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macro

Whether you’re starting out with macro or wanting to improve your efforts, there are plenty of ways your Pentax DSLR can help

What is Macro?

If you’re new to macro photography you’re about to see the world in a whole different way. Macro offers a highly magnified way of shooting that gets you closer to the subject than ever before, filling the frame with tiny subjects, and revealing textures and details that are invisible to the naked eye. But while most compacts and bridge cameras offer macro settings, it’s only when you start shooting macro with your DSLR that you’ll discover the clearest views of minute subjects. The larger sensor of a DSLR helps to record more detail, producing higher quality results and letting you truly appreciate this unseen world, while interchangeable lenses mean that you can adapt your shooting style to the subject.

What can I shoot?

When picking macro subjects you can shoot almost anything you like, because even large subjects, which you might think unsuitable, will offer amazing details in close-up. And while the core macro subjects tend to be nature shots of insects or flowers, there’s loads more to investigate: the tiny, machined details of man-made objects, like jewellery or coins, or even more abstract still-life compositions like soap bubbles. You can even shoot old negatives and slides. Whatever you choose, the tips in this guide will help you achieve better exposure and focus on them as well as revealing new ways to arrange and compose your subject.

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what do I need to shoot macro?

There’s no avoiding the fact that you need the right gear to shoot macro. Without, it’s impossible. And while a lot of telephoto zoom lenses claim to feature a macro function to achieve true macro on a DSLR, they’re really just close-up; for ‘true’ macro a dedicated lens is needed. Many smartphones and compact cameras also claim a macro function, but there’s a downside to these, too and it comes in terms of image quality. It’s only with the large sensor of a DSLR that you’ll get all the detail you’re after. Make sure you’re shooting in Raw mode, or High Quality JPEG, via the menu.

  • close-up
  • true macro

What is true macro?

There’s a clear distinction between ‘true’ macro pics and other close-up shots, and it all comes down to the size at which the subject is reproduced on the camera’s sensor. For true macro results, at least a 1:1 reproduction ratio must be achieved, meaning whatever you’re shooting is reproduced on the camera’s sensor at life-size – as though you were physically placing it there. That’s where the amazing detail comes from. Many lenses and cameras which claim a macro function, like compacts or some telephoto zooms, actually only have a 1:2 or 1:3 reproduction ratio, so while you’re getting a close-up view, it’s not true macro.

  • 35mm
  • 50mm
  • 100mm

Which Pentax Macro lens is for me?

There are three macro lenses in the Pentax range, each offering a different close-up application; the DA 35mm F2.8 Macro has the widest view, followed by the D-FA 50mm F2.8 Macro and finally the D-FA 100mm F2.8 WR Macro. Which you pick depends on the subject and how far you’re shooting from. So, while the 35mm and 50mm lenses are great for still life, if you’re shooting something skittish like a butterfly, the extra distance of the 100mm comes in handy. The latter also has Pentax’s weather-resistant sealing, making it the perfect partner to similarly specified Pentax DSLRs.

  • without flash
  • with off-camera flash
  • with on-camera flash

What other kit for macro?

Many photographers use flash in their macro shots – and when the scene is too dark, you’ll often notice the flash symbol on the camera blinking, as it suggests you need to add more light. But when you’re focusing very close to the lens, the on-camera or pop-up flash is less useful as it can be blocked by the macro lens itself, creating a shadow. So, you need to either fire the flash off-camera, which you can do wirelessly using one or more flashguns like the AF360 FGZ II, allowing you to add light from wherever you like; or use a ringflash, like the Pentax AF160FC Auto where the flash bulb sits around the lens, so that the light isn’t blocked.

  • auto mode
  • program mode
  • av mode

What mode for macro shooting?

Many great macro shots have just one part of the subject held in sharp focus. Sometimes, the whole subject is sharp, but the background is blurred. And sometimes the entire scene is sharp, front to back. Either can work depending on the subject, but to achieve this you need to take control of depth-of-field, which you can do more easily on a DSLR than on a compact or camera phone. Shooting in aperture-priority (Av), you can dial in a low f/number for lots of blur or a high one for more sharpness. In comparison, Program (P) or Auto (Green) mode offers much less control.

What aperture settings for macro?

Almost all macro lenses have large maximum apertures, like f/2.8, and shooting at these very wide settings is normally the key to a shallow depth-of-field. But when focusing very close to the lens, the effect is exaggerated and the depth-of-field becomes even more shallow. So, if you’re shooting at f/2.8, for example, you may only have a couple of millimetres of sharpness to work with. That’s fine if you want to isolate the finest details and have lots of blur, but it can mean a lot of the subject gets lost. If you want more to be in focus you’ll need to close the aperture, for example to f/11, f/16 or even f/22.

  • 1/2sec handheld
  • 1/2sec on tripod
  • 1/2sec tripod + timer
  • 1/2sec tripod + timer + Pixel shift resolution

How do I keep macro pics sharp?

When shooting in aperture-priority mode, the shutter speed will automatically compensate for changes you make to the aperture. As you close the aperture you increase the achievable depth-of-field, but the shutter speed will fall, unless you increase ISO, which risks lowering the quality. Because many still lifes are shot indoors in dim conditions, this can lead to shutter speeds that are too long to shoot with the camera handheld. So if you can, shoot from a tripod, choosing the self-timer from the Drive modes. On the K-3 II you can also use Pixel Shift Resolution mode for even higher quality.

How do I increase the shutter speed?

When shooting in aperture-priority mode, the shutter speed will automatically compensate for changes you make to the aperture. As you close the aperture you increase the achievable depth-of-field, but the shutter speed will fall, unless you increase ISO, which risks lowering the quality. Because many still lifes are shot indoors in dim conditions, this can lead to shutter speeds that are too long to shoot with the camera handheld. So if you can, shoot from a tripod, choosing the self-timer from the Drive modes. On the K-3 II you can also use Pixel Shift Resolution mode for even higher quality.

How much should I Increase the ISO?

When increasing the ISO sensitivity, it’s always a balance between getting a faster shutter speed and increasing digital noise in the image. Digital noise is interference that accumulates as you increase the sensor’s receptiveness to light in the scene, much like turning up a poor radio signal and hearing more amplified ‘hiss’. How much you raise the ISO sensitivity depends on how fast you need the shutter speed to be to freeze movement, but a little extra grain in the picture is better than a shot ruined by blur. Remember to set High ISO NR to On in the Info menu to combat grain.

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What focusing mode for macro shots?

Macro is all about the fine details, so you need to get your focus perfect. So, what’s the best way to focus in macro? Well, although we’re all used to relying on autofocus for many subjects, like landscapes or portraits, for macro the best results are achieved using manual focus. This is because, through the viewfinder, autofocus is limited to certain parts of the frame, and even in Live View mode, where the focus point can be moved in finer increments it’s not as accurate as manual. Being able to manually focus also helps you avoid having to reposition the subject you’ve composed, just to get it sharp.

how do I use manual focus?

Switch the focus to manual, using the AF/MF switch on the camera and you’re in complete control, but there are features on your Pentax DSLR that make manual focusing much easier. One of them is Live View. With your DSLR on a tripod turn on Live View then press the OK button and use the four-way controller and rear E-dial to zoom in on the part of the subject where you want to focus. You’ll now find it much easier to focus manually than when doing it through the viewfinder. Another great aspect of Live View is the Highlight Alert mode, which gives you a preview of areas that are overexposed in the picture.

how do i use focus peaking mode?

Another trick you can use to ensure perfectly sharp details is Focus Peaking. This is a feature on Pentax DSLRs that, when composing via the screen, adds a highlight to the areas that are in focus. It’s most useful when shooting with the camera on a tripod. To turn Focus Peaking on, go into the Main menu and find the Live View options in section 3. With Focus Peaking turned on, as you use the focusing ring, the overlaid highlight on the Live View image will increase or decrease as the subject moves in and out of focus. When the right part is highlighted, it’s time to shoot.

  • first focus on subject
  • Then recompose & shoot

Can I focus macro shots handheld?

Another trick you can use to ensure perfectly sharp details is Focus Peaking. This is a feature on Pentax DSLRs that, when composing via the screen, adds a highlight to the areas that are in focus. It’s most useful when shooting with the camera on a tripod. To turn Focus Peaking on, go into the Main menu and find the Live View options in section 3. With Focus Peaking turned on, as you use the focusing ring, the overlaid highlight on the Live View image will increase or decrease as the subject moves in and out of focus. When the right part is highlighted, it’s time to shoot.

  • focus far point
  • focus middle point
  • focus close point
  • focus stacked image

how else can I keep pictures sharp?

No matter what aperture settings you use, and where you focus in the scene, sometimes you won’t be able to get as much of the subject sharp as you want in just one shot. That’s where focus stacking comes in. Focus stacking is a technique where you use your DSLR to take several frames, each one sharply focused at a different point on the subject, then combine the results later. It’s vital you use a tripod for this, and you can use the Select Focus mode and move the point through the image to get the sharpness. Images are then combined in software like Adobe Photoshop.

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how do i improve macro composition?

With the right kit, and the knowledge of how to expose and focus, all that’s left is composition. And in macro, one of the most important compositional aspects is attention to detail. With the subject highly magnified, it’s very important to make sure that it’s clean and uncluttered, so before shooting a flower, for example, use small scissors or tweezers to remove stray foliage; left unattended, these will stick out like a sore thumb. On still lifes, try removing dust and hairs with an air blower or compressed air spray because even an eyelash can look like a tree trunk when magnified.

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What background for my macro shot?

The background to your subject is an important concern; no matter what aperture you’re shooting at, it will likely be defocused in a macro shot, but if there’s too much contrast or conflicting colour in that area, it can be distracting and draw attention away from the subject. If you have a difficult backdrop, recompose so that the subject is larger in the frame, or shift your shooting position slightly until the background is more even. You can also use your own backgrounds for macro subjects; small sheets of coloured paper or tiles make great studio style backdrops.

  • show grid
  • hide grid

how can live view help composition?

Your DSLR’s Live View mode has lots of ways to make composing macro images easier. When framing, you can use a variety of overlays to check the balance of your composition. There are three to choose from, as well as the option to turn the grid off. Use the Rule of Thirds grid, and you’ll find more pleasing compositions by placing the focal point where the lines intersect. To turn on the grid displays, hit the Menu button, and in Shooting menu 3, under Live View, find the Grid Display option. The K-3, K-3 II and K-S2 also allow you to use different focusing screens in the optical viewfinder.

  • before COMPOSITION ADJUSTMENT
  • after COMPOSITION ADJUSTMENT

how do I use composition adjust?

Minor adjustments to your composition can be difficult in macro, often involving moving the whole camera or disturbing the subject. But not with Composition Adjust on the K-3 II, which physically moves the sensor, so you can nudge the view up, down, left, right or even tilt it for some fine-tuning. To turn on the Composition Adjust feature, hit the Menu button and in Shooting menu 3, under Live View, find the option and switch it on. Now, when you enter Live View, you can use the four-way controller to nudge the view, or angle it with the rear E-dial. When you’re done, just hit OK.

  • low angle
  • high angle

how else can i use live view for macro?

Some subjects, particularly very small ones – be they toys, small flowers or even tiny animals – are difficult to frame, even when shooting macro. Being small, they’re closer to their surroundings, so tricky to isolate, even with the shallow depth-of-field that macro brings. Shoot them from ground level though and you’ll get a better and more interesting view, and because the background is now further away, you’ll find it easier to keep them sharp while the background blurs. You can shoot at ground level without a tripod, and the K-S2’s flip-out screen means no lying in the muck.

congratulations

you’re now a Pentax macro photography expert!

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