A while ago I was asked to take some pictures of snails which got me thinking about the perils of close-up photography in general.
The first problem we need to look at is, how close the lens will focus. Lenses have a minimum focus distance which varies considerably from lens to lens, some longer zoom lenses have a 'macro' setting and will focus quite close but most lenses will not focus close enough to take the picture on the right.
Extension Tubes for your Camera
If the lens you are using will not focus close enough there are a couple of ways to make it do so. If the lens is detachable from the camera, you can use 'extension tubes'. These usually come in a set of three which can be used separately or together. They fit between the lens and the camera body and, as the name suggests, there is no glass in them, they merely serve to move the lens further away from the camera sensor. The lens will now focus on closer objects than it would before but will no longer focus on infinity, which is why you can't just leave the extension tube in place the whole time.
Extension tubes are a good solution as you are still using the quality lens that you paid so much money for and so the picture quality will be the same as for any other shot. The downside (there's always a downside, you never get anything for nothing) is that you need more light (the inverse square law works just as well behind the lens as it does in front), this will mean either a longer shutter time or a wider aperture. Your meter will automatically compensate for this but it can lead to severe depth of field problems which we will discuss on the next page.
Close-up lenses are a bit like reading glasses, they are attached to the front of the lens, like a filter. Their strength is measured in diopters, a +2 diopter lens will focus closer than a +1 etc (for a full explanation of diopters see Wikipedia). Using close-up lenses solves the problem of needing extra light but now you have something on the front of your lens. The front element of your lens and the beautiful multi coating on it, that you paid a fortune for and have lovingly looked after, are not being used. The quality of your photo is now, to some extent at least, in the hands of your close-up lens. So make sure you buy a decent make, they are not expensive so there is no need to buy the cheapest.
If you find yourself doing a lot of close-up work as I do, a proper macro lens might be a good buy. Certainly if you want the best possible quality then a macro lens from your camera manufacturer would be best. However, be warned they are expensive. As I couldn't quite justify the expense of a Canon 100mm Macro, the L (posh version) lens is currently listed at around $1000.00, I settled for the (not that much cheaper) Tamron 90mm lens. The Tamron has served me pretty well and the quality is pretty good, but I saw some results from the Canon lens recently and they were truly amazing. So you do get what you pay for.
Closeup Equipment Conclusion
The choice is yours, closeup lenses, extension tubes or a dedicated macro lens.
The cheapest option is the 'Close-up Lens' which is basically a filter and will cost only a few dollars depending on the filter thread size of your lens. The major camera brands though, charge quite a lot for their filters, a 77mm Canon closeup lens will cost around $140.00 but they will be the very best quality.
The next on the expense ladder, but not by much, come the extension tubes. Once again there is a big difference in the price from an independent manufacturer and the official camera branded product. Here I would say you could safely save some money buying a 'lesser brand' as there is no glass involved. If they fit on your camera and don't leak light then they have done just as good a job as the expensive 'branded' tube would do.
The most expensive choice is the macro lens by a long way, but you are getting a lens which has been specially made for closeup photography as opposed to pressing your 'normal' lens into a use for which it was not designed.
Having got the equipment sorted out, it is time to have a look at the practical issues involved in actually taking the pictures on the next page.
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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