Using Macro Mode Effectively: A Point And Shoot Tutorial :: Digital Photo Secrets

Using Macro Mode Effectively: A Point And Shoot Tutorial

by David Peterson 10 comments

Digital SLRs may have the upper hand when it comes to shooting macro, but that doesn’t mean us point-and-shoot owners have to give up. You’d be surprised with what you can do using your point-and-shoot camera’s macro shooting mode. As long as you employ the right techniques, you can create some truly stunning macro photography. Here’s how.

Believe it or not, this beautiful macro photo was taken with a standard point-and-shoot camera.
Photo By Kaustubh Kushte

What is macro shooting mode?

You’ve probably noticed that your camera has a number of different shooting modes. There’s a shooting mode for action, snow, portraits, indoors, night photography, and several other shooting situations. The macro shooting mode is a lot like these other modes. When you switch to it, your camera automatically picks settings that are ideal for macro photography.

What sorts of settings? The most common of these is the use of a wider aperture (not all point-and-shoot cameras offer lenses with wide apertures, so your camera is most likely to pick the widest aperture available). With a wider aperture, you can selectively focus on one element of the scene. So if you’re shooting an image of a bee, you’ll see most of the bee’s head while the rest of its body is blurred out in the background. This helps your subject stand out in ways it wouldn’t in other shooting modes.

There’s another good thing about macro shooting mode. With a wider aperture setting, your camera is now free to pick a faster shutter speed. Motion blur can become a real problem when you’re doing macro photography. Because you’re so close up, those tiny shakes can amount to more than you might think. With a faster shutter speed, you effectively reduce most of the motion blurring that can happen as a result of it.

I think the best thing about using the macro shooting preset mode is that you don’t have to think about what settings to pick. You just focus your point-and-shoot camera on your subject, and then you press the trigger. If you like what you see in the LCD screen, great. If not, you just need to recompose the image or focus on something else. (I’m always thinking of new ways to compose my shots. I follow the rules, but I like to break them a lot when I’m in macro mode.)

What you can do to get the most of out macro mode

As a point-and-shoot photographer, you don’t have access to all of the luxuries you’d get with a digital SLR. But there is one big thing you can do to improve your macro photos today. You’ve gotta get a tripod, and you’ve gotta use it. Tripods help you get a consistent image in macro mode every time. Allow me to elaborate.

Yet another fantastic point-and-shoot macro photo.
The color is a little drab, but we'll fix that below.
Photo By Soe Lin

When you’re working with very small subjects and only a small part of the scene is in focus, the slightest bit of motion in the subject or the camera can completely throw off the shot. By using a tripod, you’re getting rid of one common failure point - the camera.

The real trick to getting good macro photos with a point-and-shoot camera is to keep focusing on the subject in between each shot. Why? Because the wind can move plants and flowers around without your even noticing it. What you thought to be the main focus changes slowly over time, and before you know it, your images don’t look anything like the picture you originally saw in your head.

There’s another nice thing about tripods and point-and-shoot cameras. You can get incredibly close to your subject, sometimes mere centimeters away. This allows you to get a perspective you wouldn’t ordinarily get by simply holding the camera. In your hands, the camera is too shaky to take pictures at that distance. On a tripod, it’s perfectly fine.

Compose the shot!

I see a lot of fancy camera owners who never take the time to compose their pictures in any interesting sort of way. As a result, they get bland photos that don’t really say anything. Sure, they’ve got the technological advantage, but it’s only worth something if they take the time to use it properly in the first place.

Place your subject somewhat off of center to make your macro images more interesting
Photo By Tom Tapio K

By simply placing your main subject slightly off of center, you’re doing more than most photographers ever will to create an interesting image. Follow the rule of thirds (most of the time). Place your subject just one third in from any side of the frame. This creates a space for the eye to move through the picture, making it more interesting by default.

Consider doing a little Photoshop work

A little bit of Photoshop can do wonders for a macro image you’ve taken using a point-and-shoot camera. In Photoshop Elements, you can increase the sharpness and make the colors POP a little more. This can turn that washed out purple flower into a true masterpiece.

To increase sharpness:

  • Go to Enhance in the top menu.
  • Select “adjust sharpness.”
  • Drag the amount slider to the right to increase sharpness overall.
  • Drag the radius slider to the right to increase the size of the affected area.
  • Keep adjusting until you like what you see.

To increase color saturation.

  • Go to Enhance in the top menu.
  • Select “adjust colors.”
  • Select “adjust color curves.”
  • Move the sliders or pick a pre-defined setting.
  • Choose the high contrast mode to quickly make your colors POP

I've made some adjustments to the yellow flower above for the image to the right. I might have taken it a bit too far, but you can see how you can make drab colors pop out.

As a proud point-and-shoot owner, you may be at a technological disadvantage -but that doesn’t mean you can’t create great art. Macro photography really is about getting up close and getting a clear shot. No matter what camera you’re using, you can still make the small appear larger and more colorful than life. Once you get all the practice you need, you can consider whether macro photography is your true calling. If it is, that’s the time to consider upgrading to a digital SLR with a dedicated macro lens.

Have a macro photo you're particularly proud of? Upload it to our Macro gallery and show it off to other photography admirers.

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  1. Robert says:

    I haven't developed my macro shots yet, but the macro dash gave me a better insight. I don't have a point and shoot camera any more so I used my bridge Nikon P520, dialled up SCENE on top dial, then MENU - close-up, using both single shot and NR noise reduction burst. Also I used one of those windscreen rubber blade/squeegee wiper devices, (with telescopic handle & flat rubber blade & sponge wiper) with a flat section to rest camera instead of my small tripod, to help with stability.
    I look forward to uploading to PSE Elements to see what develops, :-)
    Cheers, RL.

  2. Barb Feggestad says:

    I had a Garlic/chive (onion) plant that flowered a snow-ball style of small star-shaped tiny white flowers that I wanted a close-up shot of, got the camera, got way down to the flower and checked my sight. Looked at how far away from it I was., took aim again & just as I was about to press the shutter button a bee landed on it! I was able to take 2 frames! I was quite surprised at how well they turned out just using the kit lens with 'close-up' setting - about 5-6 inches in daylight, in shade of a large old white Oak tree, & next to the brick wall of the building.

  3. ionut says:

    HI DAVID,thank you for all the lessons MERRY CHRISTMAS and A HAPPY NEW YEAR

  4. Marna Rossouw says:

    Hi David

    Thank you for all the information through the year, I have learnt so much. Here in South Africa we are in the middle of summer - no snow for Christmas - with lots of photo opportunities by the seaside. Have a wonderful Christmas and a great 2012. Looking forward to more tips in the new year.

    Marna Rossouw
    South Africa

  5. JOHN HOWELLS says:

    Hi David,
    I would like to thank you for all the supportive info. you have sent me and to take the time to wish you and your family all the best for the season.
    My night time shots are getting better.
    From our house to yours.

  6. Judy says:

    Hi David

    Can hardly wait for your PhotoShop DVD to arrive. Lots to do in January!

    More topical, I really enjoy your hints for the Point & Shoot cameras BECAUSE that is what I have. So much info is geared to the DSLR. It is either over my head OR does not pertain to me.

    Thanks again and have a very Merry [if snowless] Christmas.

    {Toronto ON Canada

  7. John Berry says:

    Hi Dave,
    Wouldn't you like to tell us what goes on inside our cameras scientifically to go from infinity sharp pictures right to macro and super-macro with one button - without loss of resolution. One could never do it in the old 35mm. cameras without diopter lenses. How does it work technically? None of my books explain it - They just take it for granted!

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