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June 2015
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Photographic Eye on Asia

Close Up Photography

June 24, 2015


Balinese Butterfly by Tom Coyner © 2015

Now that the weather has warmed up, all creatures great and small are reappearing.  While it’s great to photograph landscapes and other large subjects, often the most interesting and beautiful may found at your foot or hidden within a flower.  Close up photography of subjects close to the camera lens and macro photography when the final picture is larger than the actual image, is rewarding once one gets the hang of some unique issues in taking such photos.

There is a variety of strategies, including a surprising array of equipment options, but all contend with the same issues.  Namely, the closer one focuses, the shallower the depth of focus – often only a few millimeters deep.  Also, lighting can become problematic as one’s shadow is more likely to be a factor as one gets into close to the subject.  The wind becomes more of a problem as even a gentle breeze can easily move an intended subject suddenly out of focus.

The good news is that some of the best tools for the average photographer include already owned tools – such as point & shoot cameras and smartphones.  Like most things these days, often we only use a few of our equipments’ functions.  Many people are often surprised that their trusty point & shoot camera already has an excellent close-up function.  Usually it is noted by a tulip or some other flower icon.  By selecting that mode, the camera shifts from a fairly close-to-infinity focusing range to a close-to-very-close focusing range.  In the case of smart phones, we may already know how close one can focus our phones.  But since focusing can be tricky, it’s very important to have a good understanding of how to focus one smartphone, depending on the chosen camera app.

For those of us owning a DSLR or mirrorless camera, often our standard telephoto lens and sometimes shorter lenses offer very close focusing capabilities.  Although less common these days, often DLSR and mirrorless camera owners may insert extension tubes between their camera bodies and lenses.  Extension tubes can turn many lenses into close up or macro lenses, albeit with some drawbacks in loss of light and suspension of some of the auto features of the lens, such as focusing, etc.

Many modern lenses, however, such as the Nikon G series lenses, no longer have mechanical manual aperture rings, forcing the photographer to set the aperture only within the camera.  These lenses will not work with extension tubes.  However, many very reasonably priced second-hand lenses with mechanical aperture rings work wonderfully with extension tubes.  In any case, before investing in extension tubes, it is wise to do one’s homework on the Internet regarding your camera and its lenses regarding extension tube use. 

A quirky but tried-and-true approach is to use a special adapter that turns any fix-focused (not zoom) lens into a macro or close-up lens by attaching it backwards on to your camera – usually a 50mm lens is used for this purpose.

But most advanced and professional photographers end up using Macro Lens with their DSLR or mirrorless cameras.  This is the most expensive way, but these lenses offer the most freedom and flexibility of all options. Usually these lenses are found in three lengths, roughly 50mm, 100mm  and 200mm sizes.  When purchased new, the lenses are priced about KRW10,000 per millimeter.  The most popular size is the 100 or 105mm f/2.8 lens as it offers the best value proposition and it can also serve as an excellent portrait lens.  The expensive 200mm lens’s biggest advantage is that it can focus in close without getting too physically close to a potentially skittish subject, such as a butterfly.  The distance also reduces the problem of the photographer’s shadow becoming an issue.

This is very big subject, but I must keep this review fairly brief.  I should mention in closing that often a tripod is essential to assure good focusing. Often slower shutter speeds are required, necessitating a tripod.  Also, using a tripod forces the photographer to slow down, which is often a very good thing for this kind of photography.  

Finally, use of a flash can be essential to provide fill-in light or to possibly to freeze motion.  However, often the built-in or add-on flash will shine above the subject and not on the subject when dong very close-up photography in the case of the larger cameras.  So often off-camera flash is preferred or even required.  The easiest way to work is to use a flash cord connecting the flash to the camera, with the flash pointed at the subject at an angle.  Needless to say, off-camera flashes with flash cords normally require use of a tripod or perhaps a friend holding the flash while the image is being composed and taken. 

Should you have any questions on this and other topics, feel free to drop me a line at [email protected].

Keep on shootin’!


Lilly Abstract – Tom Coyner © 2015

by Tom Coyner. Find out more about Tom Coyner here.

Categories: Photography