Getting Precision Focus in Macro Photography

Part of what makes macro photography so difficult is setting the focus.  The subjects in macro photography are so small that you end up having to place the camera extremely close to them.  As per photography 101, the depth of field becomes marginal as you move the subject closer to the camera. Here are some ways you can better focus macro photography.

Step 1 - Set your shot

Always frame your shot first.  Every other element of photography can be adjusted to complement the camera placement. Determine what you want to achieve first, then you will not have to backtrack as much.  Place the camera on a tripod with the sturdiest possible setup.  Use the thicker legs and avoid the riser column.  If the camera moves when you shoot, then the delicate focal distance will move with it.

Step 2 - Evaluate the depth of field

Look through your viewfinder and try to focus the object.  If you are able to set the focus to where you are happy with how much of the object is sharp, then take your photo.  However, more than likely, you will only be able to get a few millimeters of it in focus.  So set your camera to aperture priority and close down the aperture to an F 16 or so.  You can now focus more of the subject than before.  If you are still not satisfied with the depth of field, consider moving the camera back and cropping down your frame later in Photoshop.

Step 3 - Reestablish exposure

Check to see what shutter speed your camera wants you to use for your F 16 setting.  If it is slower than 1/125, then you are likely to see some negative effects in your image, so add some light to allow you to increase the shutter speed.  A diffuse flash can work, or an independent lighting setup will also serve you well.  Either way, illuminate the subject to the point where you will not have to compromise your depth of field.

Step 4 - Take the shot

Double check your focus once more, as it may have shifted during all your adjustments.  Since the depth of field is so sensitive, you will not want to risk moving the camera or subject even a millimeter in the time between setting the focus and taking the shot.  It's a good idea to use a remote shutter release button.  This way you do not have to apply pressure to the camera when you hit the button.  Said pressure could be enough to throw off your precisely set focus.  If you do not have a remote shutter release, then consider using the timer function.

Step 5 - In the field

Practice in controlled conditions before taking your macro lens into the field.  You will have much less time to think about all these factors when you are chasing time to capture precise moments.  Stability and lighting will be much harder to control and you will not have as much liberty to ponder the ways to increase depth of field.

Finding precise focus can be difficult in macro photography, but as long as you keep tabs on the depth of field, you should be able to get a crisp image.

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