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3 Ways To Get Sharper Close-Ups

In close-up photography, one of your biggest goals is to draw attention to your subject–you want to make it really stand out.

One way to make your subject stand out is to make it the sharpest part of the image, since the viewer will usually look at the sharpest thing first.

But, how do you make your subject super sharp? Well, here are three simple ways:

1. Photograph your subject in front of a contrasting background

Things appear sharp when there’s a strong contrast along their edges, so one way to get sharper close-ups is to photograph your subject in front of a background that contrasts with your subject. The background can either be a contrasting color or it could be much lighter or darker than your subject. The key is strong contrast.

Vmhawk

For example, one of the reasons why the dragonfly is so sharp in the photo above is because the dragonfly is very bright while the background is much darker. This strong contrast helps make the dragonfly look sharper.

2. Use the sweet spot of your lens

Most lenses have a particular aperture that produces the sharpest images of the lens. Sometimes this difference in sharpness is pretty dramatic, so it’s a good idea to be aware of the “sweet spot” of all your lenses. It’s usually one or two stops down from wide open. So, a lens that has a widest aperture of f/4 is generally sharpest at f/8. This isn’t always the case though, so it’s best to test your lenses yourself to be sure.

If you use Canon, Nikon, or Sigma lenses, then you can experiment with a helpful tool at The Digital Picture to find the sharpest aperture of your lenses.

3. Position your camera so it’s parallel to your subject

When you focus your lens on something, what you’re really doing is focusing on a geometrical plane that’s parallel to your camera’s sensor. Everything that’s on this plane will be in completely sharp focus, so it’s important to position your camera so it’s parallel to the most important plane of your subject.

Tidytips

For example, one of the reasons why the wildflower is so sharp in the photo above, is because I spent a lot of time carefully positioning my camera so it’s sensor was parallel to the top of the flower. This helped keep all the flower’s petals in sharp focus.

But, the sharpest photo isn’t always the best photo

Sometimes it’s tempting to concentrate entirely on getting a sharp photo, because all you have to do is follow some rules like the ones above. But, it’s important to remember that composition still comes first. Sometimes you won’t always be able to get the sharpest photo because doing so would compromise the vision you had for the image.

For example, sometimes if you position your camera so it’s parallel to the most important plane of your subject, then you’ll end up with a poor background.

So, these tips aren’t meant to be followed all the time. They’re just some things to consider when you’re trying to get a sharper image.

About the Author: Steve Berardi is a nature photographer and software engineer. You can read more of his articles on nature photography at the PhotoNaturalist. Also, be sure to check out his eBook on Wildflower Photography.

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  • Scottc

    #3 is especially overlooked, particularly for those that focus and recompose.

    I also agree with your last point, sharp throughout isn’t always the goal.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/8511787662/

  • Michal France

    Thank you for this absolutely great article. I recently made some macro pictures and the difference of sharpness was enormous. So I thought I made mistake when focusing (manual), but when I looked back on the apertures the most sharp were between F4,5 and F5,6. And the same is truth about the two other pictures.

    Here is one shot I made with canon 100mm F2,8 macro at F5,6. And the composition is made to position the best part of the Snowdrop parallel to the camera. The background is also quite darker. But it is not the best picture of that day:)

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/90949112@N02/8527842359/in/photostream/

    Again than you for the article!

    Michal

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/theresazphotography/ Theresa Z.

    @Michal France – Gorgeous macro shot, wow!!

  • http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/ Mridula

    I have heard about this sweet spot but I have not been able to figure it out!

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/2013/03/landing-srinagar.html

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/69714842@N06/ Barry E. Warren

    Nice 3 tips. Here is one off my Granddaughter at the park.
    http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8058/8194245265_85ee6ef767_c.jpg

  • http://NotAvailable Sohail Iqbal

    I have Olympus E-500.It is verymuch helpful to get tips by email, I will be waiting for Portraiture tips & techs with available lighting conditions such as a table lamp, normal room light or from a window, more over, i would like to be informed about an advanced professional software to edit digital images.
    HOW CAN I CHANGE BACKGROUNDS IN HAIRS OF MY SUBJECT? Photoshop doesn’t works.

  • http://geriatricgapper.blogspot.com Elizabeth

    Thanks for explaining the sweet spot of a lens. I checked out the link to the helpful tool, and it was very useful. I have struggled with this very aspect of macro photography. I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t get the focus exactly how I envisioned it.

  • http://www.trovephotography.com Beth @ Trove Photography

    I struggle with soft images here and there, but haven’t been able to pinpoint why I’m not consistently getting the focus I want. These tips will surely help! Thanks!

  • http://www.crystalmadsen.com Crystal madsen

    These are good starts to getting great close up portrait shots. Thanks for he blog post.

  • http://www.guigphotography.com Guigphotography

    Thanks Steve. I hadn’t considered the sweet spot and have been too reliant on the focal points on the camera.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/69604456@N07/8488810495/in/photostream

  • https://marius-fotografie.blogspot.com marius2die4

    A good clasic article.Congrats!
    https://marius-fotografie.blogspot.com

  • Robert Moores

    #3 was a total facepalm for me. =) I hadn’t ever thought of it quite like that, but it makes so much sense now that you’ve pointed it out I can’t believe I ever needed it pointed out. Thanks for the tip!

  • http://simonkitt.co.uk Simon Kitt

    Great article. Here is my attempt at getting a good close up picture.

  • http://simonkitt.co.uk Simon Kitt

  • Jackie Wilson

    I discovered the sweet spot in my lenses long before I’d ever heard it mentioned by anyone – simply by accident. That sweet spot combined with a high shutter speed usually nails the sharpness for me. This is a shot from this past weekend – handheld in a really wicked wind.

    Nikon D200/Nikkor 18-200 f3.5
    1/640 @ f8
    170mm
    ISO 800

  • Helen Knight

    i love macro photography getting up close to them and seeing the colors and the depth to the insect or flower the veins that can come through you see so much more when using macro i use a sigma 70 -300 macro lens on my canon camera most of the time i manually focus it as you can get in closer auto doesn’t cut it sometimes this is one i took with my sigma lens the colors are intense

  • Helen Knight

    Another i took of a butterfly on the mountain and some alpine flowers amazing colours again….

  • Kathleen Mekailek

    I am starting to practice with macro and getting closer images. I saw this leaf on a rainy day and loved how the rain drops magnified the veins of it. I don’t think I would have noticed it if the background wasn’t darker.

  • Kathleen Mekailek

    Love the combination of colors with the reds, green and purples

Some older comments

  • Simon Kitt

    June 4, 2013 11:28 pm

  • Simon Kitt

    June 4, 2013 11:26 pm

    Great article. Here is my attempt at getting a good close up picture.

  • Robert Moores

    March 12, 2013 09:03 am

    #3 was a total facepalm for me. =) I hadn't ever thought of it quite like that, but it makes so much sense now that you've pointed it out I can't believe I ever needed it pointed out. Thanks for the tip!

  • marius2die4

    March 9, 2013 06:00 am

    A good clasic article.Congrats!
    https://marius-fotografie.blogspot.com

  • Guigphotography

    March 9, 2013 05:40 am

    Thanks Steve. I hadn't considered the sweet spot and have been too reliant on the focal points on the camera.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/69604456@N07/8488810495/in/photostream

  • Crystal madsen

    March 9, 2013 04:27 am

    These are good starts to getting great close up portrait shots. Thanks for he blog post.

  • Beth @ Trove Photography

    March 9, 2013 01:49 am

    I struggle with soft images here and there, but haven't been able to pinpoint why I'm not consistently getting the focus I want. These tips will surely help! Thanks!

  • Elizabeth

    March 8, 2013 07:46 pm

    Thanks for explaining the sweet spot of a lens. I checked out the link to the helpful tool, and it was very useful. I have struggled with this very aspect of macro photography. I couldn't figure out why I couldn't get the focus exactly how I envisioned it.

  • Sohail Iqbal

    March 8, 2013 06:30 pm

    I have Olympus E-500.It is verymuch helpful to get tips by email, I will be waiting for Portraiture tips & techs with available lighting conditions such as a table lamp, normal room light or from a window, more over, i would like to be informed about an advanced professional software to edit digital images.
    HOW CAN I CHANGE BACKGROUNDS IN HAIRS OF MY SUBJECT? Photoshop doesn't works.

  • Barry E. Warren

    March 8, 2013 04:53 pm

    Nice 3 tips. Here is one off my Granddaughter at the park.
    http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8058/8194245265_85ee6ef767_c.jpg

  • Mridula

    March 8, 2013 03:42 pm

    I have heard about this sweet spot but I have not been able to figure it out!

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/2013/03/landing-srinagar.html

  • Theresa Z.

    March 8, 2013 01:41 pm

    @Michal France - Gorgeous macro shot, wow!!

  • Michal France

    March 8, 2013 09:53 am

    Thank you for this absolutely great article. I recently made some macro pictures and the difference of sharpness was enormous. So I thought I made mistake when focusing (manual), but when I looked back on the apertures the most sharp were between F4,5 and F5,6. And the same is truth about the two other pictures.

    Here is one shot I made with canon 100mm F2,8 macro at F5,6. And the composition is made to position the best part of the Snowdrop parallel to the camera. The background is also quite darker. But it is not the best picture of that day:)

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/90949112@N02/8527842359/in/photostream/

    Again than you for the article!

    Michal

  • Scottc

    March 8, 2013 09:28 am

    #3 is especially overlooked, particularly for those that focus and recompose.

    I also agree with your last point, sharp throughout isn't always the goal.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/8511787662/

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