Close Up Photography

Close-Up Lenses
Close-Focusing Lenses
Lens-Extension Devices
Depth of Field in Close-Ups
Lighting for Close-ups Outdoors
Lighting for Close-Ups Indoors


Most 35mm cameras will focus on subjects as close as 1½ to 2 feet without any special equipment. Although this is close enough for many subjects, you can find a whole new world of fascinating and unusual picture opportunities at closer distances. With close-up equipment, you can take compelling photographs of flowers, small animals, insects, coins, stamps, and scale models and more. You can make tabletop pictures and copies of pictures or documents. The world of close-up photography can keep your imagination occupied for some time.

Close-Up Lenses

You can get into the close-up league with any camera that accepts filters simply by using close-up lenses. These are positive supplementary lenses that let you take sharp pictures at distances closer than those at which your lens would normally focus. Close-up lenses fit over your camera lens like a filter. They're available in different powers such as +1, +2, and +4. Each close-up lens is good for a limited range of close-up distances. The higher the number, the stronger the close-up lens and the closer you can get to your subject. The instructions that come with the lenses tell you what your subject distances should be at various focus settings and what area you'll be photographing at those distances. 

You can use two close-up lenses together to get even closer to your subject. For example, a +2 lens and a +4 lens equals a +6 lens. Always use the stronger close-up lens next to the camera lens. Never use more than two close-up lenses together since this may affect the sharpness of your picture. 

Close-up lenses are made in various powers. The higher the number, the greater the magnification of the subject. These lenses are light, compact, and relatively inexpensive. The image quality they produce is acceptable but not as good as that of camera lenses specially designed for optimum close focusing. Therefore, you'll get better sharpness if you use lens openings of f/8 and smaller when you use close-up lenses. You'll also obtain better depth of field using a small lens opening. 

One benefit you have when you use close-up lenses is that no exposure compensation is necessary. Just expose as you would if you were photographing the same subject without a close-up lens. 

Close-Focusing Lenses

Some lenses, called macro or micro lenses, are designed for close-up photography. They let you focus at distances as close as 4 or 5 inches from the subject and obtain life-size images on your film without using a supplementary close-up lens. Macro lenses typically come in focal lengths of 55mm and 100mm. The longer focal length allows you to focus on small subjects from farther away you don't have to get right on top of your subject, where you might block existing light or frighten it if it's an animal. Macro lenses are convenient because you can use them for close-ups one moment and for distant subjects the next without special attachments. 

Most manufacturers of auto-focusing SLR cameras also make at least one auto-focusing macro lens. Some compact auto-focus cameras have a close-up switch that allows you to work at a closer distance than the normal close-focusing distance. Auto-focus cameras are an ideal tool for close-up work because they let you choose your point of focus very precisely. Simply center the area that you want in sharp focus in the viewfinder and then use your focus lock to hold that focus. If you work in the single-shot autofocus mode, you'll always be guaranteed a sharp image, since in this mode most auto-focus cameras won't allow you to trip the shutter unless the image is sharp. 

A zoom lens that includes a telephoto range usually has a macro setting that allows you to take close-ups as well. With most of these zooms, the macro range functions at the telephoto end of the zoom, which means you can be fairly far away from your subject and still get a close-up image. However, at its closest focus, the macro setting of a zoom lens will yield an image smaller and less sharp than a true macro lens. 

Because of the added lens extension required for close-up focusing, macro lenses may require an exposure increase depth of field is very limited in close-up photography. Even with a small aperture such as f/16, depth of field will seldom exceed a few inches and for extreme close-ups may be less than an inch. By positioning the camera so its back is parallel to the subject you can align the plane of focus to the subject plane, thereby making the whole subject sharp at close subject distances. If you use a macro lens on a camera with a through the lens (TTL) meter, the meter will make the exposure compensation automatically. But if you are using a separate handheld meter or working with a manual flash unit, you will have to make the exposure compensation yourself. See the methods described under "Lens-Extension Devices" and "Lighting for Close-ups Outdoors."

Lens-Extension Devices

Another common method of taking close-up pictures involves extension tubes or a bellows. Such a device fits between the lens and the camera body to let you make sharp pictures at close distances. Since an extension device fits between the lens and the camera body, you can use it only on a camera that accepts interchangeable lenses, which includes most SLR cameras. 

Since the tubes or a bellows moves the lens farther from the film than it would be for normal picture-taking, you must compensate for the light loss by using a larger lens opening or a slower shutter speed. Cameras with built-in meters do this automatically. The longer the extension, the greater the exposure increase. 

Depth of Field in Close-Ups

No matter what method you use to make your close-up pictures, you'll find that depth of field is very shallow. Since small lens openings increase depth of field, it's a good idea to use the smallest lens opening that the lighting conditions will allow. For optical as well as depth-of-field considerations, it's wise not to use lens openings larger than f/8 with + 1, + 2, and + 4 close-up lenses, or larger than f/11 with more powerful lenses. 

Programmed-exposure cameras that have depth-of-field modes are useful in close-up work since they will automatically give preference to small apertures. Similarly, auto-exposure cameras with an aperture-priority mode allow you to pick a small aperture to increase depth of field in close-ups.

Lighting for Close-ups Outdoors

For most of your outdoor close-ups you'll probably use the natural lighting on the subject. If part of your subject is in sunlight and part in shadow, you can use a reflector, such as crumpled aluminum foil or white cardboard, to reflect the sunlight into the shadow areas. 

Backlighting and sidelighting can be quite effective for making close-ups of subjects like flowers and foliage. These types of lighting bring out the texture and emphasize the translucency and delicate qualities of such subjects. 

Many advanced photographers like to use flash for their outdoor close-ups. Flash close to the subject allows you to use small lens openings to get the depth of field you need for close-ups. When using flash, it's a good idea to use the fastest sync speed available on your camera. Using a combination of a fast shutter speed and small lens opening with flash lets the background go very dark because there is so little exposure from the daylight. You can use this technique to tone down a distracting background or to make a bright, colorful subject stand out against a dark background. Shooting at fast shutter speeds also minimizes subject movement, such as the swaying of flowers on a windy day. 

When you make extreme close-ups with flash, it simplifies exposure calculation if you can use your flash off the camera, always at the same distance from the subject. Then regardless of your subject distance, your basic flash exposure with a specific film and flash combination will always be the same. Keep in mind, however, that a dark subject, such as a black woolly caterpillar, requires more exposure than a light subject, like a white moth. 

If you can't use an extension flash to move the flash farther away from the subject, don't use regular guide numbers to calculate exposure for close-ups. The inverse-square law, on which guide numbers are based, doesn't work when you use flash at extreme close-up distances. You can use the Lens Openings for Close-ups Table as a guide in determining exposure. Or you may want to run your own exposure tests to determine the best exposure setting for your film and flash combination at various subject distances. Make exposures at half-stop increments from f/8 to f/22. Use one layer of white handkerchief over the flash to diffuse the light and to reduce its intensity. Keep a record of your exposures so that you can determine which lens opening produced the best exposure. Use that lens opening for any close-up pictures taken from the same subject distance. 

If you're using an automatic electronic flash for close-up pictures, you may be able to let it determine the exposure automatically, or you may have to set it on manual, depending on the flash-to-subject distance. See your flash instruction manual. To use the flash unit on automatic, it may help to cover the flash reflector with one layer of handkerchief, but make sure that the handkerchief does not cover the light-sensitive cell in the flash unit. Take some trial pictures to see if your automatic electronic flash will produce good exposure for close-ups. If the trial pictures are too light-overexposed - use a smaller lens opening; if they are too dark-underexposed - use a larger lens opening. 

Another way to use automatic flash effectively, even at very close distances, is to bounce the flash onto a white card held above the subject. This diffuses the light to create softer illumination. Some flash manufacturers sell bounce-card brackets for this purpose. Exposure will remain automatic provided the flash sensor is pointing at the subject. 

Dedicated flash/camera combinations that measure the light through the lens or off the film plane are the ideal source for close-up flash. Dedicated flash will provide accurate exposure regardless of what type of close-up device you are using, and regardless of whether you are using the flash on or off camera.

Lighting for Close-Ups Indoors

While your outdoor close-up pictures might be of moving subjects, such as butterflies or buttercups swaying in the breeze, chances are that indoors you'll be photographing objects like coins, model cars, and still-life setups. Since you don't need to be concerned with stopping action with this type of subject, short exposure times and bright flash aren't necessary.  Consequently, you can use photolamps including spotlights to see the effect of the lights on your subject before you take the picture. These lamps are sold by photo dealers. 

If you're using color slide film balanced for 3200 K tungsten illumination 3200 K tungsten lamps. 

With daylight-type films, you can use either 3400K photolamps or 3200K tungsten lamps when you use 80B and 80A filters respectively. When you want to take black-and-white pictures, you can use either light source with no filter. 

When you want to emphasize the contours and shape of a subject, you can photograph the subject against a relatively dark background and rimlight it by placing lights slightly behind the subject. When you do this, make sure the camera lens is shielded from the direct light of the lamps. You can emphasize surface textures by skimming the light across the surface of the subject. 

When you make a reflected-light exposure meter reading of a small subject, the meter reading will be influenced by a bright or a dark background. For this reason, it's a good idea to make reflected-light readings from a grey card. Or you can use an incident-light exposure meter to make a reading from the subject position. 

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