Archive for the ‘close-up’ Tag
This series on casual video for the still photographer has mostly stuck to the basics. I’ve done that to show how easy it is to start shooting video. None of these videos have been edited either. I want to head off the excuse that some people use, that they have no time to learn a whole new editing program. Untold numbers of people shoot video with their phones. My goal is to get my fellow still photographers to create videos when the mood strikes, but to do them with intention and care.
I’ve also stayed away from stuff like time-lapse and slow-motion. These are rather faddish in my opinion, but speaking objectively, they are sub-areas of nature videography that require a specific focus. Time-lapses, for instance, are actually a series of still shots. While you do produce a video of sorts, the mood is often disjointed. Also there is no real-time, native sound. Creating a time-lapse is rather boring in practice, and it doesn’t really help you develop field video recording skills.
Of course there is nothing wrong with timelapse or any other type of video. But I believe that when you’re first getting into video, or any genre within the photography realm, it’s best to start simply. Go out and do it before you commit to creating a final (shareable) product. So many of us love what we see online so much that we just have to go off and create that very thing. Or something that looks just like it. It’s a completely understandable impulse.
Consider taking a more organic approach. See if you enjoy the process of creating it first before worrying about results. This way you’ll slowly develop your own style, eventually creating something that is uniquely yours rather than imitative. By the way, I don’t consider myself such a great artist. But I do have a firm idea of the way to get there!
I know this is the era of instant gratification, but it’s important to be patient. Learn to enjoy the process before you expect to create something you can be proud of. High expectations are fine, but don’t impose too-short a timeline. That will only cause unnecessary stress. Even a mild amount of anxiety can sabotage the creative process.
Video & Focal Length
Now let’s get to it! One of the best things about shooting video with a DSLR (or mirrorless) camera is the ability to use a variety of lenses. As I mentioned in an earlier post on the basics, when you’re starting out it’s useful to stick with a medium focal length lens. If you have a 50 mm. lens you’re in luck; it’s perfect for video. Otherwise use a medium zoom and stay 10 or 15 mm of 50. Reason is to avoid the distortion you get with wide angles, and the shakiness that can happen with long focal lengths.
Once you’re comfortable doing videos at medium focal lengths, you’ll naturally want to try different lenses. But this post isn’t about using telephotos for wildlife or wide-angles for landscapes. It’s about one of the most fun ways to shoot video: macro and close-up! In order to view these videos click on the title at top-left first, then click the play button.
By the way, I didn’t mean to cut short the video of the dung beetles below. A black rhino had suddenly appeared between my rental car and where I was lying on the ground. So I had to stop and figure out how to avoid being charged!
Macro Video ~ Tips
- Try to pick subjects that stay in one place. You can expand on this once you get some practice. Either way you should observe your subject for a time before you come up with a plan. For example in the video above I watched those beetles in Africa roll a couple dung balls from point A to point B before I followed along shooting the clip. That delay may have saved me, as I could have been regarded as a threat if I hadn’t been lying down!
- Use a tripod. Just as with macro still photography, a tripod is nearly essential. For one thing, most macro lenses have fairly long effective focal lengths. Hand-holding is hard to do without introducing jumpiness. Also, whether you use a macro lens or attachments like extension tubes or close-up filters, depth of field will be quite narrow. Provided you choose a suitable subject, you have a better chance of keeping things in focus when you’re on a tripod.
- Speaking of focus, choose a point of view and composition that makes it easier to keep the subject in focus without having to twist the focus ring. “Pulling” or “following” focus as it is called, is a skill that takes awhile to master. A subject that moves across the frame, for example, is easier to keep in focus than one that moves toward or away from you.
- Watch for repetitive or cyclical behaviour. Many times, when observing nature, you’ll notice that a critter will keep repeating its actions, or it might circle back to where it has been before. If you set up on a tripod focused in on that spot, all you need to do is watch and wait, ready to press record. For the video below the dragon flies were zipping around much too quickly for me to follow. So I simply watched one for awhile and noticed her returning to a nearby perch, spreading her wings like they do. I focused on her first, using manual focus (which is best for video). Then next time back, since she alighted in exactly the same spot, I shot the clip.
- Limit motions. By using the approach just mentioned, pointing at a spot and waiting for the critter to arrive, you’ll be forced to stay put. Insects and other small critters tend to get used to your presence more quickly than bigger animals, but it’s still helpful to keep still. Of course moving around is necessary for any good photography. But macro shooting, still or video, goes much more smoothly when movement is limited, planned out and deliberate.
- Look for subtle subjects too. Macro video isn’t just about insects. For example, flowers or other interesting macro subjects can be great targets for video when light is rapidly changing as clouds move quickly across the sky. Movements from wind can also make videos worth a try.
- Finally, don’t limit yourself to true macro. Do close-up videos with other lenses. If you have a lens that offers a “macro” setting, you may be able, depending on subject, to focus close enough to get that intimate feel of macro. Do you know the closest that each of your lenses will focus? You should. Wide-angle lenses often focus quite closely. They also enable you to hand-hold the camera with less chance of shakiness. For the video below I had to get my feet wet to move smoothly through the scene. At the end of the clip is a bonus: my little buddy Charl (RIP) watches from the bridge. No way was he getting his little feet wet!
That’s all for now. If you haven’t done so, try a macro video or two. If you have, let us know what you thought. Are there any tips I forgot? Thanks for reading and have a fantastically fun weekend!
Morning dew in a Montana mountain meadow creates dazzling jewels in the light of the rising sun.
This series on flow and photography has taken on a life of its own; but don’t worry, it’s almost over! If you haven’t been following along, flow is that state of intense focus where we lose track of time. Check out Part I and Part II for tips on how to apply it to photography in general. The rest of this series has applied flow to various genres (landscape, travel, etc.). This week it’s macro and close-up photography.
Macro is probably the easiest kind of photography in which to experience flow. There is something about focusing on the small that helps to capture and hold our attention, often for hours. Macro can also require a lot of trial and error, at least for me it can! If you don’t become frustrated too easily this can bring about intense engagement with the process.
Pasqueflower is a unique part of the alpine bloom every summer on Mt. Rainier, Washington.
Awhile back I did a series on macro photography, so check those posts out for a much more comprehensive tutorial. The tips below are specific to achieving a state of flow during your macro shoots:
- Look and Think Small. It’s hard while on a walk to concentrate exclusively on finding macro subjects. It would take hours to cover a mile! But you will find macro opportunities if when you’re hiking along you look out for the odd bit of color, a contrasting shape or texture, or a little movement in the corner of your eye. Both thinking about and looking for small subjects brings you into the present, and that facilitates flow, even before you take a single shot.
This brown basilisk in a Guatemalan forest almost escaped my attention.
- Work it. When you do find something interesting, stick with it for awhile. That is, work the subject. Change settings and camera position to vary depth of field. Vary angle and distance to get different backgrounds and compositions. And don’t stop there. Once you’re in “macro mode”, it’s easier to find other subjects, or as with flowers, other examples of the same subject. Stay on your hands and knees, keep the macro lens on, and don’t worry about time. Enjoy the flow.
After a few shots of this frog’s whole body, I moved in closer and closer until I got a shot that empasized his watchful eye.
- See the (small-scale) Light. As photographers we are constant observers of the light. But when you’re shooting close-up the patterns we are used to change. All of a sudden you’re able to take advantage of the fact that your field of view is greatly reduced. This makes it easier to get effective shots in light that would be difficult when shooting larger scenes. So be a student of light on a small scale too. Watch how it plays across confined spaces, and how larger elements like trees can help shade or spotlight your subject. As with the first point above, this will help keep you in the present and accentuate flow.
A water lily in the middle of the Okavango Delta caught the light beautifully as we passed in our mokoro (dugout canoe).
- Be Patient. To one degree or another, patience is a requirement of all photography. But when you’re waiting out the wind in a field of flowers or approaching an insect or other small creature inch by inch, you learn the real meaning of patience in photography. Mastering patience is a key part of making flow a more frequent experience.
This was a recent shot. I sat patiently waiting for one of the dragonflies buzzing around to land in this natural spotlight.
Macro photography is such a natural when it comes to flow that, even if you don’t normally do macro you’d do well to try it. That’s because the practices that lead to successful macro photos will help you with the kinds of photography you do enjoy. And because flow is relatively easy to experience with macro, you can more readily get into it next time you’re out, whatever kind of shooting you do. Thanks for reading and have a happy weekend!
One of many desert five-spots in Death Valley, part of the so-called super-bloom of last spring.
Orange globe mallow in bloom.
Yesterday was the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. So in celebration here’s a Two for Tuesday post. It’s where I post two photos that are related to each other in some way.
This pair shows a couple closely related signs of Spring. During a splendid hike through a desert canyon recently, the season was springing forth in typical desert fashion. Spring rarely bowls you over in the desert. But the closer you look the more you see. It’s why both of these are close-up shots.
The hummingbird surprised me at first when he buzzed by my head, looking straight at me hovering a couple feet away before zooming off to perch on his branch. I wondered why he was there at first, but then walkiaround I found a spring with some flowers blooming. In fact the further up the little draw I walked the more like a lush oasis it seemed.
This little hummer was spending part of his morning checking out the visitor to his little oasis near a spring in a desert canyon: Death Valley National Park.
Get out there and enjoy springtime (or autumn for my southern hemisphere friends). And thanks for checking in!
Let’s start off with a non-macro image: morning sun on the Colorado Rockies.
As promised, here’s a follow-up to my macro series. Rails (or sliders) are devices that allow small movements of your camera without having to move the tripod. The heart of a rail is its gear/screw mechanism, and the quality of the rail is in how finely this part is made.
This post also aims to give a step by step on setting up a macro shot, whether or not you’re using a rail. Of course I don’t always follow this exact procedure. In photography like a lot of things there’s always “more than one way to skin the cat”. Sorry cat lovers!
BUYING A RAIL: As always with photo accessories, you have to be careful buying cheap. Check out rails in the shop if at all possible, using your camera and macro lens to see how they work under load. Or if you can’t do that just go a bit more expensive for something with good reviews online. I bought a medium-quality one. It’s fine but would not be okay if I used it a lot; I use it very infrequently. I spent about $50 on it.
Here are the things to look for in a rail. If when it is mounted with the camera on top the rail wiggles around, even a small amount, it’s obviously no good for macro. And if movement along the screw & gear is not slow and steady enough, that rail is probably not worth buying.
A SMALL CAVEAT: I chose a very simple shot for an example. In other words, it’s not the most spectacular subject, just a little flower in the weeds. Also, the close-ups of my camera make it look like I’ve beaten it to hell. It’s not actually that bad, honest. The crack you see isn’t the LCD screen itself, it’s the protective cover. Okay, I admit it, I’m hard on my gear.
By the way, I made sure to pick a good day for this (photo below). Notice the boring white cloud cover, mid-morning, really perfect for what I call “illustrative” macro. That means no real shadows or directional light.
Each rail works a little differently, but what follows is how mine works. It’s pretty typical.
A typical rail/slider.
- There is an Arca-Swiss plate screwed to the bottom of the rail assembly, so the whole rail mounts right on top of the ball-head (see pictures below). This isn’t the place to discuss tripod heads, but make sure you always get plates that match your head’s clamp. Arca-Swiss is sorta the standard, and is pretty simple to use.
Rail clamped down on ball-head.
- Make sure the rail is set somewhere in the middle of its range (rotate the knob to slide it). If it’s at one end of its range you won’t have flexibility to adjust it in one direction. The picture above shows mine a bit too far forward, so I had to slide it to the middle part of its range.
- Once the rail is mounted securely go ahead and screw your camera right down onto the top plate as shown below. This setup allows the whole rail/camera assembly to rotate around with the ball-head.
Screw the camera down onto the top plate of the rail.
- Now you need to get your tripod in about the right position next to your subject. Decide about how close you want to get to your subject. Your rail will get you a few inches closer or further, so you don’t need to be perfect here. But definitely decide how low your point of view will be and adjust the height of your tripod legs. The rail can’t help you with up and down movements. Just make sure the tripod is very stable (tip: spread the legs wider when the tripod is lower)
Camera on the rail. But I’m a little too high, so…
My tripod allows me to go lower by rotating the center column to horizontal.
- Now it’s time to set up the camera. Go to manual focus and pre-focus so your subject is in approximate focus (see pictures below). Use either the viewfinder or LiveView for this step, whichever is easiest for you. Again, don’t worry if it’s not perfect. If you want to get as close as possible and fill the frame as much as possible, as I’m doing here, pre-set the focus ring to the smallest focal length. But if you do this, re-check your tripod position and make sure it’s positioned so your lens is no closer to the subject than this smallest focal length (about a foot with my macro lens (see pic below).
Use manual focus.
Pre-setting focus at the shortest focal length.
- Now you can slide the camera closer or further along the screws on the rail, turning the knob as shown. Your focus is pre-set. Moving the knob on the rail is the way you are focusing now. I recommend using LiveView and magnifying as necessary to focus on the exact part of the subject you want in perfect focus.
Rotate the knob slowly while at the same time you…
…watch LiveView for the part of the subject you want to come into perfect focus.
Still in LiveView, I magnified on the flower’s yellow center and adjusted the knob on the rail to focus precisely.
- You can also use the rail at this point to fill the frame more or back off and show a little more surroundings. In other words, change the composition. So if while you’re sliding the camera along the rail you get a composition you like but you’re not in focus, go ahead and rotate the camera’s focus ring to get perfect focus. See the Bonus below for more on focus and depth of field.
- While you’re at it and have LiveView up, you should check exposure before taking the picture. On my camera I press the “info” button to pull up the histogram (see below). In this case, with a white flower, I pay attention to the right end. I want to avoid the peak on the right climbing up the right side, causing over-exposure. But I don’t want that peak to move too far toward the center. That would underexpose and make the white petals look gray. When using LiveView to check exposure, make sure your camera’s LiveView setting is on “Exposure Simulation” (check your owner’s manual).
LiveView with histogram. The histogram reads what is inside the white box, and I’m over-exposing the yellow just 1/3 stop. When I moved the box over to the petals, the histogram’s right peak slid over to the right, but not quite all the way to the right edge (which would have meant over-exposure).
- Some rails only have one screw/gear setup to move forward and back. Mine also has a screw and gear at right angles to allow small movements right and left. This can be handy to get slightly different compositions, with your subject off to one side. I can remove that part to go lighter (see images below). With my rail I also get a more stable camera mount (no wiggle) when I get rid of that extra part.
Using the side-to-side adjustment knob to move the flower off-center.
I slid the rail/camera slightly to the left, which put the flower just off to the right. This still needs a little tweaking in the computer, but this isn’t a bad final image.
Rail with side-to-side part removed, leaving only the forward-back adjustment. My hands are starting to look like my mom’s!
BONUS: FOCUS & DEPTH OF FIELD
DEPTH OF FIELD & MACRO: Macro lenses have very little depth of field in front of the focal plane, with much more (but still limited) in back. In other words, you will normally focus on the closest important part of the subject, not trusting anything closer than that to be in focus. Then you’ll play with aperture, experimenting to get the right amount of depth of field.
Remember also that the closer you get to your subject, the narrower your depth of field will be, and the reverse is also true. Get more depth of field by moving back away from your subject.
DEPTH OF FIELD PREVIEW BUTTON: You can either shoot and review to experiment, or use LiveView in combination with the depth of field (DOF) preview button. Not all cameras have a DOF preview button. If yours does, there are times when it comes in very handy. Pressing the DOF preview button closes down the aperture to the one you select (see pic below). Otherwise anything you see through the lens, either using the viewfinder or on LiveView, reflects the lens’s widest aperture (shallowest depth of field).
LiveView without the DOF preview button depressed. Even though my aperture is set to f/11 here, the LiveView shows what it would look like at f/2.8, the largest aperture for this lens.
Here I’m pressing the DOF preview button to see what f/11 actually looks like. The petals in rear are in better focus than in the LiveView image above.
APERTURE: Realize as you close down aperture for more depth of field you are doing two important things to the picture. First, you are slowing down shutter speed. So if your subject is moving, for example in a breeze as mine is doing here, you may end up blurring your subject. Raise ISO to keep your shutter speeds fast enough to freeze that movement and avoid subject blur.
The only way to see how much you need to raise ISO and check for blurring is to shoot and review. It also pays to watch closely for the subject’s least amount of movement and shoot then. If your shutter speed is fast enough (about 1/100 sec. or faster for this lens), you can just press the shutter gently. If speeds are much slower, you need to keep your hands off the camera, using either a remote switch or shutter delay.
At f/11 and ISO 100, shutter speed is 1/25 sec., which will result in a sharp picture if I wait for the breeze to pause and the flower to be mostly still.
But I wanted more depth of field so I went to f/22. I had to raise ISO to keep shutter speed up. If I had more wind (or less patience) I’d need to raise ISO even more.
The second thing you’re doing when adjusting aperture for more depth of field is of course bringing the background into better focus. Use the DOF preview button or shoot/review to get just the right balance between focus in your subject and the amount of detail in the background.
I slid the rail/camera slightly to the left, which put the flower just off to the right. This needs a little tweaking on color and contrast, but it’s not a bad final image.
Phew! That’s enough for now. If all this sounds too complicated to bother with, please don’t despair. It’s actually much simpler than it appears. Try re-reading this. But really, you just have to play around with the rail and see how it works. It also helps to get some practice shooting macro before adding a rail into the mix. As mentioned in the last post, rails come into their own mostly when you are shooting very close with high magnifications. I’d recommend skipping them when you’re doing “less-close” close-up photography.
Blooming lupine is decorated in dewdrops at Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.
Some of the simplest things make the nicest photos. This is probably my favorite thing about macro photography.
Okay, this is it! The final part of my mini-series on macro and close-up photography. I haven’t explained step by step how exactly to do macro photography, but I hope you’ve gotten enough tips to be confident getting started, and that the more advanced photographers among you have gotten something out of it as well.
An organ pipe cactus once it’s dead turns into a sort of honeycombed sculpture.
Depending on how serious you get with macro photography, consider one or a few of these accessories:
- A tripod that can get close to the ground is probably the most important thing to have with macro. If your tripod has a center column, removing it can get you much lower. Some tripods have the ability to rotate the center column to a horizontal position, which allows you to put the camera pretty much at ground level. My Manfrotto does just this.
- A flash can fill shadows nicely, but you either need a specialized flash called a ring flash, or have a synch cord or other way to move a standard flash unit off the camera. A camera with a built-in flash really doesn’t work; subjects are too close. Same goes for mounting the flash on your camera’s hotshoe.
- If the sun is bright and somewhat harsh, a portable diffuser is very worthwhile having. You don’t need a super-big one because of the size of your subjects. One that spreads to a diameter of about two feet or a bit more is perfect. They fold up into a flat bag that can be clipped to the outside of your camera pack. Get the diffuser as close to your subject as possible without it being in your shot (use a tripod plus LiveView). A small reflector is nice to have as well, sometimes in combination with the diffuser. You can reflect sunlight to fill shadows on the back side of your subject.
Tiger Lily in perfect bloom: Oregon
- I’ve recommended this before, but Canon’s 500D close-up filter is a great accessory to carry. If you don’t have a macro lens, it can get you close-up without the weight and cost of an extra lens. It can’t get you as large a magnification as a true macro lens can. But when you have one of these plus a macro lens, you can screw it on to the end of the macro lens and really crank up the magnification. A caution: you also narrow depth of field even more.
- A set of extension tubes can also stand in for a macro lens, but it’s been my experience that the quality suffers a tad more than using a quality close-up filter (and the only real quality one I know about is the Canon mentioned above). This is counter-intuitive since with a close-up filter you’re adding glass between the subject and your sensor, whereas extension tubes are hollow. But tubes do move your lens further from the sensor, affecting focus as well as the way that light strikes the sensor. I consider them a little less user friendly than close-up filters too.
This is one of my favorite close-ups of mine. Shot w/macro lens but hand-held while on XC skis in Oregon’s Cascade Mtns.
- A rail is good if you want to really get close and you’re doing a lot of macro. Rails attach to your tripod head and allow you to move the camera using small, gradual movements. It avoids clumsily trying to move your tripod a quarter inch here or there, easing the whole process of attaining precise focus.
A drawback: it’s one extra piece of equipment, and some rails are not exactly small. I have one but don’t use it as much as I probably should. Genuine macro enthusiasts can’t live without them, especially those who have macro lenses that can attain greater than 100% magnification.
NOTE: In a couple days I will post a follow-up where I show exactly how to use a rail in the field.
Have a wonderful weekend and happy shooting!
Not the usual sunset. I was recently in the neighborhood so stopped for a brief visit at Carlsbad Caverns. This is King’s Chamber.
A sunny meadow is home to a large spider in New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains. 21 mm., 1/250 sec. @ f/22, ISO 200.
This post will explore ways to incorporate your macro photography into regular shooting. I’m of the belief that the human brain naturally desires to order the world. So we all categorize, some more than others. While this isn’t in itself a bad thing, it can lead to a sort of tunnel vision (really several tunnels). All it takes to broaden your perspective is to realize that all our categories lie on a continuum. Putting that into practice of course is a bit tougher.
So how does this apply to photography, and in particular macro & close-up photography? Well, once you are comfortable getting close with a macro lens, extension tubes or close-up filter, consider attempting to get super close to subjects while also showing much of the surroundings. In nature and landscape photography, this can be a powerful way to highlight one small part of nature while showing the landscape as well.
I’m calling this one Flying Duck Kiss. 100 mm. macro lens, 1/6 sec. @ f/14, ISO 200.
I captured the image at the top of this post last month in northern New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains. I’ve sort of fallen in love with these mountains over the past couple of years. Waking for sunrise a thick fog greeted me, so not much chance at a big landscape image. But I stayed out well past sunup, wandering through a lovely meadow. I was fascinated by the tall blooming mule’s ear all around. It was quite a bright scene, but I used my tripod anyway.
The lens I used, a Zeiss 21 mm., focuses extremely close. So close in fact that I consider it a “wide-angle macro” lens. Most macro lenses are of much longer focal length. But if your goal is to show much of the environment around your subject, a wide angle lens that focuses close is the ticket. If you don’t have that lens, consider getting the Canon 500D close-up filter. More on that accessory in Part V of this series. I think it’s much easier to use than extension tubes, especially with wide-angle lenses.
I was able to get very close to the spider web, making an already large web look even bigger. At 21 mm. not only were the silhouetted mule’s ears prominent, the landscape beyond – the morning sun filtered through the fog-shrouded forest – is highlighted as well.
A closer look at that spider web, using the 100 mm. macro lens: 1/125 sec. @ f/4.0, ISO 100.
One challenge to these sorts of photos is depth of field. You’ll want to focus right on your subject, and since it’s very close, you’re almost guaranteed to blur the background to a certain extent. You can use f/22, which is the smallest aperture for most lenses. But diffraction effects introduce some softness at tiny apertures. How much softness depends on the lens. The Zeiss happens to be pretty darn sharp at f/22, though not nearly as much as it is at f/8. A tradeoff.
You could also focus-stack, taking several images (at an intermediate aperture like f/8 or f/11), focusing on things at ever-increasing distances from you. You then combine those images using Photoshop to get a picture with sharp focus front to back. Currently I don’t have Photoshop, so I’ve been collecting focus-stacked sequences and saving them for possible use later.
Of course you don’t have to have everything in focus. Even wide-angle lenses will blur things to one degree or another. If you get super-close to your main subject and use your largest aperture (f/2.8 for e.g.), you’ll blur much of the background, even if it’s not that far away. You won’t blur it as much as using, say a 200 mm. focal length at f/2.8, but that’s okay. When you do this it helps to have a very strong subject.
I’ve also used the ever-versatile 50 mm. lens with my Canon 500D close-up filter and found I’m able to limit the amount of background while also blurring it. What I suppose I’m saying is that you should never limit yourself. Use the gear you have in all possible combinations. Vary the distance to subject and point of view. Experiment!
After you’ve become somewhat familiar with operating in the space between macro and ‘normal’ landscape shooting, you should have a better ability to match the techniques you use to your goals for the images; that is, what you want to say about your subjects.
Though I’ve described combining macro and landscape here, it should apply to other subject matter as well. Can you think of ways to do this with portrait? Or sports? Other subjects? Leave a comment, don’t be shy! Okay, that’s it for today. Next week I’ll conclude the series with a look at gear and accessories for macro & close-up photography. Have a fun weekend!
“We will become…silhouettes when our bodies finally go”: Colorado. 21 mm., 1/125 sec. @ f/22, ISO 200.
Butterflies are notoriously difficult to catch still, so I shot this one off-tripod and using autofocus.
It’s time to dive into the nuts and bolts of this subject. I mentioned in Part II that depth of field and focus were major challenges when doing macro & close-up photography. So this post will focus on these two inter-related issues, using a few examples.
The closer you get to your subject, the shallower your depth of field will be. If you stop down to small apertures your depth of field will increase accordingly. But that will slow your shutter speed, blurring anything that is moving even slightly. It will also bring your background into better focus, which may not be what you want.
But you can go beyond simply adjusting aperture. You can choose a point of view and composition that puts the background at the right distance to blur it in the amount you want (see examples below). Also, depending on the shape of your subject, camera position will directly affect how much of it is in focus. Positioning your camera becomes a key way to control depth of field and focus, even more so than in other types of photography.
These aren’t fruit but ‘galls’ on an oak tree in Arizona’s Chiricahua Mountains. 100 mm., 1/5 sec. @ f/10, ISO 100, tripod.
Example 1: Recently, while in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona, I found the teddy-bear cholla cactus flowering with beautiful blooms. I wanted to show off both the color and the “guts” of the flower (its pistils & stamens), while at the same time giving a feel for the protecting spines all around. Flowers like this have some depth to them; they’re not flat-faced. So it’s tough to get close and still have all the petals plus the central reproductive parts all in focus.
So I positioned the camera at a sort of 3/4 angle to the face of the flower, so as to get the much of the central part in focus plus a few of the petals. I raised the tripod so it was slightly above the flower, so that a collection of cactus spines were at the right distance behind the bloom. I wanted them blurred but not too much.
The piece of blue sky beyond was a bonus, so I adjusted a bit so that it was to the side of the flower instead of right behind it. My point of focus was on the part that was closest to my lens. I had to raise ISO a bit so my shutter speed was fast enough to not allow the little breeze from blurring the flower.
Blooming cholla, southern Arizona. 100 mm. macro lens, 1/160 sec. @ f/8, ISO 400.
Example 2: In the flower below, I thought the long hairy portion was very cool, so I shot from the side to get all of that in focus. I experimented with different apertures to get most of the bloom in focus while totally blurring the background (to put attention on the flower). I also positioned the camera very close to the ground to put the background as far away as possible. The wind again made me raise ISO to get a faster shutter speed.
These flowers were blooming recently in the Chiricahua Mountains. 100 mm., 1/200 sec. @ f/11, ISO 800, tripod.
Example 3: With the bee below I had to decide whether getting all the flower, including its petals, in focus was as important as a focused bee and blurry background. Since I was shooting a living subject, shutter speed needed to be fairly fast, and that naturally led to a larger aperture (which gave me the blurred background).
Would it be better if the front petals were in focus too? Sure. But other than taking several exposures and combining them, there was no practical way to do that. I go for simple over complex most of the time, even if it means trade-offs. By the way, I got lucky with that shutter speed of 1/60 sec. Normally you’d need something faster in this situation, especially hand-held.
This bee is going to town on a cholla bloom at Organ Pipe, Arizona. 100 mm., 1/60 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 200.
So here’s the deal: think of moving the camera closer and further away from your subject as a way to control depth of field and the degree of blurring in your background. And think of moving your camera into different positions around the subject (side to side, low or high) as a way to not only get a more blurred background, but also to bring different parts of the subject into focus.
Next time we’ll go into some interesting ways to use macro and close-up photography in combination with other goals. I promise it will be something you just don’t see other photography teachers covering. Happy shooting!
A larger view of my recent wanderings in the southern Arizona desert at Organ Pipe Cactus N.M. This is Ajo Mountain drive, which in late summer is just too hot for most people, thus it was blessedly empty.
Alpine gentian growing at over 12,000 feet in elevation, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.
(Since I wasn’t going to be on a computer tomorrow – Friday – I meant to schedule this post ahead one day. But I mistakenly hit Publish! Haha~so it’s a day early, what’s the harm!)
It’s time for Part II of this little series on macro and close-up photography. So let’s get right to it. Following are tips for successful macro and close-up photography:
- Composition is still king. Just as with all photography, paying attention to everything in the frame – how it’s arranged and what can be excluded to help simplify things – is the pathway to success.
- Look for interesting stuff. I know, duh! With macro, keeping an eye out for small bits of color, or really anything that stands out, will help you to zoom in (crouching or on your hands and knees) to find fascinating details that weren’t noticeable from afar. Keep an eye out for small movements in your vision’s periphery; it could lead to cool little critters.
- Patience is even more important than usual. With flowers, waiting for the breeze to pause can have even the shy among us cursing like sailors. Get the picture set up and use LiveView with focus set, then wait for the perfect moment to trip the shutter. Try using burst mode; one of the images in the burst sequence will usually be in focus.
This pretty lily blooms in very dry, desolate desert areas of southern New Mexico during late summer monsoons. The wind was trying to keep me from getting the shot.
- Depth of field will be a challenge. Macro lenses have an innately narrow depth of field. And don’t expect close-up filters or extension tubes to do much better in that regard. Specific techniques for dealing with this are coming in the next post. The caterpillar below, who was moving surprisingly quickly, I shot hand-held, with fairly shallow depth of field and fast shutter speed. The fungus below that was stock still on a dark background, so I was able to shoot from the tripod with small aperture (for good depth of field), not worrying about having to blur the background.
Shallow depth of field meant that I couldn’t get all of this caterpillar in focus, so I focused on his head.
A strange fungus grows on a charred pine tree in the high country along the Arizona-New Mexico border.
- A tripod is usually necessary. With subjects that don’t move, or with flowers & other things that move back and forth (in the breeze), a tripod is really a no-brainer. In low light a tripod is even more critical. But even when light is bright and shutter speed is faster, a tripod results in more keepers. On the other hand, with fast-moving critters, a tripod may be more of a hindrance. Last point on tripods: never avoid a macro opportunity just because you don’t have a tripod with you. It’s still worth it, though your skills and patience will certainly be tested.
Western fence lizard, El Malpais, New Mexico. Hand-held and autofocus allowed me to catch him before he scampered off.
- Focus is a pretty big deal. You’ll find yourself using manual focus (with or without LiveView) much more often than usual. It allows much more precise adjustment, especially when using LiveView. With critters and other subjects that move, autofocus may be best. Next time we’ll go more into how camera position directly affects both your selective focus and depth of field.
- Work that subject! Just as with landscapes, portraits and other kinds of image-making, moving around and changing point of view, getting shots from several different distances, and in general trying to exhaust all possibilities is the way to go. Not only will it increase your chances for more good images, it will also help greatly to tell a story about the subject.
- Related to the above point, try not to obsess about getting as close as possible. While filling the frame can certainly be effective, it’s just one way of showing your subject. Just as wildlife photography dominated by close-ups cries out for a few shots showing the animal’s surroundings, macro and close-up photography needs to mix in wider views to show context and help tell the whole story.
Although this butterfly is so beautiful it’s tempting to fill the frame, stepping back to show the purple flowers it was alighting on results in an image that communicates more.
- Find good light. Golden hour, with the sun very low, is not just a good time for larger landscapes. It can also result in dramatic macro and close-up images. But bright sunlight also presents problems of contrast, and the higher the sun goes the harsher the light. Next time we’ll look at ways to mitigate these issues. A high overcast sky, with flat, even light, is good for illuminating all parts of your subject equally.
That’s it for now. I’m about to cross the border into Mexico for a short visit and a dip in the Sea of Cortez. Have a super weekend and happy shooting!
And now for a non-macro: sunset over the Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming.
The morning’s first light hits a blooming balsamroot in the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon.
I’ve been doing more macro and close-up photography lately. It’s something I’ve always loved. The details of the natural world just fascinate me. I like small critters. Some of them are so feisty! And I love wildflowers! Yes I know I don’t look the part, but why can’t a big ugly guy like to play in a field of flowers?
I think I also like the challenge of macro. All that bending and stooping kills my back. The wind blowing flowers around frustrates the heck out of me. Butterflies flying off just as I’m about to press the shutter button. Things like this are what I live for!
Blooming mule’s ear is covered with dew in a southern Rocky Mountain meadow.
So I thought I’d do a few posts on it, starting this week. A caveat: I’m not trying to be exhaustive or complete. To explain all the things you need to think about and do while getting close with your camera would take an entire book!
First off, is there a difference between macro and close-up photography? Though the answer to that is yes, you really don’t have to worry about it. Essentially, true macro is done very close to your subject and with high magnification. Generally it uses a dedicated macro lens. Close-up photography comes in when you move a bit further away, with less magnification. It can be done with extension tubes, close-up filters, or while using the macro settings on some lenses.
A caterpillar cruises along looking for his lunch.
Why do macro and close-up photography?
- It’s fun! You can spend hours in that “flow” state where you lose track of time. Afterwards you have that pleasant and incongruous feeling of having worked hard, but you feel strangely refreshed.
- This is a great way to shake things up, to break out of creativity ruts. Awhile back I did a post on ways to keep your photography fresh.
- Close-up photography teaches observation skills. When you’re always on the lookout for macro opportunities, you naturally start looking low as well as at eye level, you shift your focus close as well as far, you think small- as well as large-scale.
The spectacularly whorled and lichen crusted wood of a juniper tree in New Mexico.
- You don’t need perfect light for this. Yay! While light is still an issue, as it always is in photography, with macro you can afford to be much less rigid about what light is acceptable, especially when compared to traditional landscape photography.
- You get a deeper and more complete appreciation for nature doing macro & close-up. I often want to take those fellow photographers aside and show them this other world that they’re walking right over on the way to yet another traditional large landscape.
That’s it for now. Next week we’ll dive into all the tips and techniques for successful close-up and macro photography. Have a spectacular weekend!
Mount Hood, Oregon, at sunset.