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Macro photography tips from Jackie Ranken

A landscape photographer and Canon Master with decades of experience, Jackie Ranken runs the Queenstown Centre for Creative Photography and in particular, her photo safaris provide her with the perfect opportunity to shoot the world in close-up and she shares her secrets to shooting macro in this creative photography tutorial.

What is macro photography?

Macro photography refers to extreme close-up photography, usually of very small subjects where they are depicted in the image as greater than life size. To achieve the best results in macro photography, it is important to use the smallest lens aperture to gain optimum image sharpness and depth of field. Evidently, a macro lens is highly recommended for this type of photography.

The great thing about macro photography is you have to experiment, explore and find inspiration from the act of doing, because it gives you a different way of seeing.

1. Getting closer to your subject means your depth of field is going to get very small

So your aperture is going to be of major importance. If you have a very small aperture then you'll have a bigger depth of field and vice versa. All the different alternatives in between are definitely worth exploring.

2. If you don't have a macro lens you can turn your standard lens around

While your normal lens makes the big world small, when you turn your lens around on your DSLR body, it makes what's small big. And it works. Use manual focus for control, turn the stabilizer off and then hold it on the front to get a sense of where it needs to be at. Then it's a matter of simply taping it on. Make sure the tape is a nice, good quality, sticky stuff. 

3. If your subject is moving, use a faster shutter speed but keep your subject still

Use a tripod to minimise your camera shake or change your ISO, which is the sensitivity of the sensor to light. The higher you make your ISO, the faster your shutter speed can be. Another way to minimise camera shake is to use a cable release, which stops you pressing on the camera, which creates a little bit of blur. If you don't have a cable release, use a two or 10 second timer. Then that delay means by the time you've clicked, the camera will settle down and will make the exposure after two seconds.

4. Consider a polariser to get rid of glare from surfaces or flare

Glare can be distracting in your image. If you're using a piece of glass or the like to put drops on, and having issues with shine, a circular polariser is very handy. Live view is also handy as it shows you what you're going to get before you shoot. Your hands are off the camera, you can press the depth of preview button, which allows you to see that aperture change. As you press your finger on this button and hold it down, the camera will then close down the aperture or open up to whatever you're going to shoot at. You're able to see how much it's going to stay sharp, before you make the picture.

Find something that excites you and then go for it. Ideas come from anywhere: magazines, art galleries, or the impressionists.

The most important thing is to just experiment and have fun with macro photography.