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The APN Guide: Macro and close-up

Journal Entry: Wed Aug 22, 2018, 5:00 AM
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Full title: About the difference between macro and close-up photography

(It didn't fit, don't blame me Stare )

Imagine you are browsing DeviantArt in the photography section (this might not be a difficult task), and you come across a photograph you really like. For instance, there's a flower or a butterfly on it. You want to let the artist know how much you like it, so you comment something like "Great macro!" or "Brilliant close-up!". In this case, the question remains: was it a macro, or a close-up?

In this article we will discuss the difference between the two!
  • What is macro photography?
  • What is close-up photography?
  • The difference

    Grab yourself a snack, and off we go!

What is macro photography?

Let's start off with a quick introduction to macro photography- just in case you might not be familiar with the term or aren't sure what it entails. For this part of the guide, I had a quick chat with JustACapharnaum, she is currently the CV for macro photography and my favourite angry pikachu, (she loves my puns) and she told me the following:

Macro is a true representation of a subject, on a 1:1 scale. It's all about showing details that wouldn't be noticeable with the naked eye. 

Macro photography is essentially the act of photographing small things. A lot of times macro photographs involve things (or details) we cannot see without the magnification. Personally, I find macro photography enchanting, because it shows us so much of which is there, that we wouldn't see in our daily life. It is something that encourages us to take a closer look at the things we see in our daily life.

Back in the good ol' film days, macro was nearly impossible to reach for amateurs, because you needed a load of very expensive equipment, besides that, make a mistake and you would've ruined a portion of your (very limited) filmroll! Shooting with a film camera, an image that captured something that was at least 1/10th the size of a piece of 35mm film, was considered a macro. Images that were captured on life-size, 1:1, were considered micro.
Today, macro photography doesn't require nearly as much equipment. Nearly all compact cameras have a macro mode, you can buy screw-on-lenses or filters to put on top of your lens, there's extension tubes you can put in between your camera and lens, and we also have macro lenses.

Personally, I am not too fond of the macro mode of most compact cameras, because they simply allow you to take a close-up, which means it is not a true representation of a subject. If you've ever tried out the macro mode on your compact camera, you've most likely noticed it was very hard to get the camera to focus, and the final result is nowhere near to the macro's you've seen online. That is because the macro-mode does not use 1:1, but 1:2 scale. Which means you can only capture things at half of it's original size, which means you've got to take more distance from your object. In camera specifications, you can always find a "minimal focal distance", which indicates the distance there has to be between the lens and the subject.

On a DSLR, macro capabilities aren't dependent on the camera, but on the lens. If you have a DSLR, the extension tube or a reverse ring might be the most affordable option. You can buy these on eBay or anywhere else for a small price, which is especially useful if you are just starting out in macro. It gives you a cheap way to figure out if it really is something you like before you go and spend a load of money on a macro lens. A set of extension tubes works by creating a greater distance between the lens and the camera sensor, which magnifies your subject to 1:1. A reverse ring gives you the ability to put your lens on backwards, which also magnifies your subject tot 1:1.

Then there's also macro lenses. These are lenses made to get on top of your subject. A macro lens usually mentions it's ratio on the specifications and/or on the lens, usually 1:1. Keep in mind when buying a lens, that many lenses offer "macro mode", which is essentially the same as the macro mode in compact camera's. Not a real macro lens! Macro lenses can be used for many other things than just macro, though. They have an infinite focal range, which means they are also great for portraits, close-ups and other things!

Now you may be wondering, which is better for macro photography? The macro modus on a compact camera, or extensiontubes/reversering or macro lens on a DSLR? In that case I would always say: DSLR. Compact cameras hardly ever offer the "true" macro experience, since they can only capture objects at half their size. It's a fun way to start out and practice, if you don't have other options. But if you aspire to take true macro photographs, I would advice to save up for tha DSLR with a set of extension tubes or a reverse ring. I've worked with that combination myself for years, I didn't get a macro lens until last year. The good part about the extensiontubes is that you can also combine them with your macro lens, to get even closer to even smaller things. They'll always come in useful!

Parasitic Fungi on fly by melvynyeo Wish upon a Star by MyLifeThroughTheLens  Nine by FurImmerUndEwig  You feel like home by JustACapharnaum In the wind by donlope01 Real snowflake by ChaoticMind75
A few examples of true macros

What is close-up photography?

There are many different definitions of close-up photography, and often, which shouldn't surprise us, it is confused with macro. The best definition I found was in my own dictionary, at home.
A photograph taken at a close range or with a long focal-length lens, on a relatively large scale. 
This means, that with a close-up shot, you can still get very close to your subject, you just wouldn't capture it on a 1:1 ratio like you would with macro photography. Common subjects for close-ups include flowers, plants, animal portraits and so on. If you capture a portrait of a dog, with for instance, just it's head, it would be a close-up. In this case, a 1:1 ratio would most likely only show the details in its fur. The bigger your subject, the bigger your chances are that the picture is a close-up. 

Like macro photography, in a close-up shot, the background is often blurry as well. This is also known as a depth of field. This means that your subject is in focus, while everything else surrounding it (if it is at a considerable distance from the subject) will blur out. This is something that especially shows up with the longer focal length lenses, in my experience, from around a 100mm you really start to see the depth of field, depending on your distance to the subject and the distance between the subject and the background. Of course, you can also create a nice depth of field with lenses shorter than a 100mm. The 50mm f/1.8 lenses, which I have written about before, are also amazing to create a lovely depth of field, but you'd need to get way closer to your subject to achieve it. It all depends on so many different things, that it is hard to give you a definitive number.

I personally love to use my macro lens for close-up shots. My macro lens is capable of getting closer than I would with my other lenses, but it doesn't necessarily make my shot a macro. If you were to take a look in my nature gallery, you'll see if I have a lot close-up shots of flowers and fungi, which I have all taken with my macro lens. 

Detailed net by griffsnuff  Creativity! by F-Lagerdahl  Un peu, beaucoup... by Catlaxy Frogman by NicoFroehberg Still growing by cindywebbphotography
Some examples of close-up shots

The difference

Okay, so let's put this out there: close-up photography and macro are not the same. I think we've learned that much today. But what is the difference? How do we differentiate? 

Let's sum it up:
  • A macro photograph means that it's taken on a 1:1 ratio, while a close-up is 1:2 or further.
  • A macro photograph shows details you wouldn't get from a close-up
  • In a close-up shot, the background often becomes blurry as well. Blurry backgrounds aren't necessary an indication a macro shot.
  • Using a macro lens doesn't necessarily make your photograph a macro. 

I hope this article was able to clear up the difference between the two, as it often seems to be a grey area for people. I also hope it has answered any questions you may have had, and if not, I still hope your learned something!

Do you have questions? Feel free to ask them in the comments!

Journal skin by UszatyArbuz
Photo by The-Panic
Full title: About the difference between macro and close-up photography.

For AnimalsPlantsNature 
Add a Comment:
Great explanation! And thank you for including one of my photos here, I appreciate it!
Yuukon Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2018   Writer
I'm glad you thought so! You're welcome!
Catlaxy Featured By Owner Aug 24, 2018  Hobbyist Photographer
Thanks for this very interesting article and for including one of my photos as an example! :hug:
Yuukon Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2018   Writer
You're welcome! :heart:
What's beautiful about macro/closeup is that it fits not only nature, but objects, liquids and human too :love:
Nicely done! 
Yuukon Featured By Owner Aug 27, 2018   Writer
Thank you!
JustACapharnaum Featured By Owner Nov 20, 2018
You're welcome!
griffsnuff Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2018  Professional Digital Artist
Thanks for featuring my photo >u</
Yuukon Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2018   Writer
You're most welcome! :la:
donlope01 Featured By Owner Aug 22, 2018  Hobbyist Photographer
Great explanation. Most of the time I'm doing close up photography that I call macro so that people understand what I do :)
Yuukon Featured By Owner Aug 22, 2018   Writer
I'm glad it was useful for you, Sebastien! :heart:
JenFruzz Featured By Owner Aug 22, 2018  Hobbyist Photographer
Excellent info! 
Yuukon Featured By Owner Aug 22, 2018   Writer
I'm glad you enjoyed it Jen! :la:
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