In this article, you’ll get some tips on how to do better close-up photography. Close-up photos can help you tell a story when they are shown beside wider environmental shots.
For instance, a close-up shot of moss is great to accompany a forest landscape image. Or a close-up photo of wedding rings to accompany an image of the newly married couple work well together. Close-up photos can also work on their own.
What is close-up photography exactly?
But what is close-up photography? What’s the difference between macro and close-up photos? How do you go about capture amazing close-up shots?
Close-up photography refers to photographing subjects at a magnification ratio between 1:1 and 1:10. This means the size of the subject’s projection onto the camera’s sensor is smaller than its actual size in real life.
Macro photography is when the size of the subject’s projection becomes equal or larger than its real-life size. Read more tips on that here: The Ultimate Guide Macro Photography.
You may consider close-up photography as a separate photographic genre, but many photographers include close-ups in their portfolios. That’s because getting close to a subject means developing a connection with it, getting into its personal space. The photograph is more than an aesthetic representation.
Often, it’s only a part of the subject that’s shown to emphasize a feature, mood, or moment in the frame. However, while close-up photography is widely practiced, it remains a challenge for beginner and intermediate photographers.
But don’t worry! You just need some practice and some good tips to master the art of close-up photography. So let’s get to it!
Tip #1 – Get to know your subject
You can have almost any subject in close-up photography. However, if you don’t create a personal relationship with the subject, your photos will be flat and lifeless.
Whether you photograph people, flowers, insects, architectural details, or still-life, you should take time to get to know the subject, observe its features, and understand its story. Ask yourself why do you want to take that picture, what drags you towards this particular subject?
If you don’t know the story behind your photo, neither will people viewing it. Close-up photography doesn’t mean just capturing details; it also captures the atmosphere and conveys a strong message. So consider those aspects before you even press the shutter button.
Tip #2 – Find the best focal point
During the observation phase, you should also look for a focal point. A good photo should have a strong focal point that captures people’s attention. The subject should then be sharp, well-exposed, and placed in an appealing position. The rules of composition apply to close-up photography too.
Usually, your subject’s best feature creates the focal point. For example, the color of a flower or human iris, the shape of a fruit, wrinkles on a forehead, the silhouette of a small plant, the texture of a rock, or the kindness of a gesture. There are infinite possibilities from which to choose.
But a strong focal point isn’t just about choosing a feature. It’s also about making it visible in your composition. Use light, contrast, and geometry in your favor and make that focal point (also called point of interest) impossible to miss.
Experiment with different angles and perspectives, study the light’s intensity and position and get out of your comfort zone. Much of a good photo happens before you press the shutter release button.
Tip #3 – Take photos with different lenses
Because close-up photography is not quite the same as macro, you don’t need any special gear or a macro lens. But you need to be able to get close to your subject, which means considering the minimum focusing distance of the lens you choose.
For example, the minimum focusing distance for a 50 mm lens is about 45 cm (17.7 inches), while the minimum focusing distance for a smartphone lens is about 2.5 cm (just under an inch). A 300 mm telephoto lens can’t focus closer than 1.4 m (4.5 feet) but brings your subject in closer by the nature of the lens optics.
So you need to know how close you can get in order to choose a good subject, prepare your composition, and deliver high-quality photos. Each lens type brings something different to the frame.
50 mm lenses are often used for street photography because they allow you to get close to people and be in the heart of events occurring in front of you.
Telephoto lenses are often used for portrait close-ups when you want to photograph small details but make your model feel comfortable at the same time (they allow for more distance between you and the subject). A telephoto lens is also a good choice for nature close-ups because it eliminates the risk of casting your shadow over the subject and provides a deeper depth of field than macro lenses.
NOTE: That is due to the distance to the subject, NOT the focal length. This is a common photography misconception.
Therefore, don’t start out with any misconceptions. Experiment and see which lens better fits the subject and your artistic vision. You can start by taking close-up pictures with your current lens and see if you really need to buy another one.
Tip #4 – Invest in a tripod
Whether you choose to use a telephoto or macro lens, close-up photos have a high risk of camera shake and motion blur. Small camera-subject distances and magnification make the camera sensitive to any movement. And choosing a faster shutter speed isn’t always possible, especially in low lighting conditions.
The best thing you can do is to invest in a good tripod. Choose one that fits your workflow. Read: Stress Free Tips for Buying a Camera Tripod for tips on selecting one.
For example, you can choose a light, flexible tripod for nature photography and a heavier and more robust one for studio photos. You can even improvise and stabilize the camera using rocks, a stone fence, or simply by placing it on the ground. Either method is good as long as you avoid blurred images and make the best from the scene in front of you.
- How to Use a Tripod – A Video Tutorial from Phil Steele
- 9 Tripod Mistakes That Could Be Ruining Your Images and Putting Your Camera at Risk
- Be One With Your Tripod – Photography Challenge
NOTE: Get our free cheat sheet on how to get sharper images just CLICK HERE.
Tip #5 – Use depth of field to your advantage
Magnification ratios and the small camera-subject distance used in close-up photography will result in a shallow depth of field. Just a small part of your subject will be in focus while the background is blurred.
This helps you mask a busy background that you don’t want to be prominent in your frame. However, if the depth of field is too narrow, you won’t have enough of the image in focus.
When you need to increase the depth of field, you can do one or all of the following:
- Use a smaller aperture (you’ll need to also lower the shutter speed to compensate for having less light entering the camera)
- Get slightly farther away from the subject
- Use a longer or telephoto lens
- It also helps if the distance between subject and background is very small. To do that you can place the subject close to the elements you want to be visible in the background or choose a particular shooting angle.
Tip #6 – Work with negative space
Negative space refers to areas of the frame that have little or no detail, basically empty areas. A good composition needs some empty (negative) space in order to make the subject stand out.
If you use a shallow depth of field, the blurred background usually acts as negative space. But sometimes, in close-ups, you don’t have a background at all and the subject fills the entire frame. However, the subject may have some uniform areas that can act as negative space.
For example, the middle of a flower is the focal point, and the block color of the petals is the negative space. Or the human iris is the focal point, and the skin around it is the negative space. Learn to decompose the scene into essential elements and assign a role to each of them in your photographic composition.
Negative space balances the composition. You don’t want busy, cluttered close-ups that distract the viewer and hide the main element. You want to balance everything well to make the composition appealing, engaging, and slowly reveal element after element.
Close-up photography is a great way to find out what motivates you to pick up the camera. It might be technically challenging, but at a personal level, it’s very rewarding.
You get to understand your subject better, discover things you didn’t see until now, and share with your friends and family not only a picture but an experience. Close-ups provide valuable insights and help you make a statement.
Please share some of your close-up photography in the comment area below. If you have any questions, please ask.