Macro Photography: Inexpensive Filters to the Rescue

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

The classic definition of macro photography is that when an image projected onto the film plane or digital sensor it’s the same size as the subject. For a full-frame (24x36mm) sensor camera you should be able to produce life-size magnification and focus on an area as small as 24×36mm at a 1:1 ratio.

These days, however, the term “macro” has come to mean lots of other kinds of close focusing, including being able to focus on a subject close enough so the image is life-size or larger when viewing a 4×6 inch print. If you do the math, this only requires a magnification ratio of approximately 1:4.And you don;t need any fancy or expensive tools to achieve those goals. Take a look at the below “before and after” images that were made the made with the help on a simple, inexpensive close-up filter.

How I made this shot: I made this flower box photo outdoors in the shade using a Canon EOS 50D and a EF 50mm f/1.8 lens. Exposure at ISO 800 in Aperture priority mode was 1/30 sec at f/16 to maximize depth-of-field.

Conventional wisdom is that close-up photography requires lots of expensive, specialized equipment but it doesn’t have to be that way. Cokin, Hoya, Tiffen, Sunpak as well as many camera and other filter manufacturers offer what are often called close-up “filters.” While not really filters in the traditional sense they pass the “duck test.” They look like filters, act like filters and quack like filters.

How I made this shot: This image used the identical set-up as the previous image but a Tiffen Close-Up +3 filter was attached to the lens allowing me to get much closer to the flower.

What close-up filters really are is supplementary lenses whose magnifying optics shorten a camera lens’ close-focusing distance allowing you to get closer to the subject and produce a larger image on the sensor. Close-up filters are usually available as a set and offered in three different strengths (or diopters) that are labeled +1, +2, and +3. The lenses are double-threaded and can be used in combination with one another but to get the sharpest results it’s a good idea to place the strongest filter closest to the lens’ front element.


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Along with photographer Barry Staver, Joe is co-author of Better Available Light Digital Photography that’s now out-of-print but new copies are available from Amazon for $21.88 and used copies for giveaway prices—starting at less than two bucks!