Use Your Camera's Macro Mode for Great Close-Ups

Here's how to use your compact camera's macro mode--and add-on filters--to take close-up photos of flowers, dewdrops, and other tiny things.

Enter the Close-Up World With Macro Mode

Macro photography lets you see the natural beauty of the tiny things all around us. You can get in close to your subject--flowers, bugs, coins, you name it--by activating your camera's macro mode (almost always indicated by a tulip icon), or get even closer by attaching a close-up filter to the front of your lens. Macro shooting opens a whole new world to you, but you'll need to pay attention to certain details such as lighting and aperture. Go to my primer on shooting close-ups for some background, and read on for more tips.

Go Beyond Macro Mode With Add-On Lenses

If you want greater magnification than your point-and-shoot camera can provide on its own, try using add-on lenses. Often called macro filters, these inexpensive lenses--available from your camera's manufacturer or from Websites like Camera Depot or Tiffen--attach to the front of your camera's built-in lens. Though not every camera on the market can work with macro filters, many can. I took this shot with a point-and-shoot camera set to macro mode, with a +1 filter attached.

Combine Macro Filters to Get Closer

You can combine close-up lenses by threading them together. Adding a +1 lens to a +2 lens, for instance, yields the impressive +3 magnification that you see here. For that reason, I suggest getting close-up lenses as a set instead of one at a time; you can then combine them as you see fit to obtain the magnification you need for a given picture. When combining close-up lenses, put the highest magnification on first, closest to the camera lens. That way, you can remove the lenses in smaller increments to achieve just the right magnification.

Use a Small Aperture for Large Depth of Field

If your camera gives you control over the aperture, use it. A small aperture (like f/11 or f/22) gives you a relatively large depth of field. That setting will make more of the background identifiable. A large aperture (like f/4) gives you a shallow depth of field. Which do you need for a good dewdrop photo? It depends. This shot, taken with a small aperture of f/16, keeps the whole droplet in focus.

Large Aperture Gives You a Narrow Focal Range

More depth of field is often better than less when you're shooting very small subjects, very close up. For example, this photo is basically the same as the previous photo, but this time taken with a large aperture of f/4. Notice that the depth of field is so precarious in this alternate version that the front of the drop is in sharp focus, but toward the back the drop is already blurring. Now that's a narrow depth of field!

Add Some Color to Your Dewdrop

Once you take a few dewdrop photos, you might want to start experimenting. One popular trick is to get some color in the droplet--perhaps the reflection of another flower. Just position a flower behind your subject and move it around until you see it in the drop through the viewfinder, as I did for this photo.

Mind the Background

Macro photos look best when you can reduce the distractions caused by cluttered, blurry backgrounds. When you shoot outdoors, taking pictures of flowers or insects, perhaps, try using the flash. The background will end up quite dark, eliminating the problem. On the left, you can see a flower shot with natural light; on the right, I used a flash to minimize the background.

Go Little-Game Hunting

Some tiny subjects are harder to shoot than others. Check out this dragonfly, for example. To get a shot like this, you'll want to put your camera on a tripod and leave the tripod head loose enough to move the camera as you track your prey. Set the shutter speed as fast as it will go (or use action/sports mode), and apply light pressure to the shutter release to focus on the most important part of the critter. When you're ready, snap the photo--but take a lot of shots. You'll probably get a couple of keepers.

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