It’s a small world

Some genres of photography such as landscapes or architectural photography deal with subjects on a grand scale but for this month’s Readers Photography Challenge assignment you’re going to have to think small, really small.

The delicateness of spider’s web, the tenuousness of a raindrop clinging precariously to a leaf or the elegant curve of a flower’s petals are among the hidden beauties that you can find in the land of the miniscule and the realm of macro photography.

Technically a close-up picture is one that is shot as close as your camera and lens will allow, but there are a number of ways to shoot to get you extremely close to your subjects. You could crop the photo after it’s taken but you could only do it so much before it would degrade the quality of the picture.

The goal of most macro photographers is to get a 1:1 reproduction, that is to say getting your subject the same size on the sensor (or in the old days, film) as it is in real life. But anywhere from 1:2 to 1:7 can be considered close-up photography.

The most common way for close-up work for DSLR users is to get a macro lens (Nikon calls theirs “micro” lenses). Relatively inexpensive (from around $300 to $900 depending on the brand and focal length) they range from 50mm to 100mm. They tend to be the easiest and sharpest option to go with. As with any other lens you can either set the camera on automatic exposure and focusing or you can do them manually, However when focusing it’s best turn the lens to manual and set it to it’s closest focus and then move your camera (and by extension yourself) back and forth to get the sharpest image (There are accessories you can get such as extension tubes and bellows but the macro lens is the basic piece of equipment).

A cheaper alternative is to buy close-up filters that screw into the front of your lens. A set of filters will run you somewhere between $30 to $60 depending on the diameter of your lens. In general they aren’t as sharp as a macro lens and if you stack them together to get even closer, their sharpness decreases even more.

The least expensive technique is to “reverse” the lens. It’s exactly what it sounds like: You take the lens off of your camera and turn it around. Hold it tightly against camera and it’ll allow you to get very close to your subject. The down side is that you won’t be able to control the lens’s aperture so you’ll have to adjust your exposure with only the camera’s shutter speed and ISO. Most likely the aperture on the lens will be wide open meaning you’ll have very little depth of field (the range that’s in focus). The technique also ties up your left hand to hold the lens in place but there are “reversing rings” you can get ($15 to $20) to hold the lens in place so that you don’t have to if you’re so inclined (An interesting side note: if you’re using a zoom lens, the highest magnification will be if you zoom it out to it’s widest setting).

Point-and-shoot and cellphone cameras have even fewer options. Most point-and-shoot compacts have a setting in a dial or menu (usually indicated by a stylized symbol of a flower) which they may or may not call “macro.” that allows the user to get in reasonably close (though probably not true macro-close). Many current smartphones also let you get in fairly close too. You can get supplemental “lenses” for both that act like the close-up filters on DSLRs with varying degrees of effectiveness.

Another consideration in macro photography is, that because of its close up nature, tiny movements are magnified. The slightest movement can cause “camera shake” thus blurring your pictures. A tripod will help this this. Motions by your subjects are also exaggerated. If you’re shooting flowers or leaves it’s best to find a spot out of the wind to keep them from moving around too much and try to use as high as shutter speed as you can.

Equipment and techniques aside the biggest obstacle to close-up photography is that most people don’t think about or look at things on a small scale. Close-up or macro photography deals with a world that can go unnoticed right at our feet. They are things that we usually pass up in a sort of not-seeing-forest-for-the-trees kind of thing. You have to switch gears and learn how to see on a small scale.

So send in your close up photos and let’s get small!

Here are the rules:

1. Entries can be emailed to Type in “Close Up” in the subject line.
2. Include your name (first and last), hometown, and the kind of camera/lens you used.
3. The subject is up to you but it must be shot as close as your camera/lens will allow.
4. If your photo is of a person please include the name (first and last) of your subject, their relationship to you (relative, friend or stranger off the street), their ages (if they are juveniles) and where the photo was taken.
5. Sometimes it can be hard to determine what the subject can be when shot in extreme close up. Please describe what it is.
6. Please feel free to include any interesting anecdotes or stories on how you took the picture.
7. The deadline for submission is Sunday, Sept. 8. The top examples will be published on Monday, Sept. 16 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day (Photos have to be shot between Aug. 26 and Sept. 8).
We’ll see you then. Have fun and good shooting!

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