Cheap and easy macro photography

Buttercup
Buttercup

Many web sources tell you that macro photography is difficult and/or expensive. They tell you that you will need to manually focus and use a tripod at all times, and if you do not want distorted images, you need to use an expensive macro lens.

If you want to dabble cheaply in close-up photography without having to jump through any technical hoops, I find that a 50mm prime lens (that every photographer has, right?) fitted with a x10 macro lens works wonders.

For example, the shot above was taken on a windowsill in semi shade using no additional lighting, via a hand held camera that was able to auto focus.   For the shot, I used a Sony Alpha A200, Sony SAL-50F18 SAM 50mm lens, extended with an inexpensive 55mm Opteka x10 macro diopeter (fitted to the main lens using a 49-55mm adapter).

Camera Settings ISO200, f/6.3, shutter priority mode (aperture priority is usually used in macro photography but bearing in mind I’m using hand-held rather than a tripod, I wanted to avoid shake), exposure +0.3 (to avoid the glass appearing too dark/grey).

No post production at all (other than converting the original RAW image to JPEG in Lightroom).  Really pleased with how the neutral background pops the yellow out.

Per pixel detail below for the pixel peepers. Most of the blur is due to being hand held. As I was less than 1/80s on shutter I can fix this blur by slight sharpening, but did not to present an unedited image.

Buttercup, 1:1 detail
Buttercup, 1:1 detail

Update July2010: As some retailers of the Opteka seem to be linking to this blog entry (and because I’ve recently been experimenting with faking high end product lighting using HDR photography), here’s some detailed images of the kit I’m using for the above shot.

Opteka x10 Macro lens and accessories
Opteka x10 Macro lens and accessories

The image above shows what you get with the Opteka x10 macro – the lens, a pouch and a lint free cleaning cloth. Note that the non-branded versions that you will find all over eBay are not as good (in fact, they’re useless!).

Opteka x10 Macro attached to my prime lens
Opteka x10 Macro attached to my prime lens

Here’s the prime with the x10 macro attached via the step up ring.

Update August 2010: I’ve updated my macro kit and describe it in a new post.

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Bleeding heart

Bleeding heart
Dicentra spectabilis

This shot was taken using the Sony DT 18-250mm, one of the now ubiqutious ‘super zooms’.  I set the zoom to close to the maximum (250mm). The lens is a bit soft at that setting, but gotta love the smooth background blur.

The Bride 2

The Bride
Exochorda x macrantha

‘The Bride’

Exochorda x macrantha, 2 of 2.

Funny how technically inferior images can sometimes be the most dramatic. See the previous post for a technically superior but – in my opinion – more boring image of the same plant.

You can use a Lensbaby (which allows you creative control of the depth of field) to get this sort of dreamy effect.  You can also do it with a masked blur in Photoshop. I perfer to use a macro diopeter attached to a long lens (Sony 18-250 zoom set to 200).  See also previous entry here for a similar effect.