Saturday, February 9, 2013

Macro Fun @ Home


I have been sick for a few days now, and I had to spend the weekend at home, so yesterday I decided to have some quick macro fun, I didn't expect to get great pictures, but the purpose was to have fun and to experiment with some of my less used equipment.


I didn't want to spend time setting up complicated lighting setups, so I went with available light, a white piece of cardboard for the background, the GorillaPod SLR Zoom with the Joby Ball Head as my tripod and finally the OMD with the 12-50 kit lens, now the kit lens has an interesting macro mode where you push a dedicated macro button on the side of the lens and move the zoom ring to a dedicated macro position, and all of a sudden, you have a 0.72x 86mm eq. macro lens with a reasonable working distance.


GorillPod SLR Zoom + Joby Ball Head

Back to the GorillaPod for a second, I bought one a while ago when I had the 5D Mark III to be able to get interesting low angles, besides, I could use it's flexible legs to mount my flashes in creative positions. I bought the baddest, heaviest SLR Zoom version (without the ball head) that could hold my 5D3, which it only can in very limited positions, not what I expected. And mounting it to the camera is done via a screw, something you can't just do by hand, you have to use a coin to screw it to your camera, and even then, the angles I could get were very limited because I was cheap and skipped on the ball head. The tripod was never used except to hold my Zoom H1 mic in unnatural positions.


So with the 5D3 sold and a new smaller camera took its place, I decided to invest in the ball head because it will make it more flexible, so here I decided to give it a try with this macro project, it works really well with the smaller and lighter OMD in all positions, and the ball head is very good and smooth, provided you get past attaching the quick release plate to the camera via a similar screw and a coin.


Now that I had my camera and background ready, what do I shoot? I went hunting around the house for tiny stuff to shoot, and here's what I found:


Macro Subjects

I didn't bother with a remote shutter release and I used the 12 second timer on the OMD, I used aperture priority mode set at ISO 200 and f/11 to get as much DOF as I can, but any smaller aperture and I started losing sharpness because of diffraction, good thing the OMD has a smaller sensor with more DOF than a full frame sensor (my 5D2 gave me a real hard time when I was shooting water drops), the other settings involved a custom white balance and turning off the image stabilization. I was using the rear screen for composition and exposure adjustment, I had a live histogram which enabled me to adjust the exposure compensation for each picture on the fly, I did it by adding positive exposure compensation until the histogram almost reached the right side since I knew the background is white and should appear so in the final image. Finally, for focusing I used manual focus and 14x magnification. Here's how the final setup looked like.


The Setup

Here is the resulting image from the setup you see above:


Alan Keys, this is a Serfas branded kit that I use to fix my Orbea bike

Just before I continue with the rest of the images and the post processing, I want to discuss another gadget, I received a couple of weird lens adapters with my OMD kit (Amazon included a zillion things for free), one promised to give a 0.45x wide angle conversion (and can double work as macro) and the other one promised 2.5x telephoto conversion, I tried both and they sucked, I was wary of adding 3rd party unbranded glass in front of my lens, the wide angle converter caused a huge loss of sharpness and caused lots of flare, the telephoto converter didn't even work, but I never tried the macro bit before. Below are some photos of the adapter itself, it uses a 58mm filter thread, and I have step-down rings with all the possible combinations, down to 37mm:


Wide angle adapter with the covers on

Covers removed

Macro piece un-screwed

It comes with a carrying case

As you have seen, it comes in one piece which when un-screwed, you get a small macro adapter, having tested the wide angle and telephoto adapters before, I seriously doubted the macro bit, but to my surprise it worked really well and really sharp, and I believe I was able to get slightly more than 1x magnification, below are two pictures of a pencil sharpener, the first one is taken with the 12-50 alone at maximum magnification, then the second one with the macro adapter:


12-50 @ maximum magnification (0.72x)

With the macro adapter, probably past 1x magnification

100% Crop

And this is how the camera looked like, by the way all the pictures including the OMD were taken with the Sony RX100 hand held.



I decided to go for black and white pictures (except for a couple) and a 16:9 aspect ratio for this shoot, all pictures taken at f/11, here's what I came up with:


Sphinx Coin


Alan Key Family

German Sharpener


Quarter Pound

RX100 Aperture Priority

The Stiff Ring

Fiber Cleaning Cloth

Unthreaded Necklace

As you can see, I didn't spend any effort in lighting or using a remote shutter, I picked a few elements found around the house and enjoyed myself. I used focus stacking for the last picture, I have always wanted to try it and I had the chance, I used 5 images starting by focus on the near violet pebble to the top green one.


For processing I had to increase the blacks a lot, sometimes up to -100, I didn't worry about the whites since I already made sure the histogram was already near the right side, then I clicked the B&W button and used the targeted adjustment tool to adjust the shades of the different elements, and finally added a little bit of clarity and contrast, that's it.


I hope you've enjoyed the post, my next post will be soon, and will be about post-processing, I will pick a certain image every couple of weeks and show you the steps I use for processing this image.


  1. I can see the objects photographed, including the OM-D on gorilla, are all placed on a white board. What i can't make out is how you achieve such a neutral looking ambience lighting. Every shot, including the Macro's, have natural lighting (I'm assuming they are all without a flash as well). Is it the work of some diffuser or is it more complicated than that?

    Muhammad Usman

    1. Thank you Mohammad for the compliment.

      I didn't use any lighting other than the available room lights, the trick is to set the correct white balance, and as I mentioned above, I increase the exposure a little until I get the white background almost completely white. Then I add contrast and blacks in post processing.

  2. So the trick is to over expose the photos, and post process to adjust the contrast? Also, any quick tip to perfect the white balance (more like neutral as seen in your photos) when shooting under a strong tungsten light?

    1. In this case yes, it actually needs more explanation, I don't usually do the over exposing thing (or ETTR: expose to the right) like I used to with my old Canons. However, in this case I didn't light the background on it's own (which would require the background to be far away from the subject) and then light the subject, but instead I knew the background has to be completely white, so I shifted the exposure to the right until the histogram almost touched the right side, so I knew I had the whites really white. And since the colors were not critical and I was just doing this for fun, I fixed the contrast (or lack thereof, due to over exposure) in post.

      As for the white balance, there are two ways:

      1- Custom white balance: you take a picture of a white piece of paper under whatever lighting you'll be shooting in, then tell the camera to use this white balance, search your manual to find how to do it. I prefer this method since it is very accurate.

      2- Shoot RAW and fix the white balance in post by having something you know is white or grey in the picture. Less accurate but works ok with a fairly good auto white balance.

      I will post in a couple of days on how I processed the images here.


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