Definition: Macro photography; Close-up photography; photomacrography; macrography

Definition: Macro photography; Close-up photography; photomacrography; macrography | Glossary entry

Macro photography; Close-up photography; photomacrography; macrography

A form of photography in which the subject of the photograph is usually very small or is a very small detail of a larger object. The resultant Photograph is larger than life size.

Macro photographs are taken from extreme close-up range. This allows the image on the sensor plane to be equal to life size or greater. Normally this is achieved with special photographic lenses called macro lenses. However, there are a range of other ways to achieve the same end…

If the macro image on the sensor plane is life-sized the actual printed photograph will be many times larger.

To put this in context, a mountain scene taken with a 50mm lens will be reduced thousands of times to fit onto a post-card sized photograph. So one centimetre on the card may, for example, be equal to 10,000 centimetres on the ground. (say, ‘1 to 10,000’ or ‘1:10000’). This type of scene may be reduced onto the image sensor by even more. So a mountain scene several miles across may be represented on the sensor by an image size of less than 20mm (depending on sensor size and focus).

A macro lens (at 1:1) changes that reduction ratio. With a macro lens fitted, an ant measuring 2mm will measure the same 2mm on the sensor. Higher reproduction ratios may represent an ant at 3mm on the image sensor when it is only 2mm at life-size. The resultant photograph will show the ant many times larger. A bee at over a centimetre might half fill the sensor. On a photograph that might represent an image of the bee at four or five centimetres.

Very large reproduction ratios are normally regarded as photo-microscopy – a discipline more like working with a microscope than a camera. High magnifications may reach, for example: 1000:1; Eg. the image on the sensor = 1000 times larger than the image in front of the camera.

Technical issues

Working in extreme close-up range with a subject creates problems for the macro photographer. The depth of field is very shallow when focussing so close. Typically you may have only a few millimetres in the sharp zone of your image. As a result a small aperture is often required to maintain as much sharpness as possible. This tends to require long exposures which makes makes photographing moving objects difficult. Stronger lighting is often needed to for good results when using a macro lens.

Lens characteristics

Macro lenses may magnify objects close up, but they have excellent qualities as ordinary lenses when focused at normal ranges. Many 100mm macro lenses produce high quality portraits for example.

Macro lenses are often considered to be suited to specific work:
None macro lens adapted with extension tubes or bellows – suitable for all types of macro work.
35–80 mm – suited to product and still life photography; dead or immobile biological samples.
80–110 mm – biological details, insects, plants, and small objects from a comfortable distance
120–200 mm – insects, plants, and small animals (useful because the lens can be further away)

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
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