Closeups - The Practical Problems
Depth of Field is important when shooting Closeups
Whichever equipment you choose to get your close-up, the mere act of focusing on close objects narrows the depth of field down to, wafer thin, problematic levels. Any kind of wide aperture setting becomes out of the question if you hope to get the whole object in focus. If your subject is static and you have a tripod you have the option of shooting at a slow shutter speed and therefore a small aperture, but if not, you need a lot of light. Either sunlight or flashlight will do (I used a small studio flash for the snails), but you must get the aperture ring closed down to f22 or whatever your smallest aperture setting is. Even then you will find that sometimes this is not enough and part of your subject is still out of focus. Well, if that's the case, then it's time to make a decision about which parts of the subject most need to be in focus.
Which Parts of the Picture Need to be in Sharp Focus?
All other things being equal, I would almost always choose to have the parts nearest to the camera in focus and let the background and parts furthest from the camera go out of focus. This to me looks less like a mistake than a picture where the foreground is out of focus. There are always exceptions and one I can think of is an extreme close-up of a face, if I had to choose between the eye(s) being in focus or the nose, I would always choose the eyes because they are a more important part of the face.
Photographing a moving subject Close-up
When photographing something like this bee you can't really use a tripod as they don't stay still for more than a few seconds at the most. I got this little guy with my macro lens. The best way to focus the camera, instead of trying to twist the lens barrel or use auto focus, is just to rock backwards and forwards on your feet. The depth of field is so shallow that the slightest movement will throw the subject out of focus. Be prepared for quite a few out of focus failures when you try to do this. You usually find that, just as you've got everything set up just right, he moves to another flower.
As you can see, I couldn't get the whole bee in focus, I was shooting at f5.0, so I went for the foreground and the eye as being the most important parts of the picture.
Using Shallow Depth of Field to Your Advantage
There are times of course when a shallow depth of field can be very effective. I'm quite fond of this flower shot because the stamens really stand out against the out of focus petal. I also like the area of sharp focus on the right. It is usually considered to be a bad thing to have two focal points in a picture but in this instance I think it works quite well. To me, the main center of interest is the right hand side with the lovely crisp water droplets.
This was a very dull day just after the rain, I had no tripod and so could only manage 1/60th at f8. I must admit that if I could, I would have tried to render the whole flower in focus but I like this the way it is.
It is also a good illustration of photography in muted lighting conditions. I am usually an advocate of strong sunlight but here it would have caused problems with too much contrast, making these beautiful colors difficult to render.
If you want to read more on the subject, there's a very thorough article on macro photography written by Kev Vincent.
You could also try this book about close up photography
A few tips for the budding wildlife photographer.
Lighting and perspective.
What you need and what to watch out for.
All the settings you need.
Photograph flowers like a professional, what you need to know.
For when you need extra depth of field.
How to get those ultra close-ups in focus.
Shooting a panned sequence of shots and stitching them together to make a panorama.
Techniques to help you capture those golden moments.
Getting the exposure right in all that white.
Tips on how to capture fast action.
Take better holiday photos without losing your sanity.
A complete 'how to' for weddings, with an accent on crowd control.
Bribing people to sit for you.
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