Tips for capturing close-ups | News, Sports, Jobs

I’m ready for my close up now.

It’s the time of year when flowers bloom, pollinators pollinate and photographers take pictures. I thought this would be a good time to offer some advice to those trying to capture things up close. There are several ways to take pictures close to your subject. One is to use a macro lens and the other is to use whatever camera you might have in your pocket. Your phone.

A macro lens is a lens designed to focus extremely close. I’ve had one for decades. The Nikon 50mm is an all-manual lens that I bought second-hand in the early 1980s. It was probably made 50 years ago. Since Nikon never changed their lens mount, I can still use it on a digital camera. You have to focus and set the aperture manually, which in this case is a good thing.

All cameras, including the one on your phone, have depth of field with focus. Depth of field is the area that will be in focus in a photo, measured from the first point of sharp focus to the last point of focus. Two things affect depth of field. Your aperture setting and the distance between you and your subject. The smaller the aperture aperture on a lens, the less light it will let into the camera, but the greater the depth of field. By using an aperture like f32 you can get a decent amount of the photo in focus. Your trade-off is that it requires a longer shutter speed to compensate for the light reduction caused by the smaller aperture.

The photo on page 2 today was taken with a macro lens. A similar photo on this page was taken with a phone. Notice the difference in the sharpness of the flowers in each, especially those in the back.

Focusing with a macro can be tricky because the depth of field is so short. What worked for me was bringing the focus closer and then moving my body slightly until the image was in focus. I’ve used it for newspaper photos for decades. In addition to the photo on page 2 today, I also used it to take a photo of the center of a dogwood flower that appeared in the newspaper last month.

Most people, of course, don’t have a 50-year-old macro in their pocket, so they resort to their phones. A phone will work fine but will take a bit of trickery to get what you want. While my macro is 100% manual, a phone’s camera is almost 100% automatic. There isn’t really a way to change the aperture, but if you work with it you can get the focus you want. A phone’s camera will by default try to focus the image as much as possible, which can leave the background in focus and your subject not. Tapping the screen where the subject is will not only improve your exposure, but it can also change your focus. Try going in and out a bit until you see the flower, bee, spider or whatever comes into focus, then move forward and out a bit and take several shots. One is certain to be sharper than the others.

A macro lens, for the most part, will focus closer than your phone. Remember, it’s better to have a sharp photo that needs to be cropped than a blurry photo that fills your entire screen. When composing the photo, remember that it will be more exciting if it has several subjects. A drop of rain and a sunrise, for example, or a flower and a bee. Close-up photography can be rewarding because it can showcase beauty that normally goes unnoticed.

Remember, if you want it submitted as a photo to use on Page 2, make sure it’s clean and horizontal.

Art Smith is the Times’ Online Manager, he can be contacted at

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