Taking Great Photos. Part 5: The Macro Setting

Macro – Wasn’t that the really abusive tennis player that turned the tennis world on it’s ear?


Ok – the “Macro” setting on your camera is the setting that allows you to get in and focus up close.

It may be a setting on your camera that you have to manually turn on, or it may be a built-in function. Usually – if you have to turn it on – the icon that indicates “macro function” is a stylized flower – indicative of those close-up flower photos – you know – the ones with the stamens and pistils all hanging out for anyone to see. And possibly a bee looking the size of a truck, loaded with pollen.

For my particular camera, the manual says that

the camera will focus automatically on objects from 8 – 24 inches when set to the wide-angle setting

While that may seem counter-intuitive – ok, it DOES seem counter-intuitive – zooming in makes everything look closer and zooming out to wide-angle makes everything seem further away – that’s the way it works. I zoom out, and I can physically move in for a closer, in-focus shot. At that point – I’m not using the zoom to “frame” the photo – I’m moving me (and consequently the camera) back and forth. This is why I don’t use a tripod – I spend too much time moving the camera to even consider a tripod. If I must hold the camera steady and unmoving – I use a brick and an elastic band.

The auto-focusing mechanism is a great thing – even a biggish LCD screen on a camera will not show you enough detail to indicate whether you truly have it in focus – so unless you have some compelling reason to focus manually – I suggest you let the camera do that for you. When you depress the shutter button a little – it starts the process of trying to focus.

There is generally some sort of indicator that displays a box on the monitor (or view finder) to show you where it is trying to get the information to focus with. Mostly – cameras look for contrast and try to focus there – some of the newer ones try to guess what you are actually looking at or taking a picture of, and may pick some area that is not actually of interest to you – try moving the camera a little – but if it is stubborn – well – that might be one of your reasons to go for the manual focus. If the camera is trying to focus – swinging in and out and not stopping – it is “hunting” – and having trouble focusing. Find an edge of something and aim for that.

Generally – it will indicate that it has the focus (in it’s humble opinion) all sorted out by turning the box green or flashing a light or something. You can now depress (squeeze, not stab, poke or snap) the button the rest of the way and take the picture. And then take a couple more. Because it’s really annoying when you go to review the pictures on your computer screen and find out that the focus was a little bit off. Or focused on the wrong part of your jewelry.

When you go to look at the finished pictures on screen – which you should do as soon as you can – preferably before you put that one-of-a-kind piece in the mail – take a look and see where the sharpest focus is. You’ll get used to your own camera and what it likes to do. Remember, you don’t have to learn how all cameras work – just your own!

Let’s look at some examples.

Here’s a nice one – the big, black bead, front and centre, and the beads around it, are nicely focused, nice and sharp. Feel free to click on the image to see the full size version – to better see the point I’m making.

This isn’t bad either (ignoring the weird colour cast) – the sharpest focus is on the dragon’s eye – eyes a generally a good spot. Notice, even the crystal directly above is a soft focus.

By contrast – nothing is really in focus in this one. And I happen to think that sharp, crisp focus really makes the picture.

And here’s another cr4ppy picture. Again – no part of the picture is in sharp focus. Composition is good, framing and layout is nice – but no focus and the colours are wrong.

Check your camera for white balance and make sure you set it for the current lighting conditions. Emphasis on current. My bad.

And – as this piece is no longer in my possession – see also the comment about reviewing the pictures as soon as possible.

😛 I err – so that you don’t have to.

So, now that you know how to get your camera to focus up close – you need to get in there and shoot up close. Fill up the picture. None of this little bitty bracelet floating in a sea of nothingness. Get in there and shoot it up tight. Which means that your workmanship needs to be top notch. No jumprings left partially open, no marks on the wire, etc. Because you will be taking photos to reveal all!

The rest of the “cropping” – cutting away the stuff you don’t want – can happen after you take the picture. More on that later. Don’t worry about the composition right now – right now, you want to take crisp, sharp, focused photos that show the item with lots of detail and the correct colour.

More next week – when we’ll tackle setting up the lighting and your “stage.”

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