Macro photography is all about exploring the wonders of the world around you from a very close distance. Macro lenses let you see the tiniest parts of the world in extreme detail, often exposing an array of colors and patterns hidden right before our eyes. Macro lenses are also expensive! However, if you find yourself stuck at home for a while, you can start exploring your home with close-up filters instead. They’re a cheap alternative to macro lenses and can transform the mundane into the magnificent!
The first thing to do is actually get yourself a set of close-up filters.
These are basically just magnifying glasses that you screw on to the end of your camera lens. They’re absurdly cheap, ranging in price from $10 to $30 for a set of four. Just make sure you buy a set that fits your lens! The front of your lens will have a thread size listed in millimeters; for most kit lenses it’s usually 52mm or 58mm.
Close-up filters are not a substitute for a true macro lens. But they do let you get up close and personal with everyday subjects in a way that will blow your mind. It’s amazing how simple everyday objects, even just normal items in your house, take on a whole new appearance when viewed at extremely close distances.
A normal puzzle piece looks like a work of art when shot with a close-up filter. Every detail, from the texture on the flat surface to subtle scratches in the table, becomes clear and crisp.
What makes this sort of photography any different than just putting your camera close to your subjects? All lenses have a minimum focusing distance, which is based on how the glass elements inside the lens bend and shape incoming light. Most camera lenses are physically incapable of shooting objects closer than about 250mm. You simply can’t get very close to objects and still maintain focus
All you do is screw one of them on to the front of your lens and everything gets magnified right before your very eyes. Exploring your home with close-up filters is a great way to see everyday objects in a whole new light. Suddenly you can take pictures like you never imagined, or thought you couldn’t get without spending hundreds of dollars on a macro lens.
Fun for the whole family
One of the best parts about using close-up filters is exploring your home with your kids. All their toys and games suddenly take on new life when viewed up close. Blocks, crayons, action figures, toy cars, stuffed animals, even their shoes can all make great photography subjects.
This behemoth monster truck scaled a mountain and did it without a scratch! Luckily, I was there to capture the moment of glory with my camera. Or perhaps my oldest son and I were just playing around with some close-up filters.
That’s one of the most enjoyable parts about exploring your home with close-up filters: sharing the experience with kids. They can find fun ways to look at familiar objects and see photographic opportunities where you might have never thought to look.
When my son and I were looking throughout the house with a close-up filter on the camera, it was amazing how even the most mundane objects took on new life. Even simple things like a video game controller took on a new life of color and perspective.
The important thing to remember is that it’s about creativity, not high art. You might not find the next wall hanging for the Smithsonian in your house just by taking pictures with close-up filters. But you will see an amazing world of photography open up before your very eyes that you never knew existed.
Tips and tricks
If you’re going to give this exercise a try, here are a few things to keep in mind for good results.
1. Use a Tripod
While you may take great shots with close-up filters when shooting handheld, a tripod will almost always yield the best results. Even the smallest movements are magnified many times over, so it helps to have your camera as steady as possible. You’re also working with razor-thin depth of field, so unless you’re a neurosurgeon, it’s unlikely you will be able to keep your hands still enough to get the shot you are going for.
2. Focus manually (using live view)
If you have never tried manual focus before, exploring your home with close-up filters might be a good time to give it a try.
Autofocus is very difficult when working with extremely close subjects because depth of field is so incredibly shallow. Manual focus gives you more control over your photos and helps make sure the results are exactly what you want.
Live View is a great option if you are not used to focusing manually. Many cameras, especially mirrorless, have a feature called focus peaking that lets you know exactly what part of your picture is in focus.
DSLRs don’t usually have focus peaking, but you can often use Live View to zoom in on a selected portion of your image. This is great for making sure your close-up photos are tack-sharp right where you want them.
3. Use smaller apertures
Normally when you want nice-looking, out-of-focus areas on your pictures, you use a wide aperture. The same is true when using close-up filters. But, you’ll quickly find that shooting wide open results in a depth of field that is basically unusable. Stop your lens down to f/5.6 or f/8 to get good results.
In the above image, which is just a normal washroom soap dispenser, the depth of field is so insanely shallow that just the very tip of the pump is in focus. And that’s with using a small aperture of f/5.6! Shooting at f/4, f/2.8, or f/1.8 would be a muddy, blurry mess.
4. Shoot in Manual Mode
Working with close-up filters is a great way to experiment with manual mode on your camera. Not manual focus, but manual exposure control where you set the values for aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.
Each of these parameters has a specific effect on your image, and when shooting close-up, you can easily see the effects that these parameters have. The stakes are low, the creativity is high, and if you’re stuck at home, you probably have some spare time to learn something new.
If you’re not sure where to start, just keep your eye on the light meter. Adjust aperture, shutter, and ISO until the meter shows that your image is properly exposed. Take a shot, and then change the aperture so it’s smaller. You’ll need to compensate by making the shutter speed longer, but that’s okay since you’re using a tripod.
Notice how the depth of field is different on the photo with a smaller aperture.
Keep experimenting with these, and pretty soon you’ll start to develop a good understanding of how to master your camera’s manual mode.
Exploring your home with close-up filters is a great way to pass the time. Moreover, it’s also an outstanding opportunity to see the world around you in a whole new way. The possibilities really are endless. If you have ever wanted to try macro-style photography, this is a great way to do it without breaking the bank.
If you have any close-up shots you would like to share, or any tips I forgot to include, leave them in the comments below!