Tuesday, September 15, 2009
It's In The Details
Go beyond the ordinary macro shot to create striking close-ups anywhere
Look for planes in the scene that get hit differently by the light, too. You may find that the moss at your feet is hit 100 percent by direct sun, but two feet to your left, the moss is on a slight slope so it gets a glancing light from the sun. Or in a different direction, multiple planes of moss get hit differently with the sun, giving a pattern of sun and shade.
Keep an eye out for shadows and spots of light. Often, you can make a great shot of a nature detail that’s spotlit by the sun while surrounded by shade.
I shoot with all sorts of lenses for close-ups, from wide-angle to telephoto. I use a macro for some shots, but then I’ll add extension tubes to a telephoto to make it focus closer or a tele-extender to increase my focal length. The reason for this is perspective and backgrounds. The wider the focal length you use, the more distinctly the background shows up, plus the background gets smaller behind your subject. With more telephoto focal lengths, the background starts to really blur, and it’s enlarged, coming closer to your subject.
For the more abstract, soft backgrounds that can work effectively with close-up and macro shots, use a telephoto and a wide aperture. I often use the maximum or widest ƒ-stop possible (such as ƒ/2.8 or ƒ/4) when I’m at moderate distances, then stop down slightly to ƒ/5.6 or ƒ/8 when I reach the extreme close shots of macro work. That extra stop or two can help with sharpness when you’re super-close without making the background too distinct.
A Word About Backgrounds
You have to watch your backgrounds when doing this sort of close work. Since your subject isn’t the bold flower or bug, you must capture and hold your viewer’s attention with something more. Often, that means a composition that uses the background well, regardless if the background is sharp or not.
I know from experience in working with workshop participants that it’s easy to miss that background. The thought is that if it’s out of focus, you can ignore it. Don’t start that line of thinking. It will cause you all sorts of problems.
Out-of-focus backgrounds can have dark areas or light areas, bold color or no color, distracting shapes or simple tones, annoying lines or graphic elements that help your image. The way to see these things is to force yourself to look for them. Don’t take that background for granted. Often, a slight move up or down, left or right, will clean up the background and give you a better image.
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