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Close-up photography allows a photographer to enter a world within a world. Ordinary subjects can be depicted with a fresh perspective in a way not commonly seen. Whether it's an isolated portion of a large subject or an exploration into the mouth of a tulip, an array of new material is presented. Pieces of a whole become entirely new items, details in small creatures are revealed that are too small to notice, and patterns can be created in mundane or ordinarily overlooked subjects. Use and practice the following tips to learn to see the world through macro eyes.
EQUIPMENT: To enter the world of close-up photography, you need to have a lens or piece of supplemental equipment that allows you to focus closer than normal. A true macro lens provides this but the trade-off is price—translation—expensive but amazing sharpness. Less expensive ways are with the use of a bellows—translation—clunky and can get easily damaged; extension tubes—translation—good source but they provide limited close focusing ability depending on the focal length of the lens to which they are attached; close-up filters—translation—very good, providing you buy quality ones that are dual element. I use dual element close-up filters made by Nikon and they work just fine. In that I enjoy making close-up images but they're not my mainstay, I feel comfortable using this setup. If I ever choose to become a full-time macro photographer, a macro lens will appear on my wish list.
TECHNICAL CONSIDERATIONS: Knowing how to control depth-of-field when you make close-ups is critical to the success of the image. Depending on the amount of magnification of the subject, depth-of-field can be measured in millimeters. Needless to say, where upon the subject the focus point is placed is critical. In conjunction with this is how perpendicular the subject is to the film plane. Subjects that are parallel to the film plane provide more depth-of-field than those that fall perpendicular. Just as important is the aperture at which the photo is made. This, in turn, may be dictated by the amount of light. If a small aperture is needed to increase the depth of field and there is not a lot of ambient light, supplemental light is necessary via a flash, reflector, flood light, etc. It's sort of like a recipe. If one ingredient is left out, the soup will not taste quite right.
CREATIVE: In keeping with the depth-of-field theme, very narrow depth-of-field provides an effect known as selective focus. This is where wide-open apertures are used to create a result wherein only a sliver of the subject is in focus. This portion of the photo becomes the point of interest and the surrounding counterparts act as out-of-focus support pieces. Explore the depths of your subjects to create abstract patterns. For instance, a butterfly's wing, the graining of wood, a small section of a fabric swatch, or even small portion of an automobile grill may provide striking images of patterns, shapes or textures unseen unless you get close. Traditional guidelines of composition and light still apply when making close-ups, so keep in mind the rule of thirds, leading lines, and modifying the light to produce a pleasing result.