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Quick Start to Close-Up and Macro Photography

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Rob Sheppard, author/photographer of Macro Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots, provides guidance on how to get started capturing the world of the very tiny. Whether you want to show the exquisite intricacy of a delicate flower or the fascinating machine-like details of an insect's body, Rob explains the kind of equipment you'll need, how to control your camera's focus, and the importance of the background behind your subject for getting that perfect shot.
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Want an exciting way to use your camera and photographic skills? Try close-up and macro photography! It truly opens up a new world of sights and experiences that most people miss. In addition, it will give you striking and unusual photos that other photographers typically don't have.

I want to help you get started quickly working in this world, without having to spend a lot of money or time. Many people think they have to go out and buy an expensive macro lens. While those lenses can be helpful, they are not a necessity for this type of photography.

Getting Close with Any Camera and Lens

Many cameras and lenses today allow you to get very close to your subject without any accessories. The best way to discover the possibilities available to you is very simple: Put your camera and lens on manual focus, and then set your lens to its minimum focus distance. Now go out and photograph by moving in close until things are sharp—not by changing focus. The flowers in Figures 1 and 2 were shot exactly this way.

Figure 1

Figure 1 Iris, closest focusing distance of a zoom.

Figure 2

Figure 2 Monkeyflower, closest focusing distance of a zoom.

Try this technique at different focal lengths to see what your potential options include. Be sure you at least try with the widest and greatest telephoto extremes of any zoom lens you have. You will get very different results up close with wide versus telephoto views.

If you are tempted to change focus, put a piece of tape over your focus ring (and even over your zoom control) so that you can't change it. This trick will force you to really work your lens and camera up close. You will discover things that you did not know were possible up close.

With a point-and-shoot camera, or an advanced compact camera that does not have interchangeable lenses, check out its closest focusing distance, especially at the widest lens setting. Many of these cameras focus down to inches without any accessories, though you might have to use a “macro” setting, which is what I used in Figure 3.

Figure 3

Figure 3 Monkeyflower, closest focusing distance, compact digital camera.

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