Taking Close-Up Photos

Close-up photography--also known as macrophotography--is one of the most exciting things I do with my digital camera. I love the way my camera gives me the ability to grab a slice of the microscopic world and see things from the perspective of an insect.

Macro Photo Basics

Macrophotography is all about capturing the microscopic world--magnifying tiny details that the human eye usually doesn't see. You'll need to set your camera to its macro mode for that. The macro setting is almost universally identified by an icon that looks like a flower, and it rearranges the optics in the camera so that you can get very close to your subject. While you should check your camera's user guide for details, macro modes usually allow you to get to within just a few inches of the subject. In general, the closer you get, the more magnified the picture will be.

At the same time, getting that close has two adverse effects on your photos. First, it amplifies the effects of shake and blur. You'll find it's hard to get a rock-solid, steady picture in macro mode, so I recommend mounting the camera on a tripod or monopod, or even resting it on a bean bag to avoid blurring the picture.

Close-ups also reduce the depth of field, so not very much of the picture will be in sharp focus. You'll need to make sure that you focus specifically on the most important part of the image, since parts of the scene just a fraction of an inch in front or behind will probably be blurry. You can increase the depth of field by turning off auto exposure and setting your camera's aperture to its biggest f-stop, like f/16 or f/22.

Another important consideration is how you plan to orient the subject in the frame. For example, if your subject is long and narrow, like a caterpillar or a tube of toothpaste, try to keep it parallel to the camera lens. That way, the entire length of the subject will stay in focus. If you shoot with the subject pointed toward or away from the lens, only part of it will be in sharp focus.

Mind the Background

Macro photos look best when you can reduce the distractions caused by cluttered, blurry backgrounds. When you shoot outdoors, taking pictures of flowers or insects, perhaps, try using the flash. The background will end up quite dark, eliminating the problem.

If you're taking a picture of something indoors--like a stamp collection or a small gadget that you want to sell on EBay, perhaps--then invest in a sheet of poster board to use as a background. I have a collection of inexpensive poster boards that I keep tucked behind my desk. When I want to take a photo of something very small, I position a board on a table near a window, place the subject it, and shoot. Using a dark colour is great for making the subject stand out in the frame.

Better Lighting

Finally, it's worth noting that the flash built into many digital cameras isn't up to the task of illuminating close-up subjects. Often, the flash will overpower your subject or cast a distracting shadow (since the lens may block the flash when you're too close). Instead, consider using a flash that's off the camera.

As an alternative, use a reflector to bounce light from the sun or another light source onto the subject. You can buy an inexpensive reflector from most camera stores, but an even more affordable option is to use a piece of bright white poster board. I have used a square of poster board to reflect light onto my macro subjects with good results.

The bottom line, of course, is to grab your camera and go experiment.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Dave Johnson

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Bang and Olufsen Beosound Stage - Dolby Atmos Soundbar

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

ASUS ROG, ACRONYM partner for Special Edition Zephyrus G14

Learn more >

Nakamichi Delta 100 3-Way Hi Fi Speaker System

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit for Nintendo Switch

Learn more >

Philips Sonicare Diamond Clean 9000 Toothbrush

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Teac 7 inch Swivel Screen Portable DVD Player

Learn more >

SunnyBunny Snowflakes 20 LED Solar Powered Fairy String

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?