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[Sticky] Getting wider angles on your macro photos
Tips June 2020 - Wide angle macro without breaking the bank.
Tip one - use a set of macro extension tubes.
Dedicated macro lenses can be expensive for a DSLR, and lenses that allow you to get very close up to the subject while maintaining a wide field of view are very expensive. There’s one on my wish-list that costs £1500! However you can achieve similar effects with a much less expensive solution.
Macro extension tubes are accessories for your DSLR that you attach between the body and the lens. You can buy various sets of tubes, different brands, different sizes etc, so do some research into which might be best for your camera and requirements.
I bought mine from Amazon for £50 and that’s a lot cheaper than £1500!
The effect can be seen on these shots, taken with a lens I already owned - a 28-300mm general purpose lens (wide angle at its 28mm end, a powerful zoom at the 300mm end).
The first shot shows just how close I was able to get with the macro tube in place - I‘ve got a great close up of the mining, but he’s also placed in context with his vehicle.
The lens is at its widest setting of 28mm but I am able to place the camera very close to the subject, while still benefiting from the wide angle.
Contrast this to the same shot without the macro tube and you see a major difference:
Without the macro extension tube, the minimum focal distance of the lens is much longer so I have to move the camera back, and the wide angle means the subject is so much smaller in the frame, and I get too much background in the shot.
With this lens I can zoom in significantly, however we can see from this next shot that this does not replicate a wide angle macro. It too has to be taken from further away, and it loses the special close-up feel we got with the first one:
You could always crop the other photos but then you lose definition in the end result, and lose any wideness of angle the picture had to begin with.
I think with a macro tube and a wide angle lens you get the feeling that the minifigures are much bigger than they really are. By getting really close up but still being able to see a figure in the context of a scene, the resulting pictures look more like a photo of a real-life scene with human sized subjects.
Tip two - lighting a wide angle macro scene.
The benefit of a set of macro extension tubes on a wide angle lens is how close you can get, the major disadvantage of macro tubes on a wide angle lens, is how close to have to get! The distance at which the minifig is in focus is literally just millimetres from the end of the large lens.
This means that you may struggle to get enough light on the subject, and the figure could even be shaded by the lens itself.
This is a problem that a lot of macro photographers face. If you want to take close ups of insects, they move! That means lots of light is needed to get a fast shutter speed.
There are many solutions to the problem of getting light on a subject that is so close to the end of the lens: a ring flash or a ring light (ring flashes tend to be better for insect photography as they are more powerful than ring lights) that fits on the end of the lens, or flash adapters that ‘move’ the effect of the light further up the lens barrel and diffuse it over the subject (Pringles cans with suitable cut-outs can help here).
There are advantages and disadvantages to each solution: price, weight, effectiveness for your subject, and what else you might need to set on your camera to get them working well. For subject matter like mine, where it doesn’t move and I can control the ambient light, a continuous ring light works well - I can increase the shutter speed to compensate for the relatively low power lighting, and that low power means the effect is natural looking.
Ring flashes and lights vary in price, but good ones are expensive again. So I decided to make my own with cardboard, kitchen foil, sellotape and a small set of string lights I already had.
This is the resulting shot, with a little work done to it in Lightroom.
This was the original photo with the ring light attached:
This was the original shot with no ring light and just the ambient lighting:
While far from perfect, the ring light helped me light the subject and provided a much better starting point for the post-processing. A commercial solution would have been more consistently lit, but then I wanted a project I could do myself during the lockdown 🙂
So how did I build it? Here are my materials:
On some thin card I drew a circle around the end of the lens
I drew a second circle outside that one (using a CD as a template this time, it was a good size)
Added some tabs to the ring, you’ll see what later.
Cut out the ring with a scalpel.
Using some maths I worked out the circumference of the two circles and then cut out two strips of card slightly longer than that
Then I sellotaped all of that together (the tabs on the ring make this much easier and more stable)
I lined the inside of the ring with kitchen foil
I sellotaped the string lights inside the ring, with as many pointing out as possible (this was fiddly)
I taped some tracing paper over the top to act as a diffuser.
The fit was tight on the lens (too tight really, I should have checked more as a went along) but it worked well enough.
While we’re all in lockdown still this little DIY project might help pass the time for you!
Tip three - using a macro filter
Another cheaper option to get close-up to the subject (apart from the extension tubes) is a macro filter. These act like magnifying glasses for your lenses and fit on the other end of the lens from the camera body.
These can be easier to use than the extension tubes depending on the focal length of your lens, as they don’t limit the focal distance so much. It's still limited to focusing on things close to the camera, but not so close as before.
One thing to watch out for is that the filters normally come with a ‘universal’ attachment that clips on to the end of the lens, and then you screw the filter into that. The attachment on my filter is not that universal though - it is too small to attach to my wide-angle lenses, and only fits on my 50mm and 90mm lenses.
I can still achieve some lovely effects though, and on different lenses you’ll get more of a wide angle anyway (kit lenses tend to be smaller but still have a wider angle - such as 35mm perhaps).
Putting the filter onto my 90mm macro lens also increase the magnification even more than normal - it’s not wide angle, but it is super macro!
Here are some example shots I took with the filter.
A close up of a woman selling fruit from her market-boat in Ninjago Harbour. With the 50mm lens I can have a very wide aperture (up to 1.4 though here it was slightly narrower) which gives a very soft background and foreground bokeh effect. With the filter applied I can get much closer to the subject than the lens’ normal minimum focus distance:
The macro filter gives me enough room between lens and subject to light it nicely too.
Without the filter, see how much further back the camera has to be from the subject to focus, and how much more you see of the background. Again I could crop here, but then you’d lose resolution and the bokeh is totally different.
Applying the filter to my 90mm macro lens gives me even more magnification. Here is a shot of Steve Zissou (Bill Murray in The Life Aquatic) at the closest I can normally get:
And here he is again with the magnifying filter:
No cropping involved, just the addition of the filter.
From my experience, I would say the macro filter is the simplest way to cheaply get good macro shots - the extension tubes add extra complications that the filter doesn’t. Check your lenses to see what diameter filters they can accept though before you purchase any accessories.
Tip four - wide angle macro framing
With a wide angle macro shot you’ve really got to think about how you’re going to fill the frame. In a normal macro, the magnification of the subject does the job for you by definition. With a wide angle close-up you have to think like a film director. I find these suggestions help:
Shoot from a low angle, so the main subject seems to be on a cinema screen, perspective making their torso bigger and head small (in extreme cases)
Use vanishing points to force the perspective of the background - this pushes the subject to stand out even more. If you can get two vanishing points, one on either edge of the shot, even better.
Balance the frame with interest. Unless its a particularly arty shot, a lot of empty frame can lead to a dull image. Try to have something happening in the background - but not too much. Depending on the exact set up the background will probably be out of focus, which should help with this balance.
This shot I think fits in with these suggestions. The camera appears to be at the subject’s eyeline, or below it, there are perspective lines leading away on both sides of her, and there is some, but not too much action going on in the rest of the frame.
If you go vertical, with a portrait shot then the perspective can be even more extreme, a low angle framing will give a dramatic result. Sadly IG doesn’t allow for the full extent of shots like this to breathe though as it is limited to 4x5. Check this one out on my Flickr for the proper effect
Another option for landscape macros is to fill the frame with close up subjects, like a group portrait might in real-life:
I hope you have fun with these ideas and if you want any help with your shots head over to our forum where you can find the full article and we’ll be happy to help answer any questions.