Delving into the Macro World

The photos in my Styling Cinnamon & Spice  were created using a combination of my prime lens (Canon 50mm f/1.4) and the addition of A Hoya Close Up Filter, and as promised here is a follow up with the details geared more toward the photographer than the cook :-)  I was so eager to try out the lens & be creative that unfortunately, I did not think to take side by side pictures! So, I have a new subject which hopefully shows some clear differences and maybe you’ll pick up a tip or two!

This lens filter can supposedly produce a similar effect as when using a purpose-built macro lens when combined with specific lenses, essentially acting as a magnifier. Though the results will most likely never compare to an actual macro lens, I was more than impressed with this budget-friendly add on!  I have to say that this has given me a huge respect for photographers who work in this field. There is much patience and thought that goes into the process and set up.

Though most of this will not be new, here are a few starters on using any kind of prime lens for still life in natural light;

  1. Do not use your inbuilt flash! It’s very unflattering. If indoors, position yourself close to a window and use a reflector to highlight the areas that the light does not reach, if you move the reflector around a little you’ll find that sweet spot where the light bounces off the object still maintaining a pleasing contrast.  This is true even when creating a ‘moodier’ picture, your subject must still be well lit if your aim is for a sharp picture.
  2. Think about your background, in this case I used a black countertop and a wooden crate for my surface so I set up a black sheet behind to block out distracting lines caused by a door and a white wall in the background.
  3. Whether  you are looking to create a group of pictures or a single image, get moving! Move around the object to find new angles using the available light, you’ll find this really rewarding when you come to edit and see how the different angles can completely change the object from something just okay to wow! Have a step ladder handy too.
  4. Use a tripod or a VERY steady surface for your camera, these lenses are super sensitive, any slight movement will affect the result. Many photographers also use a remote but I don’t own one, I found myself literally holding my breath whilst shooting!
  5. Keep referring to your screen (or directly on your laptop) to see if the desired focal points are truly in focus. Zoom in! If you are not satisfied after a few shots, attempt changing the focal length by moving the camera forward or backwards slightly till you get part of your object in true focus. I found the best results for the lens filter came from a minimal focal distance- close up and personal!
  6. It can be frustrating come post-edit and realize that all your shots are ‘almost’ in focus! If you are still unable to get a sharp point then review your lighting and your camera settings. Experiment with your ISO. Set it higher. Is your aperture set to its widest setting? Bear in mind, I took 50 plus shots to result in 10 good ones, 5 of those being spot on.

All the images were set at ISO 400 at the widest aperture (f/1.4) The images on the left are using only the Canon 50mm f/1.4 and the images on the right are with the additional Hoya filter Close up +3. And my chosen subject, to keep it seasonal; magnolia seed pods from our back yard!

To achieve the above I had to move the camera about a foot closer to the object. As you see, a much greater shallow depth of field is produced.


For this noticeable difference I moved in even closer so the lens was at the minimum focusing distance. This is the same with the images directly below.


In contrast to still life, I did try this lens filter for a few portrait shots. Knowing that my ‘subject’ would be less obliging than the magnolia seed pods to stay still, I went outdoors on the porch for maximum light, though in shade. My ISO was set to 200 and the aperture at f/1.4 with all 3 photos below using additional lens filter. I would not recommend this filter for general portraits, but it can work for the occasional close up, if either you or your model has the patience! Playing around with so much depth of field is pretty fun!

The photo on the left is at maximum focal distance (which gives similar results to the minimal focal distance of using the 50mm alone) and the 2 photos to the right are at a minimal focal distance (i.e., as close to the subject as possible that the lens can handle.)

I really enjoyed using this lens filter, it can add a lot of depth and interest to an image. Though it could feel limiting if you are not already familiar using a prime. If this is the case I’d suggest practicing with a prime lens alone first. Personally I love developing a body of images that work well as a group and I believe such results would really enrich a collection.

Meanwhile, enjoy the complete autumnal collection!

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