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Macro photography of scale models

Mirrorless cameras are essentially the same category as the DSLRs. Large, high quality sensors, interchangeable lens, and amazing quality. They are smaller and lighter (no bulky prisms and whatnot), but they are considerably more expensive, and you don’t have as wide range of lenses available for them as for the DSLRs. I do often wish I had a mirrorless when sightseeing and doing touristy things because size does matter. Hauling around a D3300 made me realize I really don’t need a full-frame camera at all.

(Tip for choosing cameras: Pentax cameras in general are very much compatible to all K-mount lenses produced from 1975 onward… this opens up a very cheap source of high quality glass; the only downside is that most if it will only work in manual mode.)

Camera settings
These settings can be changed in most cameras -even in some of the smartphone models.

(see Figure one) Aperture/shutter speed/ISO is the trinity of macro photography (or any photography, really, but they are especially important when it comes to macro). If you want to delve into macro photography, learn the phrase: depth of field. You want as much of it as possible; but here’s the catch: the larger your magnification, the smaller it gets… so you need to tweak your photos a bit. (This issue of inverse relationship between magnification and depth of field is exaggerated even more with microscopy, obviously.)

(see Figure 2) Photographing small subjects you will need learn to juggle with the amount of light you have (with closeups it’s smaller than normal), and the depth of field. Aperture is simply put the opening between the lens and the sensor. (It works essentially like the pupils in your eyes.) Its size can be adjusted, and this is how you control how much light should hit the sensor. This, obviously, have ramifications: allow too much light in and your photo will be overexposed; allow too little, and it will be underexposed if you don’t adjust the shutter speed and ISO. It also effects, as we discussed, the depth of field: if the aperture is small, it will allow very little light in, requiring longer exposure, but the depth of field will be larger; if the aperture is small, it will allow more light in, with a shorter exposure, but the depth of field will be small. It goes from a large number (small aperture) to a small (large aperture).

Shutter speed
As the name implies, shutter speed is the amount of time the sensor is exposed to the light. If the aperture is large, the speed will be high, since you need to expose the sensor for a shorter amount of time with more light, and vica versa. If it is too low, you will need something to hold the camera stable- a tripod, ideally.

Playing around with these two settings you can achieve different effects: choosing a large aperture and fast shutter speed allows you to “freeze” motion (for example droplets of a water fountain, the cliche of photography students), or you can make it look “smooth” if you choose a small aperture and longer exposure.

ISO describes the sensitivity of the sensor. In the film era, you chose films with certain ISOs for certain tasks: ISO100 was perfect for outdoor photos, 200 was normally chosen for darker, indoor photos. With digital cameras you can change the value at any time. The low ISO setting will give you nice, crisp photos, for the price of lower sensitivity, so you will need more light for those photos. Higher ISOs give you more sensitivity, but the photos will be grainier, noisier.

Depth of field

As we discussed, if the aperture is wide (small number), the depth of field will be small, but you allow a lot of light to the sensor (and use faster shutter speeds and lower ISO); conversely, if you set the aperture small (large number), you maximise the depth of field -but this means you decrease the amount of light hitting the sensor, so you need to increase the shutter speed, and the ISO (sensitivity) of the sensor. The more you decrease the shutter speed, the more stable you need the camera to be (tripod and a timer may be necessary), and the more you increase the ISO, the more noise you introduce to your photos, and they will look grainy… so it’s a balancing act, especially when taking photos of small objects. You want to hit the ideal combination of these three factors. There are good calculators which can help you choosing the right settings. Normally shooting at aperture f/10-11 in aperture priority mode gives you the best compromise (relatively large depth of field, and you can still hold the camera in hand), but this is not an absolute rule. At large magnifications apertures f/22 can be used when necessary to increase the depth of field -but this will increase the shutter speed dramatically. (Aperture priority mode means you set the aperture manually, and the camera chooses the shutter speed.) ISO should not go over 400 because the photos become visibly noisy (grainy), but then again; it may be the price you pay in macro photography.

About the Author

About Andras (spongya)

I am a biologist by trade, and as a hobby I've been building scale models for the last twenty years. Recently I started to write reviews of the models I bought. These reviews are written from the point of view of an average model builder; hence the focus is on quality of the model, how easy it is to...