Discovering What’s Around You

Today I’m going to talk about how to cheat in the world of close-up/macro photography.  You’re probably scratching your head right now thinking…”wait, the title says Discovering What’s Around You, what does close-up photography have to do with that?”…well, everything actually.

Today’s blog isn’t going to be long and lengthy and the tools are simple.  As long as your digital camera has the pixel count and image area to handle hard crops then you can do this type of photography without all the extra equipment.  You probably won’t even need a flash or you can use a white or silver (depending on how much extra light you need on your subject) bounce card.  Having a fairly good understanding of your image editing software is essential.  I’ll talk a little more about that in a little bit.  This is about how close-up/macro photography can transform your backyard, your local city park or your neighbors hedges into a whole new shooting landscape (of the smaller world around us).

http:// mushroom in a bed of mulch

The image of the mushroom is a perfect example of what kind of image can be captured in a very small space.  Composition is critical here though.  You have to be very aware of what is in the background as well as the foreground.  An easy way to do this is by shooting in liveview mode.  This should show you what your picture will look like.  With this particular picture, I decided to place the camera in a position that allowed for green shrubs to be in the background.  The trick here is to have the background blurred out enough so the shrubs don’t look like regular house shrubs and yet not so blurred that we don’t recognize it as some sort of plant.  This allows the mushroom to look as if it may have been shot out in the woods somewhere.  I will be honest here and let you know that this was shot with dedicated equipment BUT this is where your editing software comes to play. Right now I just want to show the different things that can be discovered and shot within easy walking distance of your front (or back) door.  I’ll talk software later.

http:// jumping spider

When shooting insects with a standard kit lens I would suggest shooting with your widest aperture to start with.  Photographing insects can be truly tricky with dedicated equipment and might come to be a little easier with your kit lens using the crop to get in close.  More times than not you want as much of your subject (insect) to be in focus while having as much of the foreground and background out of focus so the viewers eyes are only on the subject.  While it’s easier to get the blur you want for the foreground and background with dedicated lens or macro adapter rings it does make it more difficult to get enough of the subject in focus to satisfy most viewers.  The reason for that is the closer you get to the subject the shallower your depth of field will be.

http://bug on a leaf

I probably love close-up/macro nature photography as much as I love wildlife photography.  The exciting thing about the former is that on any given day you can come across an insect that you never seen before (or at least you’ve never taken notice of before).  It’s almost like you are documenting a new species (who knows…that could happen as well).  Even the common insects that you see all the time will come to have a whole new look once you study them through the lens of a camera as the picture of the jumping spider shows.

http:// daddy long legs

We have all seen daddy long legs.  Many of us have even held them (being one of the very few and sometimes only spider we will hold).  Now, take a picture of one, crop in close, sharpen the image up without ruining the aesthetics of the image and suddenly we see creature with long black legs and…fangs!  Doe’s it make you second guess all those times you held one?  Probably not but you get the idea.  The images I have shared are of subjects that are easily found in close to home if you just look.

So how exactly do you get these types of images without a dedicated setup?  Let’s start with your kit lens.  The best kit lens are the ones that have a reach of at least 105mm.  What I will share with you will hold true to everyone no matter what kind of zoom lens you have.  You want to get as close as your lens allows for focusing zoomed in to your subject.  The further you can zoom in and get close the more of your background and foreground will be out of focus.  With “kit” zoom lenses you should be able to shoot at it’s widest setting (usually f/3.5) and get the right amount of the subject in focus.  Here is a BIG warning though.  Most lenses (even professional lenses) are not optically at their sharpest when they are at their widest aperture.  To get the sharpest image that your lens is capable of producing usually requires shooting between f/5.6 and f/8.  Of course not every lens acts the same so I suggest that google search for test reviews of your particular lens and what f-stops gives the sharpest image.  There are times though that you may get a lens copy that wasn’t calibrated correctly and causes back focusing issues with your camera.  If you are getting constantly out of focus images (at least where you intended the focus to be) and you have even tried shooting with a tripod and remote shutter release then this could be the issue.  It can be corrected by you but it isn’t a quick and easy solution.  I won’t go into detail but you can find out how to do this by googling it.

Okay, so you have taken the picture and it’s now up on your photo editing software.  Before you start adjusting for sharpness, color and lighting I suggest you crop first.  Now you have cropped.  Now it’s time to adjust the exposure, contrast, highlights and shadow (but only if needed) then and only then should you start thinking about sharpening.  When you sharpen the image (if you feel it’s needed) you are sharpening for the subjects eyes and you have to be careful not to sharpen to the extent of making the image look digitized.  Only take it to the point of still looking natural.  Once you have your subject to your satisfaction it’s time to look closely at the foreground and background.  Are they both out of focus enough to the viewers eyes are automatically drawn to the subject?  If not, most programs that are out now have the ability to manipulate those areas only and blur them out even further.  Youtube is a great place to find tutorials on pretty much anything and everything that deals in image editing software.  Some companies even have it on their website.

So the point of this blog today is to, again, get you thinking outside of the box.  With practice and the right technique you can transform a back yard, front yard or your local city park into a photo mecca by going small.  The right composition, camera angle (to keep manmade objects out of the picture) and f-stop can make it look as if you went out on a photographic journey to the great outdoors somewhere far away.

One last note.  I mentioned in Monday’s blog about being prepared for snow and that the prediction for Wednesday wasn’t going to be anything to get excited about…well…that may have changed now that they are predicting anywhere between one to six inches.  THAT is enough to get excited about and snow pictures can make for great close-up work!


Keep warm ~ R

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