Macro Lens – What We Learned

Working in video, I constantly draw inspiration from the entertainment world, mainly from movies and TV shows. I can’t watch a scene without analyzing each shot. I’m constantly wondering, “how’d they light the actress?” or, “what kind of camera rig are they using?”

Recently, the cinematic aspects of video games have been catching my eye, especially “The Last of Us,” one of my favorite games. While the entire game is basically one gorgeous movie, the intro titles really stood out to me.  I really wanted to figure out how they achieved these shots – CGI or otherwise. Through an article on [Art of the Title], I learned the team shot with a [Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x Macro Lens.]

I knew I had to get my hands on this magical, unfamiliar lens. I mean, it’s almost like strapping a microscope to you camera. Crazy, right? After reading all about it, we rented the lens for a few days and spent some time doing experiments of our own. This is what I learned:

Gear

This particular lens does not have a focusing ring. If you want to pull focus, you have to literally move the camera forward or backward in space. Since the subjects of your shots are things like matchsticks and ants, moving the camera even a millimeter can knock your shot out of focus. This is why it is absolutely necessary to use a [macro focusing rail]. Attach your camera to the focusing rail and then attach the focusing rail to a tripod. The focusing rail lets you rack focus by turning a knob to slowly and smoothly move your camera.

Light

You need a lot of it! With the front of the lens anywhere from five to six inches away from your subject, lighting is extra challenging as your camera will cast a big shadow over your scene. Be prepared and have extra lights on hand.

The MP-E 65 can open up to a 2.8 f-stop, but then you’re left with a very small depth of field. Since you’re shooting at up to 5x magnification, it can be very difficult to get your subject matter in focus.  You need the extra light so you can drop down your f-stop and capture more of your scene in focus.

When moving lights around to get the desired look, I frequently ran into problems with reflections. This was especially prominent on eyes and water. Sometimes you just have to work with what you have and keep adjusting the lighting until you get the best shot. Overall, the lighting was definitely trial and error for the majority of the shoot.

Environment

A controlled environment is absolutely necessary. When the camera rolls, you want to avoid walking around and using doors and fans. They may not seem like much, but the slightest vibrations can ruin a scene. Study your location and environment to anticipate these things before you start.

This is where a tripod will also come into play. Even your heartbeat can affect the shot, so a tripod is necessary to keep your camera absolutely still. A few times I would frame up and then walk away as the camera rolled so that I knew I wasn’t a factor.

Conclusion

All in all, just be prepared. Brainstorm a list of shots you want and then gather all of the necessary props/items. This is not an easy lens to work with but with a little patience, you can capture some amazing things.

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