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Control Aperture and Shutter Speed in Macro Photography

In macro and close-up photography, many situations require you to control both the aperture and shutter speed to achieve the compositional results you want. If you prefer to have maximum control over your images at all times, keep your camera set to manual mode. The automatic aperture and shutter priority modes are nice to have, but using them too often may make you lazy.

The more often you shoot with the manual setting on your camera, the better you become at analyzing your results, which in turn makes you better and quicker at choosing the best exposure settings for any scene.

These images were shot on a windy morning, which shows how altering your exposure settings can represent a scene in extremely different ways. The first image was photographed with a large aperture and a slow shutter speed (using a neutral density filter to cut the brightness of the scene). This caused the depth of field to be shallow, the sunlight in the background to take a rounded, blurry shape, and the subject to be blurred by motion. The second image was shot with a small aperture and a fast shutter speed, which caused the depth of field to be greater, the sunlight to take the shape of a sharp burst, and the subject to be still.

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50mm, 1/15, f/2.8, 50    50mm, 1/250, f/11, 800

Below are some scenarios in which you might need to have control over both your aperture and your shutter speed:

  • When your subject is in motion and your background is distracting, you want to select a fast shutter speed to freeze the action and a large aperture to blur out the background by using a shallow depth of field.

  • When your subject is in motion and your background contains elements of interest, use a fast shutter to freeze the motion and a small aperture to include the background details through a greater depth of field.

  • When you wish to include motion blur as a creative tool in an image and also want to include background detail, you can select a slow shutter speed based on how much blur you’d like to include, and then select an aperture that suits the amount of sharp detail you want.

  • If you’re handholding the camera, you generally want to use a quick shutter speed to minimize camera shake during your exposure. Therefore, any time you handhold the camera and want to manage how much depth of field an image has, you need control over your shutter speed and aperture.

  • When using an artificial light source (such as a flash) in combination with natural light, your shutter speed and aperture each affect your exposure differently.

In situations that require a specific aperture and shutter speed to provide the compositional results you want, you need to adjust your camera’s ISO to achieve the appropriate exposure.

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