Practice makes perfect for close-up photographs

Sunday, July 6, 2003

Close-up photographs offer an unusual view of our world, especially when that world is pictured larger than life.

Capturing small subjects -- insects, flowers, stamps, coins and so on -- requires careful attention to the technical aspects of photography: focus, lighting, sharpness, depth-of-field, exposure and composition.

Close-up photography also requires practice, because slight camera adjustments are more exaggerated than they are in basic, wide-angle photography.

For newcomers to the fascinating, enjoyable and rewarding world of close-up photography, here are a few points to consider:

Practice

Before you set out to take serious close-up pictures, practice using different f-stops, shutter speeds and lighting at home. That's what I did before going on a trip to Florida to photograph butterflies. I bought several silk butterflies and practiced various photographic techniques in my kitchen. That made my in-the-field shooting sessions go much faster, because I preset my camera before each shot and was able to anticipate the results.

Lens selection

Zoom lenses with close-up settings are all right for some close-up photography. However, if you want to get much closer to your subject, you'll need a macro lens.

Screw-on close-up lenses for standard lenses, sold in filter-like sets, are also available to get you closer to a subject.

Macro lenses, close-up lenses and close-up settings on zoom lens lenses exaggerate camera shake.

To reduce the chance of a blurry picture caused by camera shake, use a tripod when taking a natural light picture.

Focus

In close-up photography, as with telephoto photography, focus is critical. Be sure to focus on the most important element in a scene, such as the eye of an insect.

It's also important to shoot at a small aperture (f/11 or f/22) for good depth-of-field.

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