You Say 'Macro'. I Say Maybe...

posted on 17th of june, 2008

What ever you call it, macro photography (taken with a macro lens or a micro lens as one manufacturer calls their macro lens) is NOT simply a close-up image. What’s the difference between "close-ups", "macros", and "micrographs" (also known as "micro-photographs" or "photomicrographs")

A ‘close-up’ refers to any image zoomed or cropped into a detail such as the close-up of the woman’s lips or the golf ball and club. Another example: Take a photo of a fly in a bowl of soup. It will be evident in the image that the viewer is to meant see the fly but in the context of the soup. A correct characterization of the image would be ‘close-up of a fly in a bowl of soup’. A macro shot of that same fly would show the details of its eyes and the viewer would have no clue as to what the bug was floating in. Once the fly is fished out of the soup and placed under a microscope and photographed, a micrograph is created.

True macro photography can only be achieved by using a macro lens. Many lenses, especially telephoto ones, enable zooming in on details or with extensions can be used to achieve a nearly macro shot. Many images on Dreamstime have been labeled 'macro’when they are actually close-ups. The introduction of the confusing label, ‘micro’ photography when ‘macro’ is meant comes from one manufacturer referring to its macro lens as a ‘micro’ lens.

© Parrus (Help)

Technically a macro lens needs to produce an image with a 1:1 ratio and is used to show minute detail in insects, flowers or any other object that one wishes to magnify. There are adaptors that will allow you to use standard telephoto lens to get very close up such as the Reverse Lens Adapter on a 18-55 zoom lens as was used for the next to last image here of the fly’s eyes by Photowitch

Macro images are interesting when they show extreme details of a subject that are complex and intriguing when magnified. Macro details of insects reveal an incredible anatomy and macro shots of plants show us a world within a flower. A macro shot of a piece of wood? Not so much. Using an expensive macro lens is generally wasted on objects that have a uniform construction that extreme magnification will not enhance visually.
The use of a camera attached to a microscope creates a photomicrograph.Depending on the magnification of the standard microscope, the resulting image can be an image of an insect that actually shows more of the animal than a macro image but when the maximum magnification is in play, structures at the cellular level can be observed. If a camera is attached to an electron microscope an entirely new world opens up to reveal life on the level of a virus and smaller.

© Errog (Help)

Tips on how to create macro images and work-arounds for those without the proper lenses:
The $10 do it yourself macro photo studio from Stobist: here
Tips on insect macro photography here
Another that is way too complicated for my comment is here
Telling the difference between close-up and macro photography with examples

Comments (14)

Comment by Ellenboughn on June 24, 2008