How to take Amazing Close-ups: Using the Macro Feature
Lesson 8 Module 3
Did you know that your point-and-shoot camera can shoot amazing close-up's?If you've ever seen super-sharp detail shots of the inside of a flower or a dragonfly on a garden leaf, then you've seen a 'macro' photo. 'Macro' is just a fancy way of saying 'close-up' and many beginning photographers don't know that their basic point-and-shoot comes from the factory with a great macro feature built in already—you just need to know how to use it.
Sharp close-ups with the macro function
First, let's check if your camera has the 'macro' feature.
Look at the back of your camera and the little icons next to the buttons. If there's a little flower icon on there it means your camera has the macro feature. And even if you don't immediately see the flower, it's a good idea to skim the index of your camera's manual and see if you find macro in there—some cameras bury the macro function in the menus and you have to click through a few of them to get the macro turned on.
Basically when your camera is set to shoot macro photos it allows your lens to focus on objects that are only a few inches or centimeters away (instead of the normal setting where it focuses on things that are a few feet away). When the subject is only a few inches from the lens you don't even need to use the zoom (and in most cases the zoom doesn't work very well when the camera is set to 'macro').
With the subject so close to the lens it's easy to fill the frame and even the tiniest details are in very sharp focus. As an added bonus, most point-and-shoot cameras have a very shallow depth of field when the camera is on the macro setting. This means that the background will be blurry and only the part of the photo that the lens is focused on will be sharp.
Usually you need an expensive lens with a very wide aperture to get this effect (the more open the aperture, the shallower the depth of field). The macro function is an easy way for you to get pro-photo results with even a basic camera.
Let's look at a popular situation where you might use the macro function.
How to take amazing photos of food: The macro function in action
Want to make your friends at home drool over that amazing Penang curry you just ordered in Bangkok?
Try using your camera's macro function to bring out the detail of the dish. Most food photos you've seen probably made a five-star filet mignon look like a $4 rump roast—what happened?
Very likely the dish was shot from directly above with the flash on. This flattens the details and textures of the chef's masterpiece and makes everything look like it just came out of your high school cafeteria.
HOW TO FIX THIS:
If possible, move your dish near a window, lamp or other light source that's not coming directly from the ceiling. Use this sideways light to emphasize the texture and shadows of your dish. Set your camera to the macro function and set it up so the lens is level with the dish or at a slight angle.
Choose an accent like the garnish or other eye-catching part of the plate to focus on. Using the macro function, the lens will have a very shallow depth of field that will blur out the distracting background (be sure to turn the flash off and use the aperture / ISO settings to get a good exposure using the natural light). You can try an overhead shot to see if it works with your particular dish—usually this overhead angle works best with food photos like a large platter of fish, fruit, or other large items.
Experiment with a few different camera angles, using the shallow depth of field from the macro setting to emphasize or de-emphasize different focal points on you plate. Just don't shoot too long because people will start to think you're weird and your food will be getting cold!
One huge difference between the pros and everyone else is that they know how to control their camera flash in a range of different situations.
And even though the little flash on your point-and-shoot doesn't put out much juice, knowing how (and when) to turn it off or on will help you get the most out of your camera.
The good news is that this isn't so hard to do, and we'll cover the basics in the next lesson.