Photography lesson: Close up photography

I have been fascinated by close-up photographs for many years. I got this shot of a pinhole in my mum's iron using an instamatic camera and a pair of binoculars turned round the wrong way round.

pinhole on iron base

My childhood attempts produced many such odd images of strange minature worlds and I have been hooked on macro photography ever since.

Close Up or Macro photography is a great way of producing images that people don't normally get to see. Officially macro means a magnification of 1:1 or more.

The tools needed for macro photography range from the homemade setups costing next to nothing, up to the most expensive of all lenses.

aphid macro

The details you will see may well amaze you. In this photograph, aside from the aphid itself, we get to see the details of the plant stem that are simply not visible to the naked eye.

Your digital SLR camera will have a macro mode and an extension ring will allow you to use the basic lens to get pretty close.

butterfly close up

Indoors a good large reading lens (charity shops often sell them) will allow you to get close enough with the basic set up to take some amazing shots of snails and other insects.

Outdoors things get more difficult but more rewarding. This bee was the first picture I snapped one morning using an improvised macro lens made from an old lens from a pair of binoculars.

bee macro

Flowers are a cliche in close-up photography, but this is only to be expected. When nature is revealed in all its unconditional beauty to our eyes, we would be missing a soul if we did not want to capture the moment.

flower macro photograph

Spiders are also great subjects, as are their webs. Get out into the garden early in the morning and capture dew on a web.

spider web with dew

Alternatively, when it is sunny look for spiders hiding in the shade.

spider hiding beneath a leaf

Get a macro lens and things get really exciting as your camera takes you to unimagined worlds. A lens giving you focal lengths around the 18-50mm mark is what you should be aiming at.

fly with detailed eyes in focus

At close range, backgrounds become blurred due to short focal length. This can work to your advantage in providing simple background colours which compliment but don't distract from the thing you have in focus. The red and gold of the fly work wonderfully against the purple flower, but much less so against the greenery in the bottom left of the shot.

bracket fungus

I was please with this close up of a bracket fungus but I now wish I had brushed off the little flecks from the fungus before I took the photo. When taking close up shots the little details like fluff and dirt become far more visible in the shots. If you plan on trying out closeup photography, a small soft bristled brush in your camera pack is a very useful thing to have with you on an expedition.

flower close up photography

Choose your subjects for close up photos carefully

In the photo above you can see the petal bottom left is damaged, spoiling the effect somewhat.

If you haven't got the money for a dedicated lens, pop down to your local charity secondhand store and pick up an old camera with a removeable standard 50mm lens. This will cost less than a fiver in most cases.

Now if you set this up between your normal digital camera and the subject you can get some amazing ultra closeup images. You will have to fiddle about with lights and lock things down, since the slightest nudge will send it all out of focus, but with patience, you can enter the world of extreme macro phtography for next to nothing.

macro photograph of amber with prehistoric fly

I worked out that this setup enables me to shoot up to 10 times magnification

This shot of a piece of amber with a tiny prehistoric fly was my very first attempt at using a reversed 55mm macro lens as an enlarging lens. I was very pleased with it.

For further reading, find out about focus stacking which allows you to digitally create a much better depth of field on super macro photographs. This fly ;was generated using 37 seperate images, using only the infocus elements of each.

A technique called focus stacking can be used on macro photographs to increase the depth of field beyond the limits of optics. You take a series of exposures, changing the focal plane by a tiny amount each time so that every point on the subject is sharp in at least one exposure.

At the other end of the scale, the opposite of close-up photography are photographs refered to as panoramas.