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How to Improve Your Close-up (Macro) Photos

Updated on September 27, 2012
Young photographer with macro equipment.
Young photographer with macro equipment. | Source

It’s interesting that our perception of our surroundings can become more detailed and magnified with the use of our cameras. Close-up shots of the tiny world, or macro photography is an awesome way to practice your skills. You don’t need to set an appointment with a dragonfly, or tell the ladybug to carry her swimsuit! Obvious advantages -- your subjects are all over, ready and present to help you form great images.. There are ways to improve your close-up shots of nature and still subjects in general, and this is what we’ll discuss.

Use manual focus when autofocus fails

You may find that when you’re using autofocus when taking close-up shots, there may be a bit of difficulty. Your autofocusing may hunt to lock on a suitable focus point, sometimes without success. In this case, you may need to use manual focus and take your time to focus on your subject until it looks as sharp as possible from your LCD screen. Otherwise, you may have to move back with your camera a bit because it may be that you have exceeded the minimal distance for your lens to focus on the subject.

Resort to cropping when there’s no choice

If you have no choice but to take photos that are not as close to the subject as you would like, then cropping maybe the solution in this case. The reason could be that of the minimal focal distance of the lens exceeded as stated earlier, or it may be just that you can’t go any closer to your very sensitive subject that may undergo ‘fright and flight’ if you step any closer.

Use Macro Mode

On your camera dial, you’ll see that well known icon of a ‘little flower’ which signifies Macro Mode. In this mode, your camera will automatically put together aperture and shutter speed settings to suit taking close-up images. What you’ll find happening is that the aperture value set may be small (i.e. the physical aperture will be wide) to allow for a shallow depth of field. This look is great for macro shots to blur a noisy background, even to the point of virtually eliminating the chance of even seeing what is in the background. The result -- a sharp and focused shot of your subject with a blurred background.

Choosing your background

Sometimes you won’t be able to totally blur the background, probably because of the lens you may be using or the physical distance that you may be limited to, and the background may not be as desirable. What you could do is to either change your angle that you’re taking the shot at to capture a nicer background with more appealing colors, or infuse your own background -- such as a piece of cardboard or paper with the color of your choice. White is typically a neutral chosen for paper/cardboard background, but you are not limited to such -- it’s your creativity that’s in motion.

Macro equipment

Specialist macro lenses are great to use as they provide that combination of an excellent magnification factor along with a wide aperture that produces that soft background that people tend to love. However, macro lenses can be expensive, and if you’re not into digging too deeply into your pockets you can select an alternative -- extension tubes. Extension tubes are connected between your lens and D-SLR to provide a greater magnification factor. Also, you can opt for a flashgun with an extension cable to get greater flexibility and creativity with your flash. That way, you can mimic natural light and illuminate your subject to get interesting shots.

With a mixture of practice, skill and not-so-expensive-gear, you can improve the close-up shots that you take. Try taking macro shots of different subjects other than the typical flower -- take images of insects, spiders, eyes, pencil shavings and other things that interest you.

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