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Alberto Ghizzi Panniza – Macro Photography Tips

Alberto recently shot with Nikon on location at Bilkyrkogården Kyrkö Mosse, a car “cemetery” near Ryd, Linköping, Sweden to showcase the hidden “Beauty of Rust”. Here, he shares his seven top photography tips for shooting macro.

Alberto’s top tips

Play with depth of field

Understanding depth of field is one of the first big hurdles in macro photography. You need to know how aperture, focal length and focus work in harmony to control the sharpness of your images and achieve that special shot. Essentially, the smaller the subject and the greater the reproduction ratio is, the shallower the depth of field will be. Using an appropriate depth of field will help capture intricate macro images, whether a flower, an insect, or in this case, showcasing the hidden beauty of rust.

It’s all about aperture

Finding the right balance between the sharpness of the subject and blurry background with a nice bokeh is one of the most interesting and challenging aspects of macro photography – and it doesn’t get any easier, even after almost two decades working in macro photography! I find that using the correct aperture is key. It is easier to isolate subjects with macro lenses using small apertures like the AF-S DX Micro NIKKOR 85mm f/3.5G ED VR or AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED, whereas shorter lenses are better for contextualising subjects, for example the AF-S DX Micro NIKKOR 40mm f/2.8G and AF-S Micro NIKKOR 60mm f/2.8G ED which have wider-view angles. I’d advise against using apertures higher than f/16 to avoid the physical phenomenon of “diffraction”, which can take away that all-important sharpness and contrast.

Invest in the right accessories

If you want to increase the magnification capabilities of your macro lens, especially to go beyond the limit of the 1:1 reproduction ratio, accessories are very important. The simplest way to do this is using extension tubes, which detach the optics from the camera body. The further we move the lens away from the camera body, the closer the subject becomes – so consequently, the more tubes we use, the higher the reproduction ratio. One difficulty I often face is finding the right working distance between the camera and the subject. If you are too close you will not be able to focus on anything, so it’s all about finding the right balance.

Working your angles

When taking a single shot, the trick to get the whole subject in focus is to stay with the camera, and more specifically, with the surface of the sensor most parallel with the subject. It can be tricky to get a multidimensional creature, like a butterfly, in complete focus. If the wings are parallel to your camera and its sensor, it is relatively easy to capture a sharp image of the whole wing, but if the wings are at an angle, only a few centimeters of the wing will be in focus. This is where focus stacking can help. A favourite process of mine, it involves taking a progression or sequence of shots from the nearest to the farthest point of the subject. This allows us to get an image where the subject is totally focused and sharp. You can then blend them together in post-production to achieve an image with the whole subject in perfect focus – it’s a great technique! To create a stack, I would recommend using everything in manual mode, e.g. focus, timing, ISO, aperture and white balance.

Managing moving subjects

To overcome the problems of moving subjects, use a flash (like the Nikon R1C1), with which you can use very fast timings to freeze the movement of the subject. This is especially useful when trying to capture busy insects like bees, or my favourite, the damselfly.

Using lenses with Vibration-reduction

I often find it isn’t possible or convenient to use a tripod to capture your subject. In this case, lenses with built-in Vibration-Reduction (VR) are great in avoiding motion-blur, often caused by our own body movements when shooting handheld images.

Practice makes perfect

And finally, like all photography, the best way to perfect the art of macro is to practice with a range of different lenses, subjects and light states. On this shoot, the subject of rust on degrading cars was a completely new challenge, given I’d never photographed anything like it before. But with the right kit, accessories and knowledge of macro photography, I could experiment to produce some unusual and powerful compositions. I learnt a lot from the experience.