Close-up and macro photography opens up a whole new world of discovery and photographic expression that can be overwhelming, and lead to compositional and technical mistakes that can ruin the impact of our image. I know because I have made (and still do) these same mistakes. So this post is as much for me as for my readers!
Shooting in bright sunlight creates very high contrast lighting situations with a range of lights and darks that the camera sensor (film or digital for that matter) cannot handle gracefully. The resulting high range of lights and darks distracts from the delicate shapes and textures of most close-up subjects, especially flowers and other vegetation. Take a look at the two versions below. While the first image isn’t horrible, the strong sunlight creates additional patterns and shapes that distract from the flower’s delicate quality.
Depth of field (DOF) can be too much or too little, and is best used as part of our toolbox to convey the feeling we want to capture in our image, and isolate the central point of interest. Too much DOF can create lots of distracting background elements that keep the viewer’s eye from our central point of interest. Too little DOF can be equally damaging to our intent if the focus points are not in the right place, or there is insufficient focus to keep the viewer’s attention. Again, this is a highly subjective element of close-up photography, and needs to be used effectively by the artist to communicate their intent.
The two images below have very different use of DOF and central point of interest identified by the in-focus blossom. For me, the more successful image is the vertical that has a simpler composition with fewer elements and the point of focus on the central “hero” of the image.
A common mistake I made early in my exploration of close-up and macro photography was not being careful enough about neighboring elements in an intimate scene that were distracting to the main point of interest. This is especially challenging because we are shooting in a tight environment with blades of grass, neighboring leaves, background light flares, twigs, sticks and thousands of other natural stuff that may be in the frame of our photo. It’s so easy to get enraptured by the subject we are trying to shoot that we don’t even see these distracting elements until we are back at the computer and have imported a whole photo shoot and it’s too late to go back and reshoot.
Of course, I could go on with even more Big Macro Mistakes, but these are the most frequent mistakes I make and they encompass a few smaller mistakes that we could talk about in future posts. For now, this should give you enough to work on in your next photo shoot!