Macro Mode – Know When to Say No

By now, most of you know that the majority of point-and-shoot cameras have something called a “macro” mode.  And most of you know that it’s set with that little flower button or menu option.  And you know that in just about every forum on improving Etsy product photos someone always says “make sure that you use macro mode.”  Well, that’s a crock!  Yes, macro mode is a very powerful and useful tool.  But that doesn’t mean you should use it for every shot you take.  Under the right conditions, and with the proper preparations, it can give you some remarkable photos.  But it also makes it easier to end up with a really, really bad photo.  So today I’m going to talk a little about when you should, and shouldn’t, select the little flower.

Just for fun, here’s an image (click to zoom) that I took using macro mode on a now-obsolete Nikon Coolpix back in 2003.  The camera itself was a 2000 model, so it’s got some pretty old technology by today’s standards.  The photo shows a drop of sap leaking out of a branch on a Fraser Fir Christmas tree.

As I said, if everything goes just right, you can get some really cool shots.  Can you see my reflected eye?  How about a few needles?  And the stretch marks up near the top?  I admit, I got really lucky with this shot, especially since the camera was hand-held.  But sometimes things just work.

So, when should you use macro mode?  And are there any tips for getting great macro shots?  Of course there are!

  1. Look in your user manual for the recommended distance range for your particular camera.  For example, I just checked an online manual for a Canon PSA480, and here’s what it says: “The possible shooting range is approximately 3-50 cm (1.2 in. – 1.6 ft.) at maximum wide angle … and approximately 25-50 cm (9.8 in. – 1.6 ft.) at maximum telephoto,…”.  Look for this information in your own manual, and keep a ruler or a tape measure handy if you’re not good at estimating distances.  By the way, in P&S cameras, these distances are usually measured from the end of the lens.
  2. Don’t think that you have to get closer than 1.6 ft. just so you can use macro mode.  Compose the image first.  Get the field of view that you want, then decide whether you should use macro mode.
  3. Don’t be fooled into believing that macro mode is going to solve all your problems.  More than ever, you’re going to need a good setup and good technique.  This means sufficient lighting, probably a tripod (along with the camera’s self-timer) and precise focusing.
  4. Speaking of focus, when you use macro mode, the depth of field is greatly reduced.  That means that the range of distances over which your subject will be in focus is pretty small.  If you know how to use your camera’s “aperture-priority” or “manual” modes, you can get a little increased depth of field by shooting with a smaller aperture (higher f number).  Regardless, make sure you’re focused on your intended subject, and not some unimportant background piece.
  5. Mix it up a little bit.  For Etsy listings, you’ve got five photo slots right?  So (if appropriate for your item) take a few shots in “regular” mode (whatever that’s called on your camera) to show the item while in use or in some kind of interesting setting.  Then take a few more in macro mode to show the detail of what you’ve created.
  6. If you decide that macro mode is right for the situation, that still doesn’t mean you have to be right on top of the subject.  Back up a little bit.  It’ll improve your odds of getting a good shot.  Remember when I talked about cropping and how few of those precious pixels are really needed?  If you missed it, you can check out two different posts here and here.  Remember, it’s okay (and even encouraged) to crop!
  7. If your camera has a viewfinder, unless it’s “electronic” (it probably isn’t), don’t use it to compose the shot when you’re using macro mode.  Use the display screen instead.  Otherwise, your eye and the lens may be looking at two different things.

As always, I hope that you learned something today, and that you can use what you’ve read to improve your photography skills.  Keep learning, keep practicing, and until next time … Happy Shooting!

5 thoughts on “Macro Mode – Know When to Say No

  1. What an amazing photo…incredible!! I have just found your blog and so far have only read 2 of your articles but I already learned several things I am doing wrong. Your info is clear and easy to understand. I have struggled from day one with my photos and they have improved but they are a LONG way from being good. I spent the last year practicing and trying many, many things (including the infamous OTT bulb) but have gotten so disgusted with myself and ready to just settle for so-so photos.
    Thank you for sharing your knowledge and I can’t wait to read all of your previous posts as well.

  2. I am so pleased I found your blog. You seem to be answering all the questions I have been asking about taking photos with my new camera. As usual, it’s finding the time to go through it in detail and putting it into practice. I must set aside a day for ‘getting to know your camera thoroughly’ and work through your posts. Thanks so much for taking the time to pass on your knowlege and experience. Your photographs are awesome by the way.

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