3

I recently bought a shiny new dSLR, mainly because my old camera was annoying me so much! Needless to say, the new camera is a massive stride forward in image quality.

In particular, my old camera utterly point-blank refuses to photograph small objects. (Knowing what I know now, I suspect I'm drastically exceeding the physical minimum focus distance of the lens.) My new SLR, with it's 18-55mm kit lens, has no such problem. Within a week of owning it, I was able to shoot incredible images like this:

enter image description here

and this:

enter image description here

Compared to the usual dull stuff I've been photographing for years, this is drastically more impressive and interesting. It turns out I really like photographing tiny objects.

It's not all gravy though. For example, this image:

enter image description here

It's an interesting picture, but there's really not very much on focus. Even in the previous two images, with their deliberately shallow focus, I would really like more sharpness in the in-focus areas. Greater magnification would be nice too; it would be great to see the individual hairs on that moss! (I originally framed the moss tighter, but the lens seemed unable to focus that close. I had to slowly back away until it appeared sharp.)

What do I need to make these images sharper and more vivid?

  • More sunlight?
  • More expensive lens?
  • More expensive camera body?
  • Shoot raw rather than JPEG?
  • Change the camera settings? (E.g., exposure mode, aperture)
  • More skill as a human being?

Needless to say, it was a dark, miserable February afternoon when I took these photos. I can't help thinking the pictures would have a "nicer colour" if the sky wasn't so damned grey. (Don't get me wrong, the camera has reproduced exactly what the scene actually looked like to my eyeballs. I'm saying scenery looks nicer when it's sunny!)

I find myself looking at macro lenses, and even seriously considering some very expensive ones. It's tempting to think that bolting a really expensive lens to the camera will make the images sharper and crisper, increase the depth of field, add more contrast, make the colours nicer and even make me a cup of tea in the morning. But is it really true? Or am I expecting too much from a passive lump of glass?

(I do know for a fact that when I tried some of the expensive lenses in the shop, it allowed me to take shots from much further away. People give you weird looks when you're crawling on the floor with your lens an inch from the ground, and it's pretty uncomfortable. Being able to shoot from further away is very appealing!)

  • 3
    "People give you weird looks when you're crawling on the floor with your lens an inch from the ground" do you do this for how people look at you? If you really "really like photographing tiny objects" and this is what it takes to get them (it is), the response from people looking at the resulting images will be a lot more rewarding. – null Feb 26 '16 at 9:07
  • 1
    Could you give this question a more specific title? If you feel like you can't, it's probably multiple questions.... – mattdm Feb 26 '16 at 14:36
  • Don't get me wrong -- I think this kind of question is great for the site. It just seems awfully broad as written. – mattdm Feb 26 '16 at 14:37
2

Welcome to the world of large-sensors camera. The larger your sensor is, the shallower your depth of field is. In macro photography, shallow depth of field can be a very nice tool to keep the center of interest on your subject (for the images you are showing, I find the shallow depth of field positive. I think the images you would get with a greater DoF would be less interesting), but it's also something you have to fight with. Search "depth of field macro photography" in your favorite search engine or in this website. For example:

How can I get more of this macro photo in focus?

http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/macro.htm

Essentially, you have to close your diaphragm a bit more to get more depth of field.

To get more vivid images, the first thing is to find the right light (typically, shoot at golden hours), but changing the camera or post-processing settings (especially if you soot raw) can help.

Note that this is just the beginning: what you are doing is not really macro photography. I bet that a few month/years from now, you'll buy some dedicated hardware (extension tube, macro lens, ...) and then you'll see what shallow depth of field means (i.e. 1 mm depth of field is the best you can hope for ... ;-) ).

2

What do I need to make these images sharper and more vivid?

More sunlight?
More expensive lens?
More expensive camera body?
Shoot raw rather than JPEG?
Change the camera settings? (E.g., exposure mode, aperture)
More skill as a human being?

Most probably "a bit of this and a bit of that" would be the correct answer.

More sunlight

Of course the more light you have, the faster you can go with your shutter. It seems to me that you're shooting free-handed and not on a tripod, so I'd say that partially the pictures could appear not to be as sharp as you want because there is some micro-blur.

Needless to say, sunlight affects also your white-balance, but that is something you can post-produce pretty well. If you want real colors to be displayed, you need to calibrate your camera and then your monitor (but those are really other humongous topics).

More expensive lens

Maybe. You are shooting with a kit lens, that is not the brightest piece of glass. I do recommend some practice before you buy a new one, and I do recommend that you do not spend your money in vain, without knowing what you photograph at all... But know that there are optimized macro/micro lenses, and the quality of a macro/micro shoot depends too (but not only) on the kind of lens you use. Extremely important is how you use it in the first place. Cheap lenses can do great by f7.1 for example and can be directly compared to expensive ones. Personally I use a reverse lens technique, which costed to me the no more than 100$ taking in account lens (all-manual), coupler ring and DIY flash-diffuser.
IF you are looking for sharper macros, you could try closing your aperture (I mostly shoot between f11 and f22 - or use wider apertures and apply focus stacking, but once again you have to have time for it -), raising ISO to have the possibility of faster speeds, and have some light-source (a flash can do miracles in mid-light too) illuminate your scene.

More expensive camera body?

Well I do prefer full-frames bodies, since with those you can go higher on ISO (see previous point) and still have a decent image not "polluted" by noise. As pointed out by other users here, a bigger sensor implies a shallower focus, so keep that in mind.

Shoot raw rather than JPEG?

Personally I have 2 memory card slots on my D610, where I stick my 32Gb memory cards. Let a RAW pic be the size of 20Mb... Do you really need more than 1600 shoots? If so, shoot JPEG, but be prepared to lose lots of post-processing (see point 1) possibilities. RAW is, in my opinion, always the best solution. I do have time to lose in post-processing, though.

Change the camera settings? (E.g., exposure mode, aperture) 

This completely depends on you. If you want shallower focus, if you want an image completely free from noise, if you don't have time to post-produce, if you want an over-exposed/under-exposed image, if you want a warmer/cooler look...

More skill as a human being?

This is what separates me from legendary-photographers. "It's not the lens, it's the eye" is more or less a mantra that you have to keep in mind. Don't rush. Feel free to ask, study the techniques of others, spend time reading stuff on the internet and most importantly try your camera out. Eventually you will improve a lot, understand what you need and take some mind-blowing pics.

Bonus: a couple of images taken with the reverse lens technique, free-handed and without flash.

Particular of a cactus

White flower

1

One of my favorite things is shooting small stuff. There's a certain joy I get by being able to nearly anywhere and find beauty in the most minute place.

It's an interesting picture, but there's really not very much on focus. Even in the previous two images, with their deliberately shallow focus, I would really like more sharpness in the in-focus areas. Greater magnification would be nice too; it would be great to see the individual hairs on that moss! (I originally framed the moss tighter, but the lens seemed unable to focus that close.

Few things come to mind that might help.

First off with Macro if your camera has a black and white preview then until you improve your eye for composition it could really help having it on a hotkey or even just shooting black and white (if you shoot Raw the color data is all there once you get on to a computer anyways). Take your Moss photo for example, when you see it in Black and White you get a much clearer idea of how it is from a composition standpoint:

enter image description here

There's not a lot of depth to work with and the brightest thing is the rock which is small. Getting closer, changing angles, or sadly deciding this might be the most interesting shot would've helped.

Check out any page of "great" macro photography and you'll see there's still a need for a clear focal point, perhaps even more so than in some other types of photography. Just a quick search got TutsPlus 130+ Stunning Examples.

While the Depth of Field is important I think what you're really noticing is two things:

  1. Limits in your lens especially handheld
  2. Compositing and positioning yourself for an interesting and clear focal point

You can absolutely upgrade your lens. There's almost always something better. Portable tripod, macro lens, extension tubes, light rings, all sorts of things that could be bought. In the meantime though make the most of the lens you have by working on composition. If the depth of field isn't there then try to get even lower so you can look up and have an empty sky as the background when possible or at least some trees that might be further away.

Shooting raw for a while in black and white if your camera has it could be a big help to learn to see light and composition instead of relying on hues. Then once you process it all of the color will be there if you even want it at that point.

1

It's an interesting picture, but there's really not very much on focus.

IMO, it's not really that interesting. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to be looking at in this shot: is it a photo of the structure of the moss, or of something stuck in the moss, or what? I don't want to be too critical here – I've got plenty of photos of my own with the same problem – I just want to suggest that the first thing I'd improve about this shot is the composition. One thing that would help is something to give a sense of scale. I thought at first that this was a shrub! If there were something in the photo that helped viewers realize that this thing is tiny, that might make it a more interesting photo.

Even in the previous two images, with their deliberately shallow focus, I would really like more sharpness in the in-focus areas. Greater magnification would be nice too; it would be great to see the individual hairs on that moss!

Sharpness and depth of field are always difficult in macro photography. If this was an overcast day, you were probably shooting at a pretty wide aperture. Stopping down a bit would give you better sharpness and more depth of field. You can increase magnification by using an extension tube. To really boost sharpness and magnification, you might eventually look into getting a macro lens.

Needless to say, it was a dark, miserable February afternoon when I took these photos. I can't help thinking the pictures would have a "nicer colour" if the sky wasn't so damned grey.

If the natural light isn't what you want, or enough of what you want, then add more light. A flash or two and something to diffuse the light would make all the difference. Adding more light will let you use a smaller aperture, which will help, and it'll also give you a lot of control over color and brightness.

It's tempting to think that bolting a really expensive lens to the camera will make the images sharper and crisper, increase the depth of field, add more contrast, make the colours nicer and even make me a cup of tea in the morning. But is it really true?

Everything but the tea. But it's not automatic. Having the a tool that's designed for the job you're trying to do always helps, but you'll need to learn to use it, and you'll probably need other tools as well (like the aforementioned flashes).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.