It’s time to get close, really close to your subject. Whether it be a friend or flower, a bug or bubbles — no matter what the subject, you and your smartphone camera can capture the smallest details for a unique view that’s rarely seen by the human eye.
Lose your preconceptions, and your DSLR, and see how great macro on mobile can be. (The images in this article were all shot on iPhone by guest photographer Jenna Echakowitz.)
What is Macro photography?
Simply put, macro photography is extreme close-up photography, oftentimes of very small subjects, in which the size of that subject in the photograph is equal to or greater than life size. So a 2x macro would be twice as close, a 5x macro image would be five times as close and so on. Think of capturing all the small details of any subject, even your own skin, zoomed-in and super close.
“When you get up close and personal to something — whether it be still-life or plant-life — you start to notice things about it that you wouldn’t have ordinarily seen from a distance,” Jenna said. “Things are much more complex and interesting when you get right up to them.”
First of all, let’s distinguish the difference between close-up photography and macro photography using your mobile device — because before you shoot macro photos, you’re going to warm up with some close-up pictures.
Close-ups are merely getting as close as you can to your subject without using any sort of attachment or app to assist with getting a quality, detailed image. This distance is typically about three or four inches away from your subject. Any closer and you’re going to see a blurry subject.
Let’s say you’re taking a close-up picture of a flower. You want to capture the detail, but if you get too close, like about an inch away, you’re going to notice that the flower looks blurry. Pull back until you are three or four inches away from the flower and you will notice a remarkable difference. It’s in focus. At that point, tap/press on the screen to lock-in the focus, then tap the shutter button and you have a great looking image.
Close-ups are great. But when you want to get really close to capture the minute details of that flower, it’s time to consider a third-party attachment or app that will zoom in even closer. How close you get to your subject now will vary depending on what power of macro lens you are using.
Get Some Gear
If you’re going to take macro images, there is no way around adding a third-party attachment lens or using an app to get really close. The iPhone, for instance, doesn’t come with a macro setting in its native camera, so you will have to download an app that has that macro feature built in, or a third-party attachment lens that safely slips on over top of your smartphone. The types of lenses and their capabilities vary greatly — from various macros to wide angle, fisheye and telephoto — so look for something that best suits your particular needs and give it a whirl. You might even want to try an app and a lens separately to see which one you like better. Typically, an app costs far less and accomplishes the same thing, but again, it’s up to you.
Tripod and Remote Shutter
One thing you will notice about macro photography is that it is very unforgiving. Any kind of movement while you are taking a picture and you are going to get blurry results. If you’ve had too much caffeine or you simply can’t stay perfectly still, it’s time to get a tripod.
As is the case with a third party lens, there are a wide variety of tripods available for smartphones — big ones, little ones, even tripods that flex and fold. Get one and you will see a huge difference in your macro images. This is not to say you can’t take a great macro picture without a tripod, but it does greatly reduce your margin of error. Sometimes a tripod is not feasible, depending on what you are shooting, so just try to set your smartphone on something stable to keep it as still as possible.
Additionally, you should try using a remote shutter of the Bluetooth or plug-in variety. If you have an iPhone, your EarPods will do the trick simply by pressing the up or down volume button when they are plugged into your phone. You will notice that your images are perfectly clear because you are not tapping on the screen. Even the slightest bump will produce a slightly blurred image.
One important aspect of macro photography is focus. Your smartphone camera usually wants to focus itself, so you are going to have to take it out of auto mode and into manual mode where you will lock the focus on precisely the area you want to highlight, the very specific part of your image you want to stand out. In auto mode, your camera doesn’t know where you want it to focus. It’s a smartphone, but it’s not that smart (yet). So just tap and hold to lock your focus where you want it before taking the picture.
Look for soft, natural light when you are taking a macro image. “Early to mid-morning and mid-afternoon are the best times to shoot macros in terms of light,” Jenna advised. “It’s not as harsh as midday and makes for well-lit subject matter. I also just really love how soft the light is as it gets closer to sunset, especially in the summertime.”
Also, the closer you get to your subject, the more light your camera is going to need, so think in terms of more light when you’re shooting in macro mode. As long as you are tapping on your screen to lock-in your focus, simply swipe up on the screen to increase your exposure. It’s not necessarily something you will need to do on every macro shot, but experiment with it to see if it makes the image look better before hitting that shutter button and taking a picture.
Go ahead, practice and get hooked on macro photography. It can be very addicting, especially when you are making new discoveries with each and every shot — finding those details you might not have known existed before or perhaps it’s just a cool new way of looking at something you see everyday, in an entirely different light.
“I find that the only real limit to macro photography is your imagination,” Jenna concluded. “Macro works on just about anything, as long as you have an image or an idea in your mind.”
Written by: David Kindervater of iPhonePhotoLab.com.
Contributing Photographer: Jenna Echakowitz has dabbled in photography as a hobby since age twelve, and has recently gone pro, capturing the world as she sees it with macro images, street scenes, and portraits. She believes mobiography in general is greatly undervalued and hopes to change that, by constantly pushing boundaries with her photography and through her involvement with the South African Instagram community.