Macro photography, as we understand, is the kind of photography where the subject in the photograph is greater than or equal to its life-size. Technically it is termed as magnification ratio. The subject is reproduced in the exact life-size on the image sensor or film.
In macro photography, there are various advanced gears and equipment when it comes to DSLRs or Mirrorless cameras or any entry-level digital camera to pro digital cameras so to say. But with the advancement of technology nowadays every smartphone is equipped with high-resolution built-in cameras ranging from 2 megapixels to many more. More expensive flagship phones are equipped with 64 or more megapixels camera. The most remarkable thing is that there are quad-camera set up which is a development from single to dual-cameras. These quad-camera consists of wide-lens, normal lens, telephoto lens, and macro lens. In the camera app on the phone, there are various settings we can choose. For now, we shall only consider shooting macro with mobile.
Considering shooting macro with mobiles we have two options. They are:
- Shoot in ‘macro mode’ of the stock camera app of the mobile phone.
- Shoot in macro with a mobile macro lens attached to the highest resolution camera in the phone (provided it’s a dual or more camera set-up)
First, we shall discuss the macro mode and its pros and cons. Shooting in the macro mode of the mobile app is the easiest way to get close to subjects like flowers etc. You just turn the macro mode on and boom... there is your macro lens. However, the most frustrating part of shooting in macro mode is that the resolution is too low. You cannot get any detail or colorful colors out of this mode. Almost all (with the exception of some very high-end smartphones that are way too pricey) the macro lenses equipped in phones having multiple camera set-ups have very low megapixel count e.g., 2 mp, 5mp, etc. So, as a result of low resolution and after the rigorous compression to the jpg file which is processed by the phone, the outcome is not so satisfactory. (Macro_Mode_stock_camera--Image). Moreover, you do not have the option to shoot in RAW as the stock camera won’t offer to shoot in RAW with the macro mode even if your phone is enabled with Camera2Api (nowadays phones come with Camera2Api enabled at factory settings). To look whether your camera has Camera2Api enabled, you can simply download an app from Google like Camera2Api Probe and run the app to check whether your phone can shoot RAW images. Again, there are many third-party camera apps that offer the option of shooting in RAW or DNG but they won’t be able to utilize the macro lens and can only use the main lens in the multi-cam set-up. Therefore, the macro mode in the stock camera app of a phone is quite useless for a serious mobile photographer.
Now, we shall investigate the main method of shooting macro with mobiles, which also is the most efficient way to get the best resolution out the phone’s camera. In this method, we use a lens attachment which is fixed onto the main camera of the phone with the help of the clip provided in the lens pack. The main camera has the highest resolution among all other cameras in a multi-cam mobile. They are quite affordable and can be bought from almost any eCommerce sites like Amazon, Flipkart, etc. There are also higher-end mobile lenses which are costlier than others but quite worth the money.
The most significant and important aspect while shooting with the mobile lens whether in the stock camera app or a third-party app is that it uses the main camera. Hence, it gives the best result even if you are not able to shoot in RAW. Some flagship and high-end phones offer RAW shooting in their stock camera apps which can be set in the settings of the app. There are also many third-party apps that provide the option of shooting RAW if the stock camera does not like the Bacon Camera app, Camera FV-5, etc.
While shooting mobile macros, it is best to start shooting less active subjects with lesser movements like flowers as the slightest movement will blur the image while in macro. Flowers are good subjects to start mobile macro photography. Whether we are shooting in RAW or jpg, we first need to look into the simple details like compositions of the subjects, balance, symmetry, etc. but not be too serious about it as it will hinder our creativity. We can start taking photos from different angles and perspectives so that we get an idea of the colors, balance, composition, etc. First, it is best not to be over-conscious about the technical details of how to make a beautiful picture. Look for the central point of importance, the emphasis that can be laid on a certain part of the flower, say for example the petals of a flower. It is also important that we look for an even background like blurred background created by leaves, or even a backlit background lit by the sun. We should try creating a balance and sometimes asymmetry. However, one needs to remember that colors make a significant impact on macro photography. So, the better and vibrant the colors the better the photo.
As it is in macro mode, there is not much to look around for except the subject. But the most important thing in a mobile macro is that we need to remove distractions both in the foreground or background. The simplest way to have a very subtle background is to shoot the flower with a leaf a few centimeters away so that there is a green blurry background behind the flower. Flowers are great subjects and we need to experiment with different flowers also.
While using a mobile lens attachment, the focal length is fixed so to get focus on the subject we need to move in and out of the subject until we get perfect focus. However, it is easily said than done. It is best we hold the phone with two hands such that one or both the hands are resting on something, let's say your feet. Also, while some stock camera apps, as well as third-party camera apps, offer manual control of exposure by enabling the user to change the ISO and shutter speed, it is better to leave the exposure decision to the system as it will complicate a whole lot just to create a correct exposure. It is noteworthy to remember that the aperture of the camera lens is fixed and only the AUTO mode of exposure can control it. So, it is quite cumbersome to control the exposure manually. It is best put in Auto exposure mode.
If we are able to shoot in RAW, then it is the best way to edit and post-process the photos. However, if we are not able to shoot in RAW, we still make some tweaks in the colors, contrast, saturation, etc as we desire. There are various mobile photo editing apps, both for Android and iPhone, even if you do not have a laptop or a personal computer to edit photos. Also, some of them are free of cost like Google Snapseed which is a very powerful photo editing app. Adobe Lightroom mobiles also is a powerful tool although it is on a paid subscription basis. Toolwiz, PicsArt, Mix are some other mobile editing apps worth mentioning. The most important thing about these apps is that, except for PicsArt, all are able to process RAW files.
For the editing, macros are best to look at when they are contrasty, colorful, and detailed. So, for a good macro photo we need to tweak mainly the color, saturation, contrast, and sharpness. This is best done in Adobe Lightroom Mobile or Snapseed or both. We can also use some vignettes so that the focus is on the subject, here the flowers. Vignettes create a point of attention and emphasis on the flower by making the corners and edge a little darker or brighter as intended by the photographer. We can also use crop tool and horizon correction tools to make the compositions a little balanced and desirable. Also, for small details like petals of flowers of the tip of a lotus leaf, we can use a selection tool or brush tool. There, we can change the sharpness, color, exposure, etc on that specific point of interest. Adobe Lightroom and Snapseed offer this tool and it’s a subtle yet powerful one. As already discussed, we can get the most out of a RAW image than a jpg but if we are not able to shoot in RAW we still can change the same settings to make the photo more beautiful and desirable.
Nowadays, almost everyone has a smartphone in their pockets, and in that there is a powerful built-in camera that one should utilize. Photos taken with iPhone are now termed as Iphoneography, and it is a new term just coined during the last decade after the cameras in the famous Apple’s solo phone brand iPhone. Android users, though not having a particular nomenclature, are equipped with cameras somewhat equal to or more powerful than an iPhone. So, mobile photography is a new genre that is very satisfying yet cost-effective and less time-consuming. So, take your phone out and shoot some photos!
All photos were taken by Soyam Chhatrapati for WPC Project Use mobile to capture amazing photos of flowers in macro mode.