mentioned, if there is anything at an angle to your lens, the AF will get confused. I have managed to get some really sharp shots at 1:1 using this method and I prefer it to manual focusing as it's alot quicker and more accurate (think I may need more practics...). I have a Canon 550d and a canon 100mm L lens if this makes any difference.

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