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Like this article? We recommend Techniques for Using Close-Up Lenses

Techniques for Using Close-Up Lenses

Close-up lenses are simple to use, but you still need to pay attention to your technique to get the best results. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Use a fast shutter speed when handholding the camera. The closer you get to the subject, the more the effects of camera shake will show up in your images. Set a higher shutter speed than normal to ensure that you get sharp images. I prefer to work at a shutter speed of 1/180 second with my 85 mm lens, and sometimes I bump it up to 1/250 if I'm really close. This is on a full-frame camera; on a camera with an APS-C sensor, I would need even faster shutter speeds.
  • Beware of depth-of-field. Another result of getting close to your subject is reduction in depth-of-field. One advantage of a prime lens is that you can use the widest aperture creatively by focusing on the subject selectively. However, with a close-up lens attached, often it's better to use a smaller aperture (see Figure 7). If in doubt, take photos at several aperture settings so you can decide afterward which result is the best.
  • Figure 7 Even at f2.8, the depth-of-field in this image is very slight; only a small part of the pitcher plant is in focus.

  • Don't fear high ISO. When handholding a camera, sometimes you'll need to use a high ISO setting to obtain the required shutter speed and aperture settings. You can get surprisingly good results, especially if you have a fairly new or full-frame camera (see Figure 8). It's a good idea to test your high ISO settings to find the highest setting that you're comfortable using.
  • Figure 8 This photo was taken indoors and I had to use ISO 3200. However, the noise is hardly visible, even at 100% magnification—partly because of the camera I used (an EOS 5D Mark II), and partly because of the excellent noise-reduction function in Lightroom 3.

  • Use a tripod or monopod to steady the camera. This technique will help you to use slower shutter speeds (and lower ISO settings). It may be the only way you can hold the camera steady if you're using a telephoto lens.
  • Focus manually. The easiest way to focus in close-up or macro photography is to set the lens to manual focus, rotate the focusing ring until you reach the minimum focusing point, and then move your body forward or backward until the subject is in focus.
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