Successful close ups – Some helpful hints

The path to good close up pictures is strewn with many pitfalls for the unwary photographer. Even the best equipment will not guarantee first rate results unless it is used carefully and with attention to certain important techniques. The following suggestions for taking close up pictures may increase your success.

SLR camera is by far the most convenient instrument to use in close up work. Its through the lens viewing allows you to focus directly on the subject no matter what combination of tubes, bellows or other attachments you are using. It eliminates parallax – the difference in point of view between the taking lens and your eye when you use a camera with a separate optical viewfinder. Also, it usually provides automatic exposure compensation for close ups by means of direct through the lens metering.

In close up photography depth of field becomes more and more shallow (down to tiny fractions of an inch) the closer you approach your subject. To help overcome the shallow depth, use small f-stops whenever feasible, not only to increase depth but to improve general image quality as well.

Remember that the marked f-stops on any lens refer only to infinity position. As the lens is extended out for closer focusing, actual light transmission decreases rapidly from the indicated aperture. Restore the lost light by adding exposure time rather than by using larger f-stops.

Depth of field in close ups is split 50-50 in front of an behind the point of focus. Therefore, when two equally important picture elements are at slightly different distances from the lens, try focusing halfway between them and stopping down all the way. If this doesn’t bring them both onto focus, pick one to be sharp and sacrifice the other. Or, better still, change the camera angle (or move the subject) so that both are in the same plane of focus.

When copying flat material (photographs, newspaper pages and so on) always keep the sensor plane and the subject matter as close to parallel as possible and try to center the subject on the lens axis.

In the close up range focusing cannot be accomplished simply by adjusting the lens position. The entire camera/lens assembly as a unit (or subject itself) must be moved back and forth until a sharp image appears. Only then can fine tuning be done with the lens focusing ring or the bellows knob.

The minimum focusing distance for an ordinary (non macro) lens is about ten times its focal length, producing images of one eighth to one tenth life size. To get closer, you need close up lens attachments, extension tubes or bellows. For magnifications greater than full life size, the lens should be reversed so that the rear element faces the subject. This can be down with a special reversing ring. Image quality will greatly improve, but you will lose automatic control.

Like long telephoto shots, extreme close ups suffer from shakiness and vibration. The smallest movement of camera, lens or subject is magnified many times in the image. Therefore, hand-held exposures should be taken only at the very highest speeds, which is a problem because you must also use small stops to achieve greatest depth of field. The solution is to utilize a sturdy tripod or copy stand (along with slower speeds) whenever possible, tripping the shutter with a cable release at least 30.5cm (12inc) long or a rubber bulb air release. Outdoors remember to wait for the wind to stop.

If mirror movement during exposure still causes too much vibration for extreme close ups, another method may be used. Determine exposure time by tables or by counting the number of seconds of auto exposure during a practice run. Then cover the lens with a piece of black cardboard, set the shutter for a time exposure, and release it. When all vibration has stopped, uncover the lens by hand for the correct amount of time. Then cover it again and close the shutter. Be careful not to have bright light shining into the lens around the piece of cardboard, and be equally careful not to jiggle the setup when moving the hand held “shutter”.

If subject size is important to know later, include a ruler or other object of known dimensions in the picture along with the subject.

A telephoto lens used with a short extension tube makes a good combination for close ups where more camera to subject distance is desirable.

Always go beyond mere technical competence by arranging lighting, camera angles and backgrounds to present the most interesting effects. Create pictures, not just snap shots.


More about close up lenses

- Supplementary close up lenses
- extension tubes
- bellow lenses
- macro lenses
- tips for using close up magnification