Close-up and macro photography truly bring you in contact with new worlds. We don’t easily or normally see the details of life around us, and this is especially true of non-nature photographers. I remember the first time I got a close-up photo. It was of a syrphid fly on a daisy. I was a kid and had made a close-up lens from a magnifier and attached it to my dad’s Argus C3. That camera was no SLR, so I had to make a focus-and-frame stick to aid in those areas. The fly was in focus (though not really sharp), and it was exciting to see it in my print.
I have access to some amazing close-up and macro gear, but I still love that fresh view on the world. Shooting close-ups with a digital camera also means I immediately get to see and be amazed by small-scale life with the LCD review.
Close-up photography can be a lot of fun. There are so many subjects that can test your skill and technique in photography.
Photographing everything, from insects to flowers to rocks, really expands a nature photographer’s vision and photography.
Here are some tips to make this photography better for you >>
1 Close-up seeing. Go to any spot of nature, such as a garden, an empty lot or a park, and arbitrarily pick a small area (20×20 feet is good). Then spend an hour there finding close-ups. Most people get bored after about ten minutes but, when forced to look, find that one hour just gets them started.
2 Get some extension tubes. Extension tubes are simply empty tubes (no optics) that fit between your lens and camera body. They can be used with any lens to make it focus closer and at high quality. This opens up whole new possibilities of close-ups with different focal lengths. (see image on page 2)
3 Use a round-the-lens reflector. You can buy small, collapsible white reflectors with a hole in the center. Put this over your lens and use it for shooting backlit close-ups. The white reflector will kick light into the shadows. You can cut a hole exactly the size of your lens in a piece of white cardboard to try this idea out.
| Close-Up Photography Or Macro?
Close-up photography refers to taking pictures of objects at close distances, generally less than two feet. Macro photography is about taking pictures of objects at extremely close distances; the traditional definition says that this occurs when the object itself is the same size in real life as on film, so magnification is 1:1. Macro photography is technically a subset of close-up photography, and it’s often used to describe any extreme close-up work.
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4 Try a beanbag. Beanbags are a great way to support a camera when you need to get it low, such as when photographing moss on the ground. You can get small ones that easily fit in your camera bag. When you use the beanbag, push the camera into the cushion’s softness so that it’s supported and the movement is dampened.
5 Use your hand as a clamp. Since close-ups mean you’re getting so close to your subject that the area seen by the camera is small, it’s easy to use a hand to grab a wind-blown flower to steady it or pull it into focus, and you won’t see your hand in the photo. For a more refined way of doing this, check out the Wimberley Plamp or the McClamp Clamp devices that attach to your tripod and hold a flower still.
6 Use a right-angle or waist-level finder. A right-angle finder for SLRs (film or digital) allows you to get your camera lower to the ground without having to smash your face into the soil. Another option is to use a high-quality, compact digital camera or D-SLR with a swivel, live-view LCD. That allows you to use the camera at odd angles while always seeing what the lens is seeing.
7 Temper your built-in flash.
Few cameras are set up to give a good exposure for flash when used at very close focusing distances, plus the flash itself may be aimed poorly for such use. Put any kind of diffusing material over the flash to cut its light and make the light better for close-ups. You can use a specially made diffuser, a piece of white cloth, translucent plastic or even a small Styrofoam cup.
8 Use continuous shooting for better focus. Because of wind, you may find it difficult to get the precise focus you need. Put your camera on continuous shooting and just hold the shutter down for a burst of shots as you work to find focus. You’ll almost always find that at least one of these shots will be perfectly focused. This is an ideal method with digital cameras because there’s no cost to the extra shooting. (see image on page 1)
9 Balance your flash. If your flash completely overpowers the existing light, the photo may be dramatic, but the shadows may be too dark and the background may be black. Choose a camera setting that balances your flash to the existing light so that some of the light from the sky, for example, fills in the shadows. Unfortunately, camera manufacturers haven’t chosen a consistent way of doing this, so you have to check your manual for more information. This is easy to do with digital cameras because you can set the camera on manual and keep decreasing the shutter speed until you see the needed detail in the dark areas when reviewed on the LCD. You have to be careful of movement, though, because this is often a problem with slow shutter speeds.
10 Corral your insect subject. Use the sensitivity of insects to your advantage when an insect moves away from you to the other side of a stem. Reach out and move a hand over there, or have a companion move to that side, and the insect will usually move over to where you are. (see image on page 1)
Gear For Getting Close
Flash. When you add flash to your close-up gear, you extend your possibilities dramatically. You can use any built-in flash to start (and when you don’t have another flash with you) as described in the 10 tips.
For more power, but especially more control, you need both a separate, external flash unit plus a dedicated flash cord. The cord is a simple accessory—just a connection between camera and flash that allows communication from one to the other for proper exposure and more. With this cord, you can hold the flash at different positions relative to your subject—left, right, top or bottom—giving your close-up a different look each time.
Another advantage of a corded flash is that you can do something called “feathering” if the flash is too strong. This only works with digital because you need to see what you’re getting right away. Sometimes a big flash is too strong, so instead of pointing it directly at the subject, point it a little off from the subject so only the edge of the light hits it. You can also point the flash completely away from the subject to brighten a background and not affect the subject.
Telephotos for close-ups. A telephoto lens can magnify your subject at a distance, letting you get close-ups without having to get so close to the subject. This can be important if the subject is flighty and won’t let you get close (like a butterfly), if it bites or stings or if you keep shading your subject because your lens and camera are so close to it. If you find you experience these challenges a lot, you might consider a telephoto macro lens. Otherwise, a set of extension tubes is probably the best accessory to have with you, as they let any telephoto lens or zoom focus closer. An achromatic close-up lens sized for your telephoto or zoom can also help get quality close-ups (Canon, Hoya and Nikon have them in telephoto sizes).
Wide-angles for close-ups. Most photographers don’t think of wide-angles for close-up work. Wide-angle lenses change your perspective and depth of field. You can get some amazing shots of close-up subjects with a wide-angle focal length. You can use a short extension tube with a wide-angle lens or zoom to help it focus closer (even moderate-sized extension tubes rarely work). There are a few wide-angle lenses that focus close normally. An easy way to make wide-angle close-ups is to use a compact digital camera. These cameras often have close-focusing settings that only work with the wide-angle part of their zooms, plus many allow the use of achromatic close-up lenses that give high-quality results at any focal length.