Faux macro digital photography

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  • What is macro digital photography
  • How to achieve "faux" macro digital photography without the need for specialist equipment

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What is Macro digital photography?

Interesting photographs are often those which offer an alternative view or perspective upon the world around us.

Macro photography lets us see small things at a higher magnification than typically viewed with the naked eye.

Popular subjects for maco photography are insects and flowers, where the macro viewpoint reveals detail and beauty that normally passes us by.

True macro photography is when the image is recreated at life size on the camera sensor. To achieve this requires expensive specialist macro lenses or accessories.

Click here for more info about true macro.


What is "faux" macro digital photography?

Faux macro digital photography is a technique for capturing close up images without the use of specialist equipment.

Although macro “purists” may not agree , I believe this technique provides a valid alternative when specialist equipment isn’t available, or on occasions when a “macro” style photo opportunity presents itself that is is likely to be missed in the time it takes to set up for a true macro shot.

A good example of this might be if out shooting landscape photography with a more lens but encountering an interesting subject such as a butterfly or other insect, that is unlikely to wait around patiently for the photographer to change to macro lens and set up tripod etc. etc.

Faux macro is especially suited to display of photos on-line (or on screen in a digital photo frame for example) where the lower resolution required compared with that required for print, enables additional magnification to be obtained via cropping the image without a noticeable loss of image quality.

Anyway, I shall describe the technique and adorn the article with some images obtained in this way and leave the reader to judge if the photographs deserve any merit.

Faux macro digital photography - technique explained

equipment needed for faux macro digital photography

You will need

  • Any digital camera that permits MANUAL focus. Ideally a digital SLR with a medium zoom lens and option to set manual exposure.
  • The higher the mega pixels of your camera the better.
  • Unlike with true macro photography you will not need to use a tripod.
  • A computer with an image processing programme – such as Adobe photoshop.

How to Set up for faux macro digital photography

Having identified the subject you wish to take a faux macro digital photograph of, set up you camera as follows.

  1. Zoom to the longest setting that the lens allows
  2. Set camera to highest aperture and centre weighted metering mode. Move the camera close to your subject and half press the shutter to take an exposure reading. You are looking for minimum shutter speed of 1/500sec. If the metered reading is faster than this at the lowest ISO setting, then adjust to a smaller aperture. If shutter speed is slower than 1/500sec, increase ISO until shutter speed of 1/500th can be attained. If it becomes necessary to use higher ISO than 1600 – then if at all possible recompose the shot to an area with greater ambient light or add light via a reflector. Note This technique will not permit the use of flash to provide additional light.
  3. Set the lens to manual focus and then turn the focus ring to the closest possible focus distance.
  4. Set the camera to the highest resolution that can be captured and also to the fasted frame rate that is possible in drive / burst mode. If your camera is able to shoot and buffer 5+ images in RAW format without the burst rate declining then shoot in RAW. Otherwise, to maintain the burst rate use JPEG format.

Faux macro digital photography - Capturing the shot

  1. Looking through the view finder (or use the live view screen if it is easier to position yourself to compose the shot) move the camera close to the subject until it the primary point of interest appears to be in focus. (e.g. for an insect, this would usually be the eyes)
  2. Now move the camera very slightly backwards away from the subject and press and hold the shutter release all the way to begin the burst of photos.
  3. During the burst of photos, slowly move the camera towards the subject – trying to maintain the composition as best you can.

In this way one of the photos should be perfectly focused at the key point of focal interest of your subject.

This is much easier than attempting to hold the camera at exactly the right distance whilst you take a single shot. Especially as close focussing with a large aperture gives such a shallow depth of field.

Faux macro digital photography

Processing the shot – option 1 (basic)

faux macro techniqu

Download the images to your computer ready for preview in a photo browser such as Adobe Bridge.

  1. Compare the images in full screen mode and select the two or three that appear to be in sharpest focus.
  2. Then examine these photos at 100% (i.e. one screen pixel for every photo pixel) and choose the one that is sharpest at the point of maximum focal interest. (e.g. the eyes of an insect).
  3. Open the image in your usual post process software (e.g. Adobe Photoshop) and crop the image as desired. If you shot the image using a high resolution camera but intend to display the image on -line only – then you can crop quite considerably to gain magnification without significant loss of quality.

  • For example. An image optimised for display on facebook needs to be 1200 x 800 pixels.
  • On an 18mega pixel camera, the captured image will have a resolution of around 5200 x 3500 pixels
  • So if you crop your photo to such that the subject is occupying only 1200 x 800 pixels from within the original captured image, then you are effectively gaining an extra 4 x magnification of the subject with little or no loss of display quality.


The final cropped and enhanced image. No specialised macro equipment was used

Faux macro digital photography

Processing the shot – option 2 (advanced)

If your captured images have shallow depth of field then you can take advantage of a processing technique known as focus stacking.

  1. Open all the images from the burst of shots taken in photoshop.
  2. Select the all the images where ANY part of the subject appears in sharp focus
  3. Starting with the final image taken (i.e. the one closest to the subject) use the move tool to layer each of the preceding images on top of it one by one. (Tip select the move tool, drag the image to be moved onto the tab of the final image whilst holding the shift and alt key and then release.
  4. When you have all the images stacked upon one another, select all the layers in the layers panel by shift clicking on the top and bottom layer
  5. Go to - Edit / Auto align layers.
  6. After the aligning process is complete, go to - Edit/ Auto blend layers/ stack images.
  7. Photoshop will seamlessly blend the images, merging them so just the sharp areas are visible in the final image, thus giving greater depth of field to the subject in the composite image.
  8. The composite image can then be flattened and cropped and further processed as required.

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