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Macro Belly

How to shoot close-ups


24 October 2007 09:11

Traditional macro photography dabbles in the intricate minutiae of natural life – flowers, insects, fungi, and the like. But to regard these subjects as the be-all and end-all of close-up work is a mistake: the smaller, finer details of larger everyday subjects can make equally powerful, surprising subjects.

If you photograph a colourful damselfly on the stem of a plant, it’s easy to capture the insect as faithfully as possible with maximum sharpness, allowing the exquisite detail of the damsel to do all the talking.

Take the same approach with a more mundane subject, such as a screw, and it’s much harder to turn the subject into a great shot, but arguably just as worthwhile. Start by looking at the components that make up its familiar shape – the head, the corkscrewing body, the pointed tip. Then work out how you can photograph it in a more interesting way – using lighting, viewpoint, the degree of sharpness, choice of background and so on.

Now adopt that same approach for every subject around you, whether it’s something small or an element of something larger, and you’ll start to really understand how normal objects can be transformed into fascinating images. Isolating macro details makes you think hard about what you’re doing and forces you to look at subjects for their colour, shape, and texture.

Start by exploring your subject without even picking your camera up.

Once you have an idea, pick up the camera with your lens attached and start to frame different areas. At this stage you’re just looking for the best viewpoint, although a few shots that you can study on the LCD panel might help.

Don’t assume that all your close-up shots need to be taken as close as you can focus to the subject. Keep moving around and watch how things start to take shape through the viewfinder. Keep in mind all the usual guidelines for composition – just because you’re working with a tiny area it doesn’t mean that you can be slapdash in this respect. Quite the reverse, in fact.

A ground-level approach is ideal for smaller flora and fauna, but don’t ignore the underside of higher subjects, either. A backlit leaf, for example, is a superb subject.

When photographing an object as close as your lens will allow and working without a tripod, moving your body gently forward and back while looking through the camera will help you bring the main point of your picture into sharp view. Keep your breathing steady, and when you have the point you want sharp, fire the shutter with a gentle squeeze. It only takes a slightly awkward movement to mess this up.

When handholding the camera, don’t let your shutter speed drop below 1/125sec. At 1/60sec and below you really are running a high risk of either camera shake or blur caused by subject movement (even a slight breeze quite capable of blowing your subject out of the frame!)