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Much has been written on the topic of Macro photography for those photographers fortunate enough to own a DSLR with macro lenses – but what about if you own a compact point and shoot camera? Can you get great macro shots too?
While the results achievable with a point and shoot camera in macro mode probably won’t compare with a DSLR with a purpose built macro lens I’ve still seen some remarkably good shots with compact cameras (all three shots in this post were taken with compact cameras). Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of yours:
Select Macro Mode – this is a fairly obvious first step but I’m always surprised by how many digital camera owners haven’t explored the shooting modes that their camera has. Macro mode is generally symbolized with a little flower and when selected it will tell your camera that you want to focus on a subject closer to your lens than normal (the minimum distance allowed will vary from camera to camera – consult your instruction manual to find yours). Macro mode will also usually tell your camera to choose a large aperture so that your subject is in focus but the background is not.
Use a Tripod – in macro photography a tripod can be particularly useful, even if you’re just shooting with a compact camera. Keeping your camera still not only improves your shots (getting rid of camera shake) but it allows you to play around with different settings without losing your composition.
Aperture – once in macro mode some cameras will not allow you to make many other adjustments but if you are able to play with your aperture settings it can be well worthwhile to do so. As we’ve covered in our Aperture tutorials, the main thing that aperture impacts is the depth of field of your shots. Choose a small aperture (big number) if you want a large depth of field with everything in focus or a large aperture if you just want your main subject in focus. In macro photography you’ll probably want a shallow depth of field so select the largest aperture available.
Focusing – I find that in macro photography it is helpful to have full control over focusing – especially when you have shallow depth of fields where it is all the more important to make sure the right part of your shot is in focus. If your camera allows manual focusing select this option and manually focus on the part of our subject that is the main point of interest.
Composition – remember some of the basic rules of composition like the Rule of Thirds. Make sure your image has a main point of interest and place that focal point in a smart position in your image in order to draw the eye of your viewer. Try to select a non cluttered or simple background for your main subject so as it doesn’t compete with it visually.
Flash – in many macro shots having some artificial light is important. The challenge with compact cameras is that most give you limited control of your flash. As a result choosing a good time of day when there is plenty of available light is probably your best bet. If you do need more light check to see if your camera allows you to pull back the level that your flash fires at. Alternatively you might like to try diffusing it in some way (tissue paper or cellotape over the flash for example). Another option might be to use some other source of artificial light or to invest in a reflector to help make the most of available light. Experiment with different methods of lighting your subject.
Take Your Shot – once you have your shot lined up and in focus take your shot. Make sure once you’ve taken it to take a good look at it on your LCD, zooming in to make sure that your focusing is sharp. Try shooting at slightly different apertures, with different compositions and focusing on different points of your subject to see what works best.
Macro Lens Attachments – some compact cameras actually have accessories available to help with macro/close up photography. These will enable you to enlarge your subject and/or decrease your minimum focal length. These might be worth investing in if you intend on doing a lot of macro work.
Self Timer – (this point was added as a result of comments below – thanks team!) when using my DSLR for Macro work I tend to use a shutter cable release and tripod to make sure my shots are completely still (to eliminate the small amount of camera shake from pressing the shutter). Most compact cameras don’t have cable releases but a simple way around this is to use your camera’s self timer on it’s shortest time setting which will similarly mean you have no movement of your camera when taking your shot (if you’re taking notice of the ‘use a tripod’ tip above).
PS: I’ve used the term ‘macro photography fairly loosely here. Technically ‘macro photography’ is actually when you produce an image where your subject is captured on your image sensor at life size (or bigger) with a 1:1 ratio.
In the case of most (all?) compact cameras this is not achieved and in fact ‘close up’ photography would be a better description. However as most manufacturers call their close up mode ‘macro mode’ I’ve used the term for the purposes of this article.