Depth of Field (DOF) is defined as the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in a scene that appear acceptably sharp in an image (wikipedia).
For normal, everyday shots (say portraits), having a shallow DOF can really blur out the background of a shot, producing some wonderful bokeh that everyone loves. This will greatly “separate” the subject from the background, thus making your subject pop out.
However, as discussed in a recent article How To Shoot Macro For Beginners, the thinness of DoF becomes greatly intensified when your subjects are magnified, even when you are using Aperture values of up to F16-F22- A problem that a Macro Photographer has to deal with in order to take better shots. This article will emphasize three ways on how you could do that, read on to find out more!
1. Shoot from a greater distance and then crop the photo.
This technique is still one of the best method to get a clear and sharp shot which minimizes out-of-focus (OOF) areas, especially when you are shooting outdoors handheld. However, do take note that the effect may not be that noticeable if you are using a short, non-macro prime lens.
Most people (especially beginners) may be too engrossed with taking highly magnified shots that they tend to always shoot at the maximum magnification their cameras allow. This is very normal, I used to shoot like that as well to be honest 😛 This is because we thought that by shooting at maximum magnification we would be able to capture as much detail as we can, which is of course, incorrect. On the contrary, the higher your magnification, the shallower the DoF, and thus the higher the amount of OOF areas. In short, for a Macro photo, the closer you get, the lesser the actual, effective details.
Here are some examples which will hopefully make things easier to understand:
Cropping may be easy and fun to use, but usually you don’t want to crop that much so as to retain details and resolution, especially so if you intend to develop the photo- there should be a balance between your shooting distance and how much you crop, depending on the final result intended.
2. Shoot from a suitable angle.
There are many factors which determine the quality of a macro shot, and composition is one of the most important. In this context, we will focus more on compositions that will let you get the most DoF out of your subjects.
Depending on the subject, the angle you are shooting from will determine whether you would be able to get it in focus or not. Let us take a look at our blowfly friend again, if you are photographing at around 45 degrees left from the front, all you are going to get is a sharp “face” of the fly; but the body will eventually fade out-of-focus, leading to a poor shot. This is because the camera, with its shallow DoF, could only capture the front end of the fly when shot at said angle. Example below:
The solution to this is actually quite simple- you just switch your shooting angle. Try shooting from the top, sides or directly from the front (or back) instead; that way, the subject will be more in focus. Again, here are some examples for you:
Of course, these are merely three of the angles you can use. There are plenty more that you can try out depending on your subject, so get creative!
3. Focus Stack.
Unfortunately, the two methods above are not quite capable of covering all your macro shooting needs. What happens if you need to:
i) Take a photo of a large subject and yet keep it in focus throughout? (You could remove your Reverse ring/ Extension Tubes/ Macro Conversion lens, take a shot and then crop; but that’s cheating :p)
ii) Take a sharp photo at high magnifications and yet keep it in focus? This is usually required if you are taking shots of very tiny subjects, or you simply intend to photograph a particular body part of a subject e.g. eyes etc.
Times like this, focus stacking will become a very valuable technique. This method basically involves taking multiple photos, each focused at a different parts of the subject, and stitch them up during post-processing (using computers) so that you will get everything clear and in focus. For example, if you are taking a photo of a large fly, and are allowed to take only one photo, you could only focus on either the head, body or legs but not all three of them. This may seem like a big problem during the film days if you want to get a sharp-throughout shot; however, with everything digitalized now, you could simply take three exposures- one focus on the head, one on the body, and one of the legs- then “merge” them all up using Photoshop, or other stitching software, simple as that 🙂 Learn more about Focus Stacking here: Using Focus Stack to Overcome Shallow Depth-of-Field (DOF).
Well, that’s it for this short article! I hope you would be able to improve your skills after reading this article! I really apologize for using an “ugly” blowfly as examples in this particular article haha. They are pretty easy to find and shoot, compared to other insects or arachnids, so I hope you understand 🙂 Anyway, these are merely some guidelines on how you should take your macro photos, at the end of the day it still depends on you to let your creativity fly and take stunning macro shots!
Before I go, I would like to share a few more colorful macro shots of my own using some of the methods mentioned above 😀
Okay, got to go now guys, thanks again for reading!
Take care and have a great day ahead!
** All photos in this website are taken and owned by me. The use of any photos here is not allowed without my permission.
** No flies were harmed during the preparation of this article 🙂