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Photographing a tulip… perfectly

By April 3, 2018 Photography No Comments

Few photographers haven’t been seduced by the appeal of macro photography at one time or another. Getting really close to a subject unveils a whole new world to explore, with landscapes and textures that are often alien to more general photography.


When does a close-up become a macro photo? Definitions vary and the term ‘macro’ is often abused when it comes to some cameras and lenses. Arguably, a macro photo is achieved when the camera can reproduce the subject at actual size on the sensor. So, if the subject is 10mm across, then a true macro would reproduce it at 10mm on the sensor. How big it then appears in the image depends on how big the sensor is, but the generally accepted definition is a 1:1 reproduction.

If you really want to reproduce at 1:1, you’ll need a specialised macro lens that can focus sufficiently close and deliver the required magnification. That said, you may find the effect you’re after is actually much more mild than a true macro.

Consider this tulip, photographed in the amazing Keukenhof Garden just outside Amsterdam in The Netherlands (incidentally, the world’s second largest flower garden, only behind the Dubai Miracle Garden). The petals measured about 6cm, which means at 1:1 reproduction only about half of the entire flower could be squeezed on a full-frame camera and even less on the smaller APSC or Micro Four-Thirds formats. The reproduction you see in this photo is closer to 1:4 on full frame.

This is worth remembering because this degree of magnification/reproduction is within the realm of many lenses that aren’t technically considered true macro models, but for many people, they may be close enough. This was taken with the Lumix 42.5mm ƒ/1.7 on an Olympus OM-D EM-1 with the aperture opened wide to the full ƒ/1.7 for a shallow depth of field. This lens can focus as close as 31cm, which allowed the capture of the image you see here without cropping or using any specialised equipment.

If you want to isolate the subject against a blurred background, you need a shallow depth of field. To do this, shoot in Aperture-Priority mode and choose the largest aperture for your lens, indicated by the smallest ƒ/number. You can accentuate the effect by using longer focal lengths and/or closer focusing distances. The telephoto focal length and close focusing used in this shot, coupled with the ƒ/1.7 aperture, easily blurred the background despite it being fairly close to the main subject.

EXIF data

  • Olympus OM-D EM-1
  • Panasonic Lumix 42.5mm ƒ/1.7
  • 42.5mm (85mm equivalent)
  • ƒ/1.7
  • 1/50 seconds
  • -0.3 EV
  • ISO 200
  • Vivid

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