A Beginner's Guide to Stunning Close-Up Photography

A Beginner’s Guide to Stunning Close-Up Photography

Do you want to take incredible close-up photos?

Here’s the truth: Capturing incredible close-up photos doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, it can be extremely easy – if you know what to do.

In this article, you’ll discover the secrets to gorgeous close-up photography. You’ll learn about the required gear (Hint: You probably have everything you need!). You’ll learn the tips and tricks for stunning images (and you’ll love trick number 3).

Bottom line? I’ll make sure that you leave with the know-how to take truly beautiful close-up images.

Let’s get started.

Step 1: Pick any camera and lens for close-up photography

First of all, the big question: Do you need expensive, specialized gear for close-up photography?

The short answer?

No.

You can capture incredible close-up images with almost any camera & lens combination.

Because here’s what you need for stunning close-up photography:

A camera (any modern DSLR or mirrorless camera will do just fine). 

A lens that allows you to focus close to your subject (more on this in a moment). 

That’s it.

You don’t need a tripod. You don’t need a focusing rail. You just need a camera and a lens.

Now: What counts as a close-focusing lens?

First, for a technical answer (that you’re free to ignore): I like lenses that give the subject a magnification of (at least) 0.20-0.25.

But here’s the thing:

Most lenses will actually get you pretty close to your subject – if you give them the opportunity.

So don’t worry too much about your lens choice. Just use what you have.

If you want to make sure you’re getting as close as possible, I recommend you test out a few of your lenses. Then pick the one that focuses closest.

Now, for a brief aside:

If you want to get especially close to your subject, then you can invest in a macro lens.

A macro lens isn’t necessary for close-up photography. But it does let you focus extremely close.

A great inexpensive option is the Tokina 100mm macro (for Nikon and for Canon).

Once you have a good close-up photography set-up, it’s time for the next step…

Step 2: Start with flowers for some stunning close-up photos

Close-up photography is thrilling.

And there are tons of subjects out there, just waiting to be photographed.

But if you’re a beginner, I recommend you start with one particular subject…

Flowers.

Flowers are easy to get ahold of. They’re not a super challenging subject. And you can capture some stunning close-up flower photos.

You can shoot flowers indoors or outside.

But I recommend you start outside.

This is for two reasons:

First: Natural light is stronger than artificial light. Which means you’ll be able to get brighter, colorful photos without much difficulty.

Second: Being out in nature is a great part of the close-up photography experience.

But, if it’s winter where you live? Don’t despair.

You can still take some great close-up photos of flowers.

Just buy a bouquet of flowers at your local supermarket.

Then you’ll be ready to do some close-up photography.

Is there a particular flower that you should start with?

I’d suggest you start with some bright, colorful flowers. I’d also suggest you start with flowers that are large.

Roses are a great choice.

Tulips are another option.

Once you have your flowers, it’s time for the next step…

Step 3: Find the best light for stunning close-up photography

You need to be careful about your lighting choices.

Because amazing close-up photography requires good light.

What do I mean by good light?

You want to portray the colors of your subject. And you want to portray some beautiful details (e.g., the curves of the flower petals).

This gives you a few lighting options:

First, you could use cloudy light.

Cloudy light is soft and diffused. This means that it will capture nice, saturated colors. You’ll also be able to portray some nice detail.

Just try to shoot toward the middle of the day. Otherwise, the sky might get too dark. And you need a lot of light for close-up photography.

Second, you could shoot on a sunny day. This will give you plenty of light for stunning close-up photography.

But be careful: The light on a sunny day can be very harsh.

So if you do choose to shoot on a sunny day, take photos in the early morning or late afternoon. That’s when the light is soft and golden.

(These times are often referred to as the “golden hours.”)

If you’re shooting inside, I’d recommend you go with the same set of options. Shoot on a cloudy afternoon or on a sunny morning/evening.

But make sure you place your subject near a window. Otherwise, you won’t have enough light to capture gorgeous details!

Step 4: Follow these close-up photography secrets to get amazing photos

You know how to select the perfect gear. You know how to find the best subjects. And you know how to choose the best light.

It’s time for you to actually take some close-up photos.

But how do you get the best photos possible?

Here are a few tricks you can use…

Shoot on a level with your subject for the most compelling photos

In close-up photography, it’s important you choose a great angle.

You want to portray your subject in a way that shows off its shapes and colors. And you want to take an intimate portrait – one that brings the viewer into the subject’s world.

That’s why I recommend that you shoot on a level with your subject.

What do I mean by this?

Simply position your camera so that it’s ‘eye-to-eye’ with your subject. You want to feel like you’re looking straight at the subject.

Only then should you take the shot.

You’ll probably have to crouch down low to capture this angle. You might even have to lie on the ground.

But…

…It’ll be worth it, in the end.

Shoot toward the sky for the best backgrounds

The best close-up photos have simple, uniform backgrounds.

Simple backgrounds don’t take away from the subject. Instead, they emphasize it.

So here’s a trick for some nice, simple backgrounds:

Get down low, so that you’re on the same level as your subject.

Look through your camera.

Then scoot around the subject, paying careful attention to the background.

Does the sky appear behind your subject?

If so, then that’s the photo you should take!

If not, you can try getting even lower. But don’t go too low – you want to remain as level with your subject as possible.

This works best on cloudy days. Your subject will have a nice, white background.

But you can use the sky as a background on sunny days, too. Just be careful not to shoot into the sun (because that will cause unwanted flare effects).

Use manual focus to portray the little details

Here’s your final close-up photography secret:

Use manual focus.

Why is this?

Manual focus allows for incredible precision when focusing.

And when you’re shooting at high magnifications, you need to focus as precisely as possible.

Here’s why:

In close-up photography, your depth of field is limited.

(The depth of field is the amount of the photo that’s actually in focus).

You can get the petal of a flower in focus, but then the stem will be blurry.

Or you can get the stem of the flower in focus, but then the stem will be blurry.

So you have to ask yourself:

What do I want to get in focus? What do I want to emphasize in this photo? 

And then make sure you focus on that.

Unfortunately, lenses don’t autofocus well at high magnifications.

So you need to use manual focus, instead.

Start by switching your lens from autofocus (A, AF, or M/A) to manual focus (M or MF). There will be a switch on your lens body.

Then carefully roll the focusing ring between your fingers.

When focusing manually, don’t try to rush. Slow down. Glide from focus point to focus point.

You’ll quickly get the hang of it.

And you’ll be taking incredible close-up photos in no time!

Taking stunning close-up photos: The next step…

If you’re looking to take stunning close-up photos, I have good news for you:

You’re almost there.

You have the gear.

You have the knowledge.

You know how to find good light.

You know how to find strong backgrounds.

And you know how to focus carefully.

All that’s left…

…is to get out there and start shooting.

Do you have any close-up photos that you’re proud of?

Share them in the comments!

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Jaymes Dempsey

Jaymes Dempsey is a macro photographer from Ann Arbor, Michigan. To learn how to take stunning nature photos, check out his free eBook, Mastering Nature Photography: 7 Secrets For Incredible Nature Photos! And to see more of Jaymes's work check out his website and his blog.