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  • Author Ced Yuen
  • Published August 15, 2014

How to take… the perfect macro photograph

Everybody is doing selfies these days. Don’t forget that your phone can do much more than that.

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Everybody is doing selfies these days. Don’t forget that your phone can do much more than that… What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision‘s Ced Yuen explains
 
Today we’ll get up close and personal with pictures of things. Whether you’re after magazine-style product photography or simply a few snaps for eBay, here are a few pointers for your point-and-shoot.
 
Lighting is key…
 

 
…so that’s where we start. Dim light is a challenge for most cameras and more so for phone cameras. You want to make sure the subject can be easily seen, without resorting to Photoshop afterwards.
 
The best lighting is even. Try to light your subject from two sides. Shooting by a window? Balance it out with a desk lamp. Or a torch. You can even work wonders with a piece of paper to reflect light to minimise shadow. A bit of shadow will help define the edges of a subject but don’t go too far unless you’re going for an arty, stylised look.
 
If you’re shooting outdoors, it’s best to do it just after dawn or right before dusk. The so-called “golden hour” is just that – images take on a lovely glow, with rich colours. It’s an easy way instantly to make everything look a little lovelier.
 
Avoid midday shoots. That harsh overhead lighting will create unwanted shadows and washes out colour.
 
Close it up
 

 
Go right up to the subject. Not only do you get an unusual perspective from going right in, you also gain detail. Phone cameras have short focal lengths so can get close while staying sharp.
 
A bunch of close-up shots are worth as much as a big full-body shot. The details make up a product, after all, and they’re more visual than a product on its own. Remember to tap on the bit you want to focus on: automatic focus often has a mind of its own.
 
Don’t use zoom, however. Most phones don’t have an optical zoom – the extending lens in normal cameras. They have digital zooms, which simply magnifies the image on screen. That just makes your picture fuzzier. Want to zoom? Do it with your feet.
 
Pay attention to the surface of the subject and how it catches the light. You want to show off the texture without reflecting too much light into the camera. Experiment with different angles until you get a good balance of detail and flare. Move the light source if you find an angle you like with the wrong lighting. A torch can come in very handy.
 
Don’t forget the rest
It’s not all about the subject. Your whole picture tells a story and the stuff in the background matters. Beaches, parks and picnic benches are more useful than, say, a desk with a pot noodle in the distance, unless you want to advertise subtly your snack food preference.
 
Think about everything that’s in shot and decide if it needs to be there. Do you want your hands in the frame or are they distracting? You may want to prop up your subject with a bit of adhesive putty, like Blu-tack. Or fashion a makeshift stand: bend a fork and tape it to your subject.
 
If you’re after a studio vibe, you want a neutral background. Hang a single-coloured material on your wall, let it run over your worktop, and sit your subject on it. Large sheets of colourful paper are good; textured cloth, less so. The idea is to isolate your subject so focus is on it solely. Well, only if you make sure not to catch yourself in a reflection. Beware of shiny things.
 
Faff about

Once you get comfortable shooting vanilla, take some time to make your photos fancy. Third party camera apps can have more functions than your phone’s default. Many of them let you set focus and exposure separately, which comes in handy when you want to concentrate on an area that’s too bright.
 
Avoid grainy, nostalgic-looking filters. They’re great for spicing up otherwise ordinary looking pictures but in this case they can be distracting. You want your subject to shine, not look like it’s a negative that’s been dipped in ditchwater.
 
If you want a style shot, play around with the lighting. Make the lighting uneven to exaggerate shadows, or go for unusual lighting angles. Backlighting and underlighting (illuminating from behind or below) are easy ways to give your subject a slight otherworldly quality.
 
Don’t forget to have fun!
It’s easy to get caught up in all the technicalities but the joy is in experimenting and playing around to see what works. None of the above are rules.
 
Ced Yuen is staff writer on What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision magazine.
 
All photos here were taken on an LG G3, which has a 13-megapixel camera, optical image stabilisation, and lasers for super-fast focusing.

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