Capture by A photoblog


Getting closer

by Jos Van De Laar

"Take a trip and never leave the farm." 
- Jim Stafford

I like nothing better than to spend a pleasant afternoon in my garden stalking small critters and details of flowers. Much closer is much more interesting - you start to see what the naked eye can't. It takes some patience and perseverance and breath-holding.

You don't need to go far to explore a different world, you just need some close-up photo gear. The macro setting on your camera may not really be living up to its promise, but better gear doesn't have to be terribly expensive. Getting closer does not need a dedicated macro lens - there are other options with no loss of quality. If you are a Dslr user, simply adding a cheap set of extension tubes between the lens and the camera allows you to get nice and close.

Another way is to use a short prime lens (a prime is a non-zooming lens), and a reversing ring. This is a $20 metal ring that allows you to put the lens onto the camera backwards. Adding extension tubes to a reversed lens gets you seriously close. The downside is the difficulty in holding the shot in focus and still, as the depth of field comes down to millimeters. A tripod becomes essential in the end.

I have a 'Canon nifty fifty' lens, 50mm 1:8. It's just so sharp for so little money, and with its 1.8 fstop you can play with very shallow depth of field.

A cheap set of extension tubes gets the lens further from the camera body, and allows you to get closer still. Setting a smaller aperture manually on the lens gets things more and more in focus, but lessens the amount of light. The tripod is essential.

The end of the lens is sometimes only an inch or so from the subject. I used the flash in manual mode on the camera for these shots, and added a small reflector to bounce the light downward more. The flash gives you a nice amount of light that allows you to use a good fstop to get more in focus. Used with a tripod or monopod, you can get great results.

This is my simple setup, a plastic lens bounce gadget with 50mm lens and small extension tube:

Jos owns and operates a photographic and picture framing shop in Whakatane. For more information, see his website at Jos's Photography.

...or control what's sharp like this raindrop on a ‘forest pansy’ leaf: Photo: Jos

A midge on the top of a garlic chive seed bud - it seems to be holding a small bubble of water: Photo: Jos

Another use of your tripod is to stack a series of photos with various focus-spots into one sharp combination of all of them. This gets around the problem of the shallow depth of field when you are in close macro where only so much can be sharp at once. This is a stack of 5 shots of a stink bug on fennel flowers (I had to put him in the fridge in a jar to slow him down for this photo): Photo: Jos

I combined 7 photos to get these drops of water on violets all sharp: Photo: Jos