By Vicki Uthe

Something became clear to me recently. I realized the difference between macro and close-up photography and concluded that I’m really more of a close-up photographer than a macro person.








Here’s the main difference as I understand it: With macro, you need a tripod, a non-moving subject, a lot of patience and you get in SO close to a subject that many times you need a caption to tell you what it is. With close-up, you can shoot it with most lenses, you get very close to your subject with a zoom or by walking closer but can still tell what it is without question and you can do it successfully with a moving subject.

The two images above, shot in Costa Rica in 2012, were taken with the 100 mm Canon macro lens. At the time I was SURE I was shooting macro. I even set the lens for it. Turns out these are really just close-ups. If it were a true macro image a single water drop would nearly fill the frame as would only a few of these frog eggs. (I think they are frog eggs).

I decided to dive into my archive and pull up all images shot with my two macro lenses. The first one was a Canon 100mm, f/2.8. I loved that lens and it worked well for me but in pulling up the images I began to realize I mostly shot close-ups in macro mode or not in macro mode at all but at 100mm. My other lens is the Olympus 60mm, f/2.8 that I got when I switched to the mirrorless micro four-thirds format camera a couple of years ago. Same thing. Most of my images are either close-ups in macro mode or just shooting at 60mm.

I pulled up over 8700 images shot with those two lenses and precious few could be considered truly macro. My minimalist, photograph as you go shooting style does not lend itself to true macro photography. I like to travel light with as little gear as possible.

At the very LEAST a good macro image requires a tripod and a subject that is very still. A macro lens will reduce the depth of field (the space in your image that is in focus) to the width of a credit card. This means that you must be very precise as to what you are focussing on. The slightest breeze or movement will put a flower or insect out of focus.

If you are truly interested in exploring the world of macro photography I have a resource for you. My good friend, Amy Horn, recently wrote a book with Bruce Taubert, a retired wildlife biologist, on this very subject. You can check out their book and order it here: The Art of Macro Photography

The head of this praying mantis is one of the few images I have that could truly be considered macro. It is handheld and my subject was standing very still.

I’m not sure where the line actually is between close-up and macro. This image shows how small the depth of field (the area in focus) is. His eye is about the only thing that is sharp. Always focus on the eyes.

Right? Close-up or Macro? All I know is I should have used a tripod.

I would for sure consider this one just a close-up. And it didn’t jump on me so I was happy about that. Not sure how much closer I would have been willing to get…

This little red frog was pretty tiny sitting on someone’s finger but I would still classify it as a close-up.

I really liked this image to show the shallow depth of field when your lens is in macro mode. This is rusted barbed wire wrapped around more wire. If you look close one strand is in focus while the one right next to it, and a little back, is not. I can not stress enough how crazy shallow the area in focus is with macro shooting. To the point where there is now software that allows you to focus stack. You take many images and continually adjust the focus only to “stack” them later to create an image where the whole subject is in focus. Check it out, it’s in Amy and Bruce’s book. Pretty fascinating.

Well, that’s all I have for macro. In writing this I’ve learned that macro is not my area of focus, so to speak, in photography. It is a fascinating avenue to explore, however, if you are interested.

Happy Shooting!!

Vicki Uthe is a Volunteer Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes

Bugs are Beautiful

Author:  Bruce Taubert

For whatever reason I have become obsessed with taking macro and micro photographs of bugs.  Beetles, files, wasps, bees, stink bugs, moths, butterflies, and whatever other bugs in Arizona and around the world.  Bugs are cool!  They have compound eyes, colorful exteriors, antennae, exoskeletons with sharp spines or hairs, scales like a fish, and many endearing body forms.

To take extreme macro/micro images of bugs I have purchased some types of photographic equipment that one would not normally find in a photographer’s bag.  All the cameras I own are adequate to take wonderful macro images, but it is the lenses that lack the magnification power to get the job done.  My first super macro lens purchase was the Canon MP-65 f/2.8 1X-5X zoom lens.  This unique lens does not zoom from wide to telephoto but zooms to different magnifications.  By moving the “non-focusing ring” the lens zooms from 1X to 5X without the need for extension tubes, teleconverters, diopter lenses, or the like.  Very easy to use when it comes to changing the level of magnification.

Cognisys “StackShot” attached to the automatic focusing rail. The camera is the Canon 7D Mark II with a Canon MP-E-65mm f/2.8 1-5X. The diffuser is a tapioca cut. In the set-up there would either be a LED light or two flashes.

When I want to go past the 5X world I must resort to purchasing equipment normally found in the research laboratory and, not in the camera bag.  For 10X magnification I have purchased a Mitutoyo microscope objective.  To allow me to use my digital camera and not a microscope I place a 70-200mm lens on the camera and use an adapter to place the microscope objective on the end of the camera lens. Not difficult to do and the cost of objective is less than the cost of a quality macro lens, and there are more inexpensive options than the Mitutoyo lens I have.

Mitutoyo 10X microscope objective mounted on a Canon 70-200 mm f/2.8 lens attched to a Canon 7D Mark II camera. This set-up gives a 16X magnification.

From here the only other relatively costly item is a focusing rail.  When taking images at large magnifications, it is necessary to use focus stacking.  Focus stacking is a mechanism by which the computer puts several images taken at different focal distances together resulting in a final, single image that has more depth-of-field than possible by any other process.  For smaller magnifications I may only take 10 images for stacking but at higher magnifications I take 200 or more images.  The focusing rail allows me to move the camera in very small increments and makes it easy to take the multiple images necessary for stacking.  To make life easier I purchased an automated focusing rail.

The rest of the equipment is easy and cheap.  I use either an empty tapioca container, plastic cutting board, printing paper, or even a ping pong ball for diffusion.  Camera flashes or LED lights provide the illumination and the bugs are free.

This sinister looking portrait of a wasp face was focused stacked from 44 images taken with the Canon MP-65 lens.

Not only are the images, in my mind, beautiful they represent forms that are unimaginable without having a photograph to view.  With this level of magnification, we can better appreciate the natural patterns of even the most obscure creatures.  Small bugs that are completely unappreciated become things of beauty, hopefully allowing the viewer to better appreciate them.  Even with all the biological experience I have and my love for all things alive (yes Roberta, even Creepy, Crawly Critters) I am forever amazed to see the intricate details these images uncover.

With a little practice and some unique equipment, it is relatively easy to see the smaller things in life.  The learning curve is not steep and the equipment not as expensive or exotic as one might imagine.

used a Canon MP-65 to capture this image of the beautiful scales on a moths wing.

If this type of photography interests, you I teach macro photography workshops through Arizona Highways PhotoScape’s and I have just written a book with Amy Brooks Horn on The Art of Macro Photography.

Bruce Taubert is an Instructor with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes


Photographing with Extension Tubes

Author: David Halgrimson

Here is a little info on using extension tubes to get that super close shot.

An extension tube is used on a lens to allow for getting closer to a subject. It is mounted between the camera body and the lens. They come in many sizes, i.e. I have a 13mm, 21mm, 25mm and 31mm. They are hollow, no glass, and simply move the lens closer to the subject.

There are two types that I am aware of, those that have electronics which allows for auto focus and those without electronics. You can guess which is less expensive. Typically, manual focus will be used anyway as focusing becomes very sensitive the closer you get to the subject. The disadvantage of none electronic tubes is no adjustment for aperture unless the aperture can be set on the lens. The cost is very reasonable, a set of three starting around $40 and up unless Canon, Nikon or other brand names are preferred.

Extension tubes can be combined, i.e. a 13mm and a 25mm for a total of 38mm. The larger the mm of extension used the closer the lens can be to the subject. There is some light loss from using extension tubes and this will have to be adjusted for in the camera.

The use of a tripod when using extension tubes is almost a must as focusing becomes very tricky.  Extension tubes are great for flowers, insects and any other small subjects.

I took these photos using the camera with no extension tube and then with 4 different tubes, 13mm, 21mm, 25mm and 31mm, I did not combine any. A Canon 5D mkII and a 24-105mm lens was used and the focus ring was set to the Macro area of the lens and ISO was 100 for all the images here. The camera was on a tripod and was not moved,

© David Halgrimson — This first image was taken with no extension tube attached, the settings were 70mm, f/7.1, 1/800th and about 10 inches from the subject.

© David Halgrimson —  The second image was taken using a 13mm extension tube, and settings of 67mm, f/7.1, 1/320th and about 9 inches from the subject.

© David Halgrimson —  The third image was taken using a 21mm extension tube, and settings of 67mm, f/7.1, 1/320th and about 5.5 inches from the subject.

© David Halgrimson —  The fourth image was taken using a 25mm extension tube, and settings of 70mm, f/7.1, 1/320th and about 4.5 inches from the subject.

© David Halgrimson —  The fifth image was taken using a 31mm extension tube, and settings of 73mm, f/7.1, 1/100th and about 3.5 inches from the subject.

I started getting shadow on the subject the lager I went with the extension tubes so this is something to keep in mind. Also, focus was getting more difficult and DOF was getting very narrow, I did not try other aperture settings, this is another thing to be aware of. This was not an exact science experiment, I only wanted to show what an extension tube can do for getting those very close shots.

David Halgrimson is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Capture Your Moment: Macro-Photography

Bruce Taubert will be presenting two learning sessions at Arizona Highways Photo Workshops’ 30th Anniversary Symposium.  Here’s more about his “Macro- Photography” Session.

Macro Photography - Glass Frog

Bruce takes photographs of small things because they are beautiful, and he can only really appreciate how beautiful and unique they are by having an image to look at. It is almost impossible for him to see the scales that make up butterfly wings or the pollen on a bee’s legs without viewing a photograph.  He never really appreciated the intricacy of a dragonfly’s eyes or the interweaves of a bird’s feather, again until he saw a close-up photograph of them.  There is an incredible WOW factor when he looks at images that show the pieces of the natural world that he has never seen before. Even though many of his images of small things may never be published, it is through these images that he better appreciates the beauty of the small pieces of our world.

Macro Photography - Moth

Macro-photography is normally defined as “taking photographs of small items and making them larger than life size”.  This definition, for most photographers, is too limiting.  It can be defined more simply as “close-up” photography, allowing photos of less than life-size subjects to be included.

Macro-photography is unique from other forms of photography in that it requires the use of different types of equipment than landscape, portrait, and most wildlife photography.  It also requires some different skills than other forms of photography. The cameras are the same, but only through the use of specialized lenses and other equipment can the photographer take photographs at 0.5X and it is even more complicated as we attempt to photograph at magnifications greater than 1X.

Macro Photography - Gecko

In the “Macro-photography” learning session, you will learn all about the specialized equipment, techniques, and art of macro-photography.  Bruce’s hope is that after you digest all of that information, you will better understand how to use the cameras, lenses, and associated equipment to open up the special world of macro-photography.

To read the post on Bruce’s other learning session, “Hummingbird Photography,” visit our Capture Your Moment page.

Bruce Taubert is a photographer for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

For more information and to register for sessions like this, please visit the AHPW’s 30th Symposium website.

3 Keys to Dazzling Macro Photography

Author: Dean Hueber

purple flower

copyright Dean Hueber

1) Size Matters:  Size, in this case, is the size of your images’ depth of field.  You want your subject in focus, which is not to say that limited focus can not be a creative tool, but in my opinion far too many macro closeups suffer from a lack of critical sharpness, especially when you want to make large prints.  Consider using image stitching software, such as Helicon Focus, that combines multiple images shot at different focus points within your subject, to achieve increased depth of field.  Most of my flower macro shots, for example, are created by combining 3 to 25 images.  The higher number of shots result from being extremely close to the subject when you shoot it.  The closer you are to your subject, the less depth of field you will have, all other things being equal, so if you want extreme closeups of subjects rendered extremely sharply, multiple shots will be required.

cactus blossom2) Background is Critical: The background should be simple and non-distracting; sunny spots, bright rocks, etc. compete with your subject for attention, as do patterns that are too complicated.  Consider cleaning up that background before shooting (remove the grass that is too close to your flower), changing your composition and camera angle to remove a bright area in the background, or using a solid colored drop-cloth to create a simpler background when your compositional choice would result in too busy a background.  You also want to generally limit the depth of field of your background, i.e. ensure that it is relatively blurry. Many good macro subjects are lost in the chaos of a background out of control, so by controlling the background you ensure that your subject gets the attention it deserves!

Dew Drops on Poppy

Dew Drops on Poppy

3) Shady is Better: Generally speaking, macro photography benefits from soft, diffused light rather than direct sunlight on the subject.  Cloudy days, for example, create even, soft light which flatters your subject and enhances colors.  Sunlight can sometimes be used to enhance macro photography, such as backlighting to illuminate textures, but even then I’d generally soften the sunlight with a handheld diffuser rather than have bright sunlight on my subject.  The contrast between sunlit and shadow is often too great, leaving the image with hot spots and too little shadow detail.  Once you’ve captured your image in soft light, a quick levels adjustment via photoshop will allow you to adjust your black point and white point so that your colors are richly saturated and fill the spectrum from light to dark.  Selective levels adjustments allow you to further fine-tune the image.

Dean Hueber is a trip leader for Arizona Highways Photo Workshop and an avid nature photographer.

Macro iPhoneography

Author: Amy Horn

wide to macro

My neighborhood has a wonderful display of garden flowers and I love to photograph flowers. So, on my daily dog walks I carry my iPhone and a macro lens to capture the beautiful neighborhood color. Here are a few things I learned while using my iPhone for macro work.

  1. All of photography is about capturing the light reflecting off your subject. So, even with an iPhone, you want to find quality light. Cloud cover is one of the best lighting situations with soft diffused light. What you want to avoid is low light with an iPhone. In low light situations, your images will have with noise and grain from the small sensor.
  2. With all macro photography, wind is the enemy. Even a fast shutter speed will create a blurred image in a macro environment. In Flagstaff, mornings are less windy than afternoons. So, I always photograph in the morning.
  3. Macro Lens. There are many macro lenses for phones out there to purchase but my favorites are the ones that clip on quickly. If I have to take off my phone case or twist something on I will not use the macro lens. These macro lenses do let you get very close – less than an inch away from your subject!
  4. Burst mode. Even if the flower is very still, I might move slightly. The best option for success is to shoot in burst mode. If you have never used burst mode on an iPhone before it is so simple.
    Macro clip on lens

    Macro clip on lens

    Just hold the button down. Multiple images with be captured. Be careful though, I once held the button down by mistake and in no time I had 100 images! Many people use burst mode, but don’t realize it because when you view the images, you only see one. Apple stacks the photos and you can select the one(s) you want and delete the rest. Here are three screen shots from the photos app. The first one indicates I captured a burst of 5 photos. After choosing edit, I can select some of the images. When I click “done” I see the options to keep everything or keep my favorites. If I choose to keep my favorites, then my favorites are visible into the photos app as individual photos.

flowersIf you become a serious macro iPhoneographer, you may want to invest in a bluetooth trigger. This small unit connects with your iPhone and releases the shutter on your camera (your headphones can do this too). I find sometimes triggering with one hand and holding the phone with the other gives me more success. I have fun taking photos whether it is with my iPhone or my big DSLR and

iPhone remote trigger

iPhone remote trigger

any photo I capture are opportunities to practice!

Amy Horn is a professor of photography at Northern Arizona University and teaches Photo 101, Photo 102, iPhoneography, iPad Workflow and Flash Basics for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops. To see her current schedule view or


To Stack or not to Stack?

by Bruce Taubert

A few years ago I became quite excited about photographing “jumping spiders.” They have beautiful eyes, a hairdo that would make Alfalfa jealous, and all sorts of interesting features on their legs and fangs. The problem is they are very small—a large one is one half an inch long and most are in the one quarter inch long range. In addition they can be quite jittery and it takes hours, not minutes, to take an acceptable image. Needless to say because I am a wildlife photographer I can be quite tenacious (it took me 13 years to take my favorite flying elf owl image) and I managed to convince a jumping spider to sit still long enough to have its portrait taken. Unfortunately, when I looked at the image on the computer I was disappointed.  The eyes and hairdo were in focus but the front legs were woefully out of focus, detracting from the overall quality of the entire image.

The problem I ran into is one that is common to all macro photographers—limited depth of field at high magnifications. Even at f/16 I could not obtain sufficient depth of field to have the front legs and the eyes in focus in the same shot. I could have tried the same image at a higher aperture but the results would have been just as poor, with the addition of loss of image quality resulting from diffraction (bending of light as it passes through a small opening). Image stacking to the rescue!

Image stacking is a process where the photographer takes several images of the same subject at different focus points and combines them in a “focus stacking” software.  With the jumping spider I took five images—one of the feet on the front legs, one of the eyes, and three at different focus points in-between the eyes and feet.  I then combined them in Zerene Stacker (I also use Helicon focus) and, Voila, I had an image of a jumping spider with all of the important elements in sharp focus. The process is simple but the practice takes, well practice. Determining the number of images to take for a particular subject can be challenging and making sure that there is very little or no camera movement during the multiple captures can be just as frustrating. But, the results are impossible to get using any other method.