Digital Camera Macro Setup, Tripod Extension, and Remote Shutter Control

This website features many close-up photographs of small parts, and even a few micro shots. Unlike nature or portrait photographers, technical photos often benefit from maximum depth of field (DOF), which is perceived focus throughout the image. Technical photos are trying to communicate many details and component relationships, as opposed to an artistic view.

Besides focus, another challenge is to light a miniature subject evenly and without undesired shadows.

I’ve received compliments on my photography, although I’m not quite convinced myself. I suppose if you take enough pictures, some of them will turn out okay.

In this article, I'll talk about the cameras I use, the general setup, and a couple of camera accessories I recently made to improve my macro photos.


Believe it or not, the thousands of photos I’ve published on this website and in two editions of two books have almost all been produced by an old compact consumer camera - the Sony Mavica FD90. It only has a 1.6 megapixel 1/3.6 color CCD with a 4.75 mm to 38 mm lens.

Sony Mavica MVC-FD90 with floppy disks

Sony Mavica MVC-FD90 with floppy disks.

This camera stores the digital images to a floppy disk. Every five shots I need to pull out the disk and put in a new one. And, yes, this means my Windows 7 dual-monitor i7 quad-core system has a floppy drive. Ha ha!

The Sony digital camera is configured to:

Finally, a month ago, I decided it was time to step up to a new camera. After reading many reviews and carefully saving up enough money, I chose the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1K. This camera supports interchangeable lenses, which allows me to attach an actual, real, professional macro lens.

I’m still struggling to learn the GH1 camera, but my present macro configuration is:

Maybe if I get to be a serious photographer, I'll switch to manual focus on aperture priority mode and take RAW format photos with a ring flash.

Macro Setup

Here is how I take close-up pictures of robots and electronic parts:

Robot Room macro camera setup

Robot Room macro camera setup.

Light Box, Alligator Clips, and Magnifying Glasses

Occasionally, there are a few other helpers that I use for close-up photography.

Other macro photography helpers

Other macro photography helpers.

1. Light Box: A lightbox is usually used for tracing patterns or examining slides. In a few cases, particularly with translucent materials such as colored plastic or double-side circuit boards, photographing on a light box provides the even backlighting necessary to see into structures.

If you find that the backlighting overwhelms the image, add a thin sheet of paper on top of the light box. Or, lift the subject off of the light box by using a couple of wood blocks and a clear plastic or glass surface.

2. Alligator Clips: To avoid shadows, reduce glare, or to photograph a particular orientation, it is sometimes necessary to hang the subject from either the desk lamp or a weighted object.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the helping hands soldering tool and an ordinary alligator clip test lead are put into service in such situations. This usually requires an extra post-processing step in a photo editing application to digitally erase the tip of the clip.

3. Magnifying Glass: I try to avoid using magnifiers because they end up distorting the image. But sometimes I need to photograph an extremely tiny detail such as a bonding wire in an LED. In that case, abnormalities of color or shape do not significantly detract from the information that the photo is attempting to convey.

Photographing through a magnifying glass

Photographing through a magnifying glass.

The camera must be forced to focus through the magnifier. Of course, you end up with a photo of which only a small portion is usable.

Next we'll look at the circuit for a remote shutter release. Then, we'll see how to machine an aluminum extension for a camera mount.