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Taking a Closer Look at Macro Photography

Being a landscape photographer, I find my wide angle lens and sweeping landscapes take up the majority of my creativity, but I recently found myself tagging along on my boyfriend’s week-long macro photography workshop in the San Juan/Uncompaghre National Forests of southern Colorado, and I couldn’t resist taking a stab.

Let’s start at the beginning: what is the difference between taking a close-up image and macro image? Close-up photography is using a wide or telephoto lens close enough to the subject so it fills the frame. Macro, on the other hand, is the use of a specific lens to capture the fine details of a subject and has a 1:1 magnification, which makes your subject larger in the frame. Usually, we think of looking at a magnified bug’s eye or the cellular make-up of a leaf when we think of macro, but it’s so much more. And you should be using it in your landscape and nature photography!

Chickasaw National Recreation Area/Olympus EM1X, Olympus 60mm macro 2.8, f/3.5, 1/5000/sec, ISO 640/By Sandra Ramos

How Does One Choose a Macro Lens?
To do this right, you need a lens that is specific for macro photography. The lens manufacturer will either have macro or micro written on the lens, or you can look for lenses that have a 1:1 magnification ratio. Next, consider what focal length would be most advantageous for what you’re shooting. Since most macro lenses are prime lenses, you’re looking at a fixed focal length. I prefer the longer focal length lenses (150-200mm range), since the depth of field is much more to my liking (see bokeh below), with a super blurry background and sharpness, while not on top of my subject.

Uncompaghre National Forest/Nikon Z7, Sigma 150mm macro 2.8 – f/4, manual focus, 1/500 sec, ISO 640/By Sandra Ramos

Macro lenses aren’t one trick ponies; they can also be used for other shots as well! Since the best ones will be fixed focal lengths or prime lenses, they are usually gorgeous for portraits.

Uncompaghre National Forest/Nikon Z7, Irix 180mm macro 2.8 – f/4.5, manual focus, 1/400 sec, ISO 640/By Sandra Ramos

Making the Subject Stand Out
Since you’ll be at close range with your subject, don’t forget about your background! Creating an image with interest requires a clear subject that stands out. It can be as simple as finding an angle with a flat or blank background, or as tricky as a perfectly silky bokeh. 

Pronounced “BO-kah” or “BOKE,” not “bo-KAY,” bokeh comes from the Japanese language, and translates as “blur.” It is all those pretty background circles or beautiful blurs that perfectly separate your subject from the background. The better the blur effect (the absolute least amount of detail), the better your bokeh. A good bokeh pleases our eyes and our perception of the image and therefore, the background blur should appear soft and “creamy,” with smooth round circles of light and no hard edges.

In the first image below, I shot the flower from just below eye level to get the blank sky as my background. The second shot was from above with the dirt and grass as the background, blurry enough to where you can’t make out what the background is. Both shots make the subject stand out in the photo.

San Juan National Forest/Nikon Z7, Sigma 150mm macro 2.8 – f/16, manual focus, 1/250 sec, ISO 800/By Sandra Ramos

San Juan National Forest/Nikon Z7, Sigma 150mm macro 2.8 – f/11, manual focus, 1/400 sec, ISO 800/Photo by Sandra Ramos

As you approach macro photography, think about your subject and how far away it is, create a background that accentuates your subject, and play around with the composition to create that perfect image.

Hopefully this gives you some inspiration to try something new with your photography. Our public lands have such great diversity, we should remember to stop and pay attention to the details. Now, get out there and appreciate the small things in life—and practice your macro photography!

Nikon Z7, Sigma 150mm macro 2.8 – f/5, manual focus, 1/250 sec, ISO 100/By Sandra Ramos

Other Resources:

Intro to Macro Photography and Macro Lenses: How to Choose One and How to Use It

Header photo: By Sandra Ramos

Sandra Ramos is an avid roadtripper, seeker, history nerd, photographer, and photo educator who enjoys telling the stories of our national park sites. She began her photography journey documenting her political career, which blossomed into a passion for photographic storytelling of national parks. When not traveling, she enjoys teaching photography and technology classes. #IBrakeforBrownSigns.

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