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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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.