Getting in Close from Far Away
Okay, bring your camera in close...
A bit closer...
When you want to get in real close to your subject, you are entering the realm of the macro photographer. Usually this means you need a specialized macro lens, one that allows for extremely close focusing distances and provides a reproduction ratio of at least 1:1. For some subjects this may be your only choice, for example, capturing the minute details of an insect. For situations like that I will grab my Olympus 60mm f/2.8 macro lens. But often I want to capture a great close-up of my subject, giving it the macro 'feel' without actually being all that close. That's when I put on a longer lens and turn to telephoto macros.
Using a telephoto lens for your close-up shots comes with several advantages over a regular macro lens;
Olympus makes a variety of telephoto lenses. Given their minimum focusing distances they are excellent for macro-style shooting even if they aren't true macro lenses.
The best compositions are often the simplest ones. The easiest way to isolate your subject and make it stand out is to have a blurry, or defocused background. In large part this is determined by your choice of aperture, which not only establishes how much of your subject is sharp, but will also determine the degree to which your background blurs. A large aperture will create a softer background, but may not provide you with enough clarity throughout your subject. So achieving the perfect result is a bit of a balancing act and may require some experimenting with different aperture settings. Selecting a subject that is set a fair distance away from the background will also help isolate it in your final composition.
One option is to use the focus bracketing and stacking built into the OMD line-up of cameras. This allows you to use a larger aperture to achieve nice bokeh yet still have your entire subject in focus. With this technique however, having a subject that is quite still is key to getting good results.
In order to separate this fence from the distant trees I utilized a fairly large aperture. This created the defocused background that I wanted, but not all of the frost was in focus with a single shot so I used focus bracketing as well. (Olympus E-M1 Mark II, 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO @ 150mm, ISO200, 1/1000s @ f/3.5)
One technique that I like to use on occasion is to add blur in front of the subject as well. This adds a creamy softness to the foreground and the illusion of extra depth. This is achieved by placing your camera in amongst some foliage or flowers, often just a few inches away from the front lens element.
A Backyard Safari
One of the biggest advantages to using a telephoto lens for your macro-style shooting is the ability to capture a bit of 'wildlife' along with the beautiful blooms. It is a lot harder to sneak up on a butterfly sipping nectar using a macro lens. With a telephoto lens you can be several meters away and still have your subject fill up much of the frame. This will require a closer look at your camera settings since having a faster shutter speed may be important, depending on whether you are trying to capture the insect or bird in flight versus at rest.
There are a couple of approaches to consider;
Final Thoughts and Images
I often use macro photography as a quick escape. Whether I use a true macro lens or one of my telephoto lenses it is a great way to get out of the house for a short period of time and explore my immediate surroundings. It also helps me focus on the details when I'm out shooting landscape images. If you are new to this style of shooting it is good to experiment using a telephoto lens that you already have. You can practice good field technique before making the investment into a dedicated macro lens.
For more information on macro shooting you can check on this article on focus bracketing and stacking.