You can use the depth-of-field preview on the camera to help you see the background if you know how to use it. For many photographers, this control makes the image too dark for them to really understand it. In that case, use your LCD playback. Look at the image, not just to see if you got the shot, but to see the background and how it affects your subject.
Sometimes you might even want to include specific out-of-focus details in the image area just for their shapes and their contribution to an interesting composition. These can be in the background or even in the foreground, if appropriate. Such details also can relate directly to the subject, such as showing objects that are important to the environment. Yet since they’re soft in detail and not sharp, they can be used to complement and not distract from your subject.
Sharpness Concerns When you’re very close, depth of field is very narrow. A fractional change in distance will change what’s sharp or not sharp. Because of this, you must choose carefully what will be in critical sharp focus. If focus is too far in front of or behind that point, an otherwise attractive photo can be severely compromised.
This can be hard to deal with, especially if you’re shooting handheld or the wind is blowing your close scene around. Avoid pure autofocus, as too often this puts focus in the wrong place. You can use autofocus, but do it by locking it on something, then move the camera back and forth from the subject to gain critical focus. That also works with manual focus. If your camera continues to focus, whether with autofocus or your changing manual focus, you’ll find focus is harder to set because the size of the subject changes in your viewfinder at very close distances.
One trick you can use is to set your camera to continuous shooting, then hold down your shutter and trigger a series of photos as you move (or the subject moves) to gain focus. Almost always, at least one shot will be sharp in the right place, especially if you practice this a bit. And with digital, there’s no cost to taking these extra shots—just delete the poor-focus images later.
From left to right: Manfrotto 3419 Micro Positioning Plate; Sigma APO Teleconverter 1.4x EX; Pro Optic Extension Tubes
Close-Up Gear Close-up work goes beyond using macro lenses. Here are some options:
•Close-Focusing Zooms. Many zoom lenses focus quite close without any accessories. Their disadvantage is that they usually don’t focus to true macro distances.
Kenko Teleplus 1.4x and 2x converters and Extension Tube set
•Extension Tubes. Extension tubes are empty tubes that fit between your camera body and a lens. The bigger the tube, the closer you can focus with a given lens. Wide-angles usually don’t work with extension tubes because you can’t focus. Extension tubes will give quality close-up results with most lenses.
•Achromatic Close-Up Lenses. Achromatic close-up lenses screw onto the front of your lens and give great results with most lenses. Many photographers love to add an achromatic lens to zoom lenses fora zoom “macro” lens (zooms don’t act like zooms with extension tubes). Buy these close-up lenses to match the filter size of the lens on the camera.
•Tele-Extenders. Extenders or converters are lenses that are added to the back of your lens and increase the focal length by a factorof 1.4x or 2x. They’re great to use in order to change perspective and backgrounds, and if you run into a subject that you can’t get close to. They depend on the original lens, so you need to do some testing.
•Macro Lenses. Of course, macro lenses work great for close-ups, generally all the way down to macro distances of 1:2 or 1:1 (meaning how big the subject is compared to its size on the sensor). They’re very convenient because they have continuous focusing from near to far, plus they’re always quite sharp at all ƒ-stops. Their disadvantage is that they lock you into one focal length.
•Supports. Keeping the camera still is critical when shooting macro. Beyond a sturdy tripod, a head with a focusing rail is useful because it allows you to move the camera back and forth with precision as you compose.