HOW TO... 7 Close-up photography tips

As the 17th May deadline for entries for the Close-up Photographer of the Year 2020 competition approaches, award co-founder Tracy Calder gives her top tips for better close-up photography

7 Tips for close-up photography
Tutorial

The Close-up Photographer of the Year Awards, aka CUPOTY, is a relatively new competition but the number of entries and the standard of photography is fantastic – as illustrated above by Jo Angell’s wonderful image of a Zebra Spider.

This year the deadline for entries is on Sunday 17th May. It’s fast approaching but there’s still time to get your entry (or entries) in.

We spoke to the co-founder of the award, Tracy Calder, to get some background on the competition and hear her top tips for better close-up photography. In the video below (recorded via Zoom video conferencing) Tracy takes us through some key points and shows some of her favourite images from last year’s competition. Scroll down to see a summary of Tracy’s points.

7 Close-up photography tips

Close-up photography is one of the most accessible forms of photography because we are literally surrounded by potential subjects. While it includes macro photography, you don’t have to use a macro lens or capture subjects at life-size or bigger for an image to qualify as a close-up image. It simply means going closer than normal to capture interesting images.

Here are 7 key points to keep in mind when shooting close-up photography.

01 Inspiration

We often think that we need to go to exotic places to shoot award-winning images, but there are potential close-up subjects all around us and it’s a great form of photography to get into during the lockdown.

So the first step is to think about the type of subject that interests you. If you’re a keen cyclist, it may be that you are drawn to photographing the derailleur of your prized ride. Or perhaps the coloured threads and bobbins in a sewing box are your muse?

Food and kitchen utensils can also make great subjects, but the most popular tend to be flora and fauna.

All of these can be found in your own home or garden.

02 Research

A little research into your subject can go a long way with close-up photography. If you want to shoot spiders, for example, you need to know where they hang out and at what time of the year or day they are most visible.

Some animals like butterflies may also be easier to photograph when they are just waking up, before they really get going. So you need to know where they spend the night to catch them first thing in the morning.

Similarly, if you’re photographing plants, you need to research where they grow (or how to grow them) and at what time of the year they look their best.

03 Remember the background

Close-up photography, especially macro photography, is very absorbing and it’s easy to get so entranced by the details of your subject that you forget about the background. However, the background can make or break your image and it needs just as much consideration as the subject itself.

If your subject’s natural background is unattractive, consider positioning an alternative background behind it. This could be a purpose-made Photoboard or an image that you’ve printed yourself.

Alternatively, if you can move your subject without harming it, do so.

04 Don’t forget the traditional rules of composition

Composition is another element of photography that is easy to forget when we’re concentrating on capturing the finer details of an unusual subject. However, it’s just as important to remember the traditional rules of composition when you’re shooting close-up images as it is for landscape photography.

Read 6 photography composition techniques for more creative images

05 Take control of focus and depth of field

One of the trickiest aspects of close-up photography is getting the most important part of the subject sharp. That’s because the closer you get to your subject, the shallower the depth of field becomes.

This means it’s vital to focus on the right point in the scene. Modern autofocus systems are great, but when you get close to a subject it’s often best to focus manually.

In addition, if you’re using a DSLR, it’s usually a good idea to switch to live view mode to see the subject on the screen on the back of the camera.

Also, magnify the on-screen image so you can see the very small details and ensure that the focus is exactly where you want it.

If you find that you can’t get enough of your subject in focus, use focus stacking. Focus stacking is a technique in which you shoot a series of images with different focus points before merging them into one composite image.

Read which cameras have built-in focus stacking

06 Steady your camera and the subject

When you get very close to a subject any movements become magnified so it’s vital that both your camera and the subject are motionless. Ideally, your camera should be on a tripod, but other supports are also very useful. Tracy often uses a beanbag – something you can make at home from a sock and a packet of dried beans or lentils.

Keeping a fragile plant still in a breeze is a bit trickier. You may need to construct some form of windbreak or use plant wire or something like a Wimberely Plamp to hold it still.

07 Balance the light and the exposure

Small objects that are close to the ground often look quite dark compared to their surroundings and you may need to add a little light. This can be difficult if you’re shooting very close to your subject and there’s not much space between the lens and the subject, but there are lots of macro lights and ring lights available.

Small constant light sources such as a Manfrotto Lumimuse8 or a Rotolight Neo 2 which use LEDs and can be run on battery power are very useful.

Read our buyer’s guide to the best ring lights

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