Macro Photography

Ben Carlson

History and Basic Information:

Macro Photography at its basics is close up photography to make small objects greater than life size when printed onto photo paper, but is at about a 1:1 ratio when it is on the negatives.
The history of macro photography is as old as photography itself, as all it requires is a lense that can focus at low distances. However, before the invention of the digital camera, macro photography required a large amount of gear and equipment to be able to shoot good photos, and the digital camera has largely negated the need for much if any special equipment as many digital cameras come with a macro setting. Obviously you get what you pay for in these digital cameras though in terms of macro, as a $1200 camera will be able to shoot much smaller items and in a lot better quality than a $150 camera.

Macro used to be mainly for taking pictures of bugs and insects but nowadays it has evolved into photographing anything small enough to where it can not be seen well with the human eye. Examples include: electronics, liquids, glass, plants, food, rust, etc. One of the most famous macro-photographers was Fritz Goro who is the person who really brought macro photography out into public. He worked as a photographer for Life Magazine and he captured many influential scientific breakthroughs such as the creation of penicillin and the separation of the isotopes of uranium and plutonium that created the atomic bomb.

Below is a great example of macro photography by Mark Plonsky.
Macro is often used to study insects because of all the things that the camera lens can capture that the human eye cannot.

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THE PHYSICS:

Photography itself requires a great deal of physics particularly that of light. Light enters through the open shutter of a camera and converges and is focused through a lens or series of lenses and then the image is recorded on a digital sensor or film if it is a film camera. This focusing is particularly important in terms of macro photography.
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The focal length of a camera lens is essentially what causes the image to focus, and for a macro lens, the longer the focal length, the more focused your image will be and therefore you can take pictures of smaller and smaller objects. For example:
Macro lenses with a focal length of 45 to 65mm are good for small objects that can be approached closely and require a natural background
From 90 to 105mm you get lenses that are good for insects, flowers and small objects from a comfortable distance
From 150 to 200mm the lenses allow photography of insects and other small animals with additional distance.

And as a comparison, the standard lens is anywhere from 15 to 35mm, which means that one would have to get really really close to an object to even get a good shot whereas the macro lens allow enough focus or zoom to where you can still have a bit of distance between the subject and yourself.