In the past, true close-up photography required
speciality equipment and a range of accessories—it
was the exclusive realm of professionals and well-
off enthusiasts. Today, however, it is accessible to
everyone; digital cameras work at close-up subject
distances as if they were designed for the job.
The ability of digital photography to handle
close-ups is due to two related factors. Firstly,
because the sensor chips are small, lenses for digital
cameras only require short focal lengths. Secondly,
short focal-length lenses require little focusing
movement in order to bring near subject into focus.
Another factor, applicable to digital cameras with
zoom lenses, is that it is relatively easy to design
lenses capable of close focusing by moving the
internal groups of lens elements.
In addition to lens design, there is another feature
common to all digital cameras that also helps make
it easier to compose a shot in awkward positions,
for example low down in a bush—the live viewfinder
screen. This provides you with a reliable way of
framing close-ups with a high degree of accuracy,
without keeping the camera glued to your eye.
There will be occasions when you need to keep a
distance between yourself and your subject—to
avoid disturbing an animal, perhaps, or to maintain
a safe distance from an active beehive. In such cases,
first set the longest focal length on your zoom lens
before focusing close up. In these situations, a
crop-sensor dSLR is ideal, due to the inherent
magnification given by the small sensor chip working
in conjunction with lenses designed for film formats.
Simple subjects
Learning just what to include and what to leave out of a
picture is a useful skill to master—not only is the image
itself usually stronger for being simpler in visual content,
as in the example shown here, but it is also often easier
to use it for a range of purposes, such as compositing
(see pp. 276–83). Subject movement is always a problem
with close-ups, especially plants outdoors where they
can be affected by even the slightest breeze. If you cannot
effectively shield the plant from air currents, then set the
shortest exposure time possible, consistent with exposing
the image accurately, to freeze any subject movement.
One of the secrets
underlying good close-
up photography is avoiding
unwanted highlights.
These usually appear as
insignificant, out-of-focus
bright spots when you
frame the shot, but in
the final image they can
appear more prominent
and distracting. For this
shot, I moved around
the subject, keeping my
eye on the screen, and
released the shutter only
when the brightest area was
positioned just as I wanted.
Long close-up
A long focal-length lens
with close-focusing ability
allows you to get close
to small, easily disturbed
subjects such as this
dragonfly, and so obtain
a useful image size. In
addition, the extremely
shallow depth of field
with such a lens throws
even nearby image
elements well out of
focus. The central bright
spot is, in fact, a flower.
Safe distance
It was dangerous to get too
close to this constrictor, so
a close-focusing, long lens
was the best way to obtain
good magnification.
Normal close-up
With static or slow-moving
subjects, a normal focal-
length lens used at its macro
setting will suffice.
The combination of shallow depth of field at close
distances with the need for high magnifications
offers many technical challenges. Here are some
ideas to help you:
Set focusing to manual. This is often faster and
more accurate than auto-focus: when it misses its
mark, it may focus all the way to infinity and back
again in search of the subject.
Once focus is found, it may be easier to keep the
subject in focus by moving backward and forward
with it, instead of follow focusing.
Set very small apertures to maximize depth of field:
f/11 or f/16 are good, but avoid the smallest, such
as f/22 or f/32, as image quality will be reduced.
If you are not using flash, set the highest ISO
available: it is usually preferable to have a sharp
but noisy image than a blurred noise-free image.
Image stabilization systems are a big help in
ensuring sharp images, assuming the subject
does not move during exposure.
The best way to prevent blur from movement is
to use electronic flash: at short distances this is
immensely powerful, and the very brief exposures
freeze all but the fastest movements.

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