Capturing the perfect close-up

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In the last issue of OU I provided some basic, timeless tips for close-up photography. Now, if you’ve chosen a close-focusing lens and procured a tripod as your support system and aid for sharpness and precise positioning, you can take your close-up work to the next level.
Whether you are making a technical, accurate photo or creating an artistic rendering of your subject, you should know what to expect as you prepare to make photographs. For my close-up work I usually use my Canon 180mm f/3.5 macro lens. Compared to a shorter lens, the 180mm lens provides greater camera-to-subject distance, a useful feature for subjects that may move, jump or fly away. However, the distance gained is not without compromise. A long lens tends to produce a soft, out-of-focus background, not always ideal for a technical, accurate photo.
To create a sharper background, you may “stop the lens down” (select a smaller aperture or opening) but doing this allows less light to pass through the lens, which requires the shutter to stay open longer. In general, I prefer soft backgrounds because they don’t distract the viewer’s eye from the main subject. To work around this challenge, I make sure to keep my camera plane parallel to the subject.
Before you start, set your camera’s image quality to RAW and your lens to manual focus. Once you have a general idea where the camera should be placed, set up the tripod below the spot and attach the camera. Then follow the steps below.

  1. Choose the camera settings in advance so you are ready to make an “insurance shot” in case your subject departs. Flaws may be present in the photo but at least you have recorded the subject. Check the results produced with your aperture, shutter speed and ISO combination.
  2. Move in closer for greater magnification and remove obvious flaws from the background.
  3. Move the camera in tiny increments up, down, left, right, forward and backward to improve the background. In this photo I also moved a background plant stem down and out from view.
  4. Make further adjustments. I moved the camera upward approximately 1/2” to produce the mostly solid colored background.
  5. If there is no sense of a horizon in the photograph, you may rotate the camera to create a diagonal line that the subject forms. I rotated the camera body counter-clockwise, which aimed the caterpillar’s head lower and revealed more of the arc that the body formed.
  6. I added a reflector to bounce some light from the sky into the shadows at the bottom of my subject. I prefer a reflector rather than flash because reflectors give a more natural look and are less obvious in the results. After examining my photos I backed away for my final photo. It included a green background as well as the two leaves at the right in their entirety.♦

–In addition to writing and photographing, Ruth Hoyt teaches nature photography in group classes and private instruction, guides photographers on tours and in workshops, and consults with
private landowners who want to set up their property for photography.


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