Manufacturers load camcorders with all sorts of electronic doodads that let the user create amazing effects like slow motion, freeze frame, fades in and out, picture-in-picture, strobe and superimposed titles.

But there’s a feature on every camcorder often overlooked by professional and amateur alike. Whether controlled by all electronic switch or a button on the manual zoom, the camcorder lens includes a macro setting. This is for capturing the extreme close-ups you can’t get with the lens in its normal setting.

When you go macro, you can move as close as you like to a subject, capturing crisp, clear images that permit surprising perspectives on the world around you. This article examines a few of the many ways extreme close-ups can improve your videos,

Artful Use

Looking at an object with your lens in macro is like looking through a microscope. Details will appear uou might ordinarily overlook or take for granted.

Even a common object like an orange becomes an entirely new visual experience when you explore its pitted surface in extreme close-up. It’s as if you’re gazing at the cratered surface of an alien world. With your entire field of view filled with a roughened brightly-colored landscape, you’ll never see all orange in quite the same way again.

Try macro on such objects as coins, stamps, money, golf balls a drop of water, fingernails and a burning match. Examine flowers, insects and your reflection in a mirror. The world as seen through a macro lens offers infinite potential for visual discovery.

Of course macro will soon grow boring if you simply point your camera at a parade of passing objects without artfully incorporating the results into your video work. If you consider macro as a specific type of close-up, you can begin to envision situations where its use will enhance your video storytelling ability.

For example, if you’re taping your daughter’s second birthday party, you know to include plenty of close-ups of her face as she opens presents and blows out candles. Now go one step further, Use the macro setting to obtain extreme close-ups of her tiny fingers as she struggles to untie the bright birthday ribbons. Capture the brilliant dance of sparkle and color from the candle flames. Macro the party decorations and the icing on the cake.

You could use macro to add pizzazz to a tape of your son’s Little League base-ball games. With the macro field of view so limited, uou can shoot these extreme close-ups before or after the game, editing them into the action footage at your leisure. Consider extreme close-ups of your son gripping the bat, the team emblem on his jersey. Shoot the sweat trickling down his face, and the newspaper story reporting the results of the game.

Shoot the Details

The macro setting is an excellent way to enhance your enjoyment of other hobbies. You can record in full-screen detail the wondrous artistry of stamps or coins, the natural wonder of plants and
flowers so carefully nurtured in your spring garden.

You can create exciting video stories based on macro shots of different parts of favorite family photographs. Your children can make up their own video fairytales, copying illustrations from books, magazines or cards.

Your macro lens can help make a detailed record of family possessions for your Insurance records. While the standard lens setting may document the existence of a valuable stamp collection, macro will absolutely prove the worth of each stamp. Macro can also firmly establish the value of priceless silverware, jewelry, watches and other objects too small to be faithfully recorded with the lens in its normal position. A copy stand to hold the camcorder vertical above the frame is a useful accessory for work like this.

When you shoot in macro, you not only magnify the object in front of the lens, but also greatly increase the effect of even the smallest amount of camera movement. Macro shooting thus demands a stable camera platform.

Use a copy stand, tripod or firm surface that will guarantee rock steady images.

It’s impossible to get good macro holding the camera in your hand. If you’re going to go to the effort of setting up a cretative macro situation don’t waste your time and energy thinking you can get away with eschewing a stable camera platform. Results will be disappointing.

Holding Focus

Another critical element of macro videomaking is focusing.

In macro, the zone of sharp focus is measured not in feet but in inches or fractions of an inch. If you’re shooting a three-dimensional object like a sugar cube, you’ll find if you focus on the edge closest to the camera, the most distant corner will probably look soft.

Deep focus in the macro zone is almost impossible, especially since the focusing ring on the lens doesn’t work in the macro position. The only available focusing choices are the small range of movement
in the manual zoom handle or repositioning the camera.

You can improve the focus by using as much light as possible on the subject. Since you’re only viewing a small area, differences in lighting are more pronounced. You may want to add a light to the side, placed at a low angle to enhance shadows and help highlight small details.

Because of macro’s limited range of focus, the background will be quite blurry. You can dramatically improve your image by hanging a piece of black velvet cloth a few inches behind the subject. This simple trick will visually isolate the subject, make it leap off the screen-particularly if it features a lot of color. This technique is especially useful when shooting flowers, stamps, coins, jewelry and other objects with a lot of tiny detail.

With these simple rules, you are ready to explore the world of macro, a creative universe you can investigate in a space no larger than this magazine.

Mark Hall has taught video production at the community college level for more than twenty years.

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