Close-up photos give us a window on a tiny, beautiful world that is all around us. Flowers, insects, morning dew, colorful moss and even pebbles make good subjects. Here’s what you need to know about phones, cameras, lenses and techniques to take great close-ups…
Phone versus dedicated camera. Any interchangeable-lens camera has a potential advantage for close-up photography because you can buy a “macro” lens that focuses especially close. Some macro lenses are quite expensive, but not all—for example, the Nikon AF-S DX Micro-NIKKOR 40mm f/2.8G sells for around $250. Cheaper alternative: Extension tubes that go between your existing lenses and the camera body and increase magnification. Kenko (KenkoGlobal.com) has a set of three different lengths. Typical price for the set: $125 or less.
Have a fixed-lens camera? Most of these have a macro mode for extreme close-ups built in. Check your camera!
Many smartphones take surprisingly good close-ups. Accessory lens kits (such as the Amir kit available on Amazon for around $12) include macro lenses, which let you shoot even closer.
Tips for any camera…
Work early in the day. Just after dawn is the best time to catch flying insects such as butterflies and dragonflies at rest. And morning dew on leaves and flowers can make magical photos. Fun trick: I carry a spray bottle of water and spritz flowers to create mist any time of day. Pros often add kitchen glycerin (try three parts water and one part glycerin to start) to the water to make larger and longer-lasting droplets.
Keep it steady. In macro photography, all movement is greatly exaggerated because of the magnification. A tripod will keep your camera steady, but you still must contend with breezes. Tip: Use a flash because the very brief flash duration will freeze motion. Or pluck a few blooms, and bring them indoors to shoot.
Consider lighting direction. Front lighting, where the sun comes from over your shoulder, creates bold, bright colors but makes for two-dimensional–looking images. Experiment with the light coming from the rear or the side for a more sculpted, three-dimensional look.
Let flying insects come to you. Insects such as bees and dragonflies tend to return to the same blossoms. Pre-
focus on a blossom or leaf that they are frequenting, and wait for them to land.