Today’s point-and-shoot cameras provide an amazing range of image-making options, but most casual shooters never explore most of the creative possibilities available to them. The first (and most obvious) step in becoming a good macro photographer is to select Macro Mode from the list of creative options. The universal macro icon is a flower and this icon often appears on the compass switch (also called the control pad). Simply press the icon (or select Macro Mode from the menu) and your camera is ready for close-up shooting.
A little DIY
I rarely use flash in my close-up photography, but there are scenarios that call for a little additional lighting. Point-and-shoot cameras generally feature built-in flashes, but those small fixed position flash units cause more problems than they solve. The light from these flash units, up close, is harsh (creating burnt out areas and hot spots) and often uneven (due to flash placement) creating unnatural looking and illogical lighting. However P&S flash units can be used to provide more natural looking and even illumination with a little low tech innovation. Cut a small square piece of white paper towel that is marginally larger than your unit’s flash head. Attach a small strip of double stick transparent tape to your square of paper towel and stick it over the flash head. You now have a diffused flash that will provide more attractive and natural looking illumination with no hot spots and no directionality.
Now it’s time to learn how to compose a macro shot. This works best with a static subject, like a single flower. Make sure your shooting position provides the most dramatic aspect on your subject. Hold the camera as steadily as you can while shooting and if your camera provides Image Stabilization select “shoot only” IS. Frame your shot the way you want it to appear and move in close – once you have your shot set up just the way you want it and everything is in focus, press the shutter button. Move inside or to a shady area and review your image on the LCD, zooming in to make sure that it is sharply focused.
Is the image too dark or too light? If so access the exposure compensation function and dial in one incremental step of minus exposure compensation if your image is too light with burnt out details and faded colors or dial in one incremental step of plus exposure compensation if your image is too dark with blocked up shadows and dense colors. Go back to your subject and try it again. Be ruthless in your critical assessment of your images and take several pictures to insure you get a keeper.
Now you’re ready to try something more challenging. This part is pretty easy – any group of flowers will attract bees and bees are too busy collecting nectar to worry about macro shooters – so you can get very close. Move in as close as you can and focus on one or two flowers and wait for the bee to come to you. Remember to make sure that clutter in the background doesn’t rob your primary subject of attention. Butterflies are almost as easy as bees. Move in slowly and keep your camera on the same level as the butterfly. Butterflies are very wary of shadows, especially those coming from above them.
If you have no interest in bugs and flowers close-up/macro photography with your point-and-shoot can still be very rewarding. Learning to utilize your camera effectively at close quarters will also allow you to take very good auction pictures for e-bay, get super tight portraits of your kids, capture those hilarious faces your dog makes, and share your new tattoo with your friends on Facebook.
The key to making good macro photographs is to get in close with your camera. Once you are comfortable with the idea of isolating your subject from the larger environment you’ll start capturing great close-up shots of hundreds of different subjects and you won’t have to spend two grand on a basic macro photography kit. Not yet, anyway.
Good Luck and good shooting.
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