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08.05 The Close-Up Photography Assignment Ideas

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 >>

1Close-up seeing. Go to any spot of nature, such as a garden, an empty lot or a park, and arbitrarily pick a small area (20x20 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.

2Get 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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4Try 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.

5Use 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.

6Use 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.

7Temper 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.

8Use 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)

9Balance 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.

10Corral 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.





Are you looking for some interesting and out of the ordinary project ideas for your close up or macro photography? Want to break away from the usual flowers, leaves, plants and mushrooms? Tired of bugs, butterflies, and spiders? All of those can make great close up subjects, but certainly not unique ones. Here are a few macro photography project ideas that may inspire your creativity:

Photo by begemot_dn; ISO 400, f/4.8, 1/640-second exposure.

1. Cutlery. Knives, forks, and spoons can make great macro subjects. Arrange like pieces together to create lines and patterns.

2. Feathers. Feathers are beautiful close up. The central shaft creates a strong line which may be curved or straight, while the rest of the feather provides a soft texture. Use bird feathers that you find or purchase, or pluck one out of your down pillow or duvet!

3. Water droplets. This one is a classic, but be creative, and find your water on unusual surfaces like a wire fence, a cobweb, or a rear-view mirror. Early morning dew makes almost any subject magical. In the spring or fall, your can look for frost instead of dew.

photo captured by Ken

4. Glass. Close up photos of fine crystal glassware can yield wonderful abstracts filled with curved lines and reflections. For added fun, place glasses side by side, or one behind the other to create lines where they overlap. You can fill the glasses with colored water for even more creative images. Finally, you can add a sheet of clear, but textured glass (available for purchase at stained glass craft stores) in front of your glassware. The possibilities are endless.

5. Foil reflections. While you have your glasses full of colored water, why not pull out a sheet of kitchen foil, or some shiny silver craft paper? Use your macro lens to shoot down into the foil and capture the reflections of the colored water in its folds and creases. This exercise is a tricky one, and requires patience, but the results can be very rewarding.

6. Fruit and vegetables. They’re not just good for your diet! Fruit and vegetables make great macro photography subjects. Try kernels of corn on the cob, citrus slices, or go for more exotic fare like dragon fruit. You can place translucent slices on a lightbox for a clean, bright white background. You can also photograph the fruit or vegetables on plates in complementary colors.

“La Terre magmatique” captured by Didier

7. Rust and peeling paint. Fascinating rust patterns can be found on an old car, or even a metal garbage can in the park. Peeling paint graces old fences and walls. Most people pass by such items without a second glance. Not you! Break out your macro lens, and reveal the hidden beauty. Just beware of harsh shadows if you are photographing in bright sunlight.

8. Car details. The sleek lines of shiny chrome and trim on a polished car can provide hours of photographic entertainment. You can photograph your own car, but don’t be shy about taking your camera to an antique car show. Car owners are usually proud of their vehicles, and won’t mind your photographing the details.

9. Animal bits. The texture of fur on your pet dog, or the wrinkled skin of an elephant at the zoo, can make a great close up shot. Paws, claws and teeth are fun too, as long as you keep out of harm’s way. Finally, eyes always make compelling subjects. Shoot close ups of the eyes of your dog or cat (or a person, too!).

10. Tissues. For some high key abstracts, and a really unusual subject, try photographing a tissue. With a little imagination, the lines and shadows formed by the soft folds can create some intriguing images.

For a bonus, take a fresh look at ordinary objects around your home, such as light bulbs, shoe laces, book pages, clothes pegs, straws, holiday ornaments, or pencils. Try to find interesting patterns, lines, shapes, and colors, and create a little close up magic.

I hope these ideas inspire you to get out there with your macro lens and start shooting!

About the Author:
If you want to learn more about taking macro photographs, be sure to check out my two eBooks. They are filled with helpful tips, useful information, and spectacular, full color images to inspire you to create better close up photography.

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