MACRO IN FOCUS
Most of the time this isn’t too big a deal: pictures with tight depth of field – within reason – look artistic and considered, and are a fantastic way of drawing the eyes of your audience to exactly the point in the frame you want them to look at.
And this is all fairly straight forward until you hit macro focusing. Here, you’re often working with large apertures, very close subjects, and often mid-telephoto focal lengths, which means depth of field shrinks down to a hair’s breadth.
This presents two problems: firstly, if you get focus wrong by the very smallest amount, you’ll miss what you were aiming for. Secondly, even if you get focus bang on, if you’re working with the merest sliver of focus, it will still be really tricky for your viewers to tell what’s what. If you’re still set on shooting macro, here’s what you need to get focusing right.
1. Let there be light
The first thing you can do to get the focal plane – the tiny bit of your image which is in focus – of your image right, is to increase the amount of light you use. Ideally, go for powerful, off-camera strobes, which will allow you to shoot low ISOs at the same time as stopping your lens down a little.
The difference between shooting f/2.8 – i.e. wide-open on most macro lenses – and f/11 is enormous, and makes a world of difference when it comes to producing intelligible shots.
2. Back button focus
Back button focus gives you the best of both worlds – manual focus and normal autofocus. By using a button on the back of your OLYMPUS to control autofocus, instead of the shutter button, you’re able to fine-tune focus until it’s dead-on, and then release the back button, fixing autofocus at its last position.
You can then wait for the perfect composition, safe in the knowledge that pressing the shutter button won’t prompt the camera to move the lens and ruin your carefully-acquired focus.
3. Individual focus points
With depth of field so limited in macro photography, precision is everything. Modern cameras are pretty smart these days, and tools such as facial recognition can make a huge difference when it comes to keeping your life simple.
Less so with macro photography: not only is depth of field going to complicate things, but with nothing truly identifiable as the subject – much less a face – hoping your camera will sort things out automatically is a lost hope.
Instead, make sure you’re using a single autofocus point and place that point directly over the part of the image you want to be as sharp as possible. The result: better accuracy and higher precision.
4. Focus stacking
Just because your camera’s face recognition won’t work properly doesn’t mean you can’t use any of its next-gen features. Take focus stacking, for instance.
So focus stacking is a little like HDR; but instead of blending different exposures, you’re blending images with different focus distances.
So if you’re shooting a subject at settings that produce a very shallow depth of field, you shoot it at lots of slightly different focus distances, then blend the pictures later to produce a final image with much wider depth of field.
6. That sounds time-consuming
Correct! But if you have an OM-D with the most recent firmware, you have focus-stacking in camera. You lucky duck.
That means with your camera set correctly (find focus stacking in the Bracketing menu of your camera), it will shoot a number (up to 999) images very quickly, then merge them in-camera. In-camera focus stacking has benefits beyond simplicity: because your camera shoots the images very quickly, live subjects have less chance to move, so in theory you can get better results.