Taking Close Up Photographs
The three most common problems I see in photographs that are sent to me are (1) the light level when the photograph was taken was too low, (2) the camera/tablet/phone has been too close to the object so that it is out of focus, and (3) the camera moved while the photograph was being taken so it is blurred. The image is too small to shown detail.
You can easily overcome these problems by taking note of these simple points.
- Take photographs in daylight. Artificial light is pretty well useless for taking close ups, daylight is much better. You can't rely on your eyes to tell you this because they adapt to low light, but cameras really struggle to take good close ups by artificial light unless you have a professional photographer's setup.
- Make sure that the object is in focus. A photograph that is in focus can be zoomed, a photograph that is out of focus is useless.
- Keep the camera steady. If the camera moves while the photograph is being taken the picture will be blurred.
If you remembering these points you will take better photographs, with even a basic camera, tablet or smartphone.
More Detailed Guidance
Cameras are generally designed for taking photographs of people and scenes, they are not naturally good at taking close ups. You need to bear this in mind; good close up photographs are more difficult to take than everyday photographs of people and landscapes.
Check to see what the minimum focussing distance is for your camera, and whether it has a "macro" mode for taking close up photographs, which is often indicated by the symbol of a flower shown here. Don't try to take photographs closer to your subject than the minimum focussing distance for your camera. a picture that is out of focus it is no use to anyone.
Don't worry if the subject doesn't fill the frame. If the picture has a good number of pixels and it is in focus, then it can be zoomed to examine detail. If the detail isn't there, zooming in doesn't produce any more information.
The Right Light is Vital!
Make sure that there is plenty of light, and note that you can't rely on your eyes to tell you this. I can't emphasise this point enough!
Most Artificial light, such as normal room lighting or a table lamp, is virtually useless for taking close ups; it just isn't bright enough to make a good photograph, no matter how bright it looks to you. Daylight is much better.
Professional photographers use light sources of hundreds or thousands of watts to light their subjects, and they know that lighting for close ups is especially difficult. Using a 60 watt lamp or similar is a complete waste of time. Daylight is thousands of times brighter than almost any artificial light, but you most likely didn't know that until you read this, because your eyes adapt.
The range of sensitivity of the human eye is much greater than any camera ever made. Your eyes adapt automatically to the ambient light level, and they have an enormous range. In dim light your eyes and brain work together so that the light seems to you to be quite adequate, but a camera can't do this. In dim conditions it simply doesn't have enough light take a decent photograph.
Bright light is needed when taking close ups to make sure that as much as possible of the subject is in focus. In dim light or artificial light the camera opens up the aperture in its lens to let in more light, but at some point the aperture becomes fully open; after that the shutter speed is reduced so that the exposure takes longer, which again lets in more light. The problems with this are;
- the depth of field, the range of distance over which items are in focus, is very shallow, especially when you are close to the subject
- the slow shutter speed means you will shake the camera during the exposure if you are holding it in your hands.
- lenses do not perform at their best at full aperture
An ideal exposure would be something like 1/125 second at f11, that would freeze hand shake and give a reasonable depth of focus. To achieve this use daylight, either out doors or using a well lit part of a room near to a window, a window cill is ideal.
Daylight is much brighter than artificial light, but because of the way that your eyes and brain work together to hide this you won't be able to tell unless you use an exposure meter.
Flash illumination is very good at providing extra light and freezing action, but it often doesn't work well at close distances. If you do want to use flash, fit a diffuser and try to use the flash off the camera. Bouncing the flash off a white card onto the subject also helps.
Avoid Blurring the Picture
To make sure that the picture is not blurred by camera movement, support the camera so that it can't move during the exposure. A tripod is ideal, but a stack of books or magazines that you can rest your elbows on will work nearly as well. Try to make sure that the camera doesn't move during the exposure, squeeze the shutter release gently and confirm that the camera is focussed on the object, and then squeeze the shutter release gently to take the shot without jarring the camera. Even better if you are using a tripod is to use the camera's self timer to release the shutter.
Photographing Watch Movements
It is a convention that watch movements are photographed with the pendant or winding stem at the top as shown here. This is the way movements are pictured in all the reference books, so using the same orientation makes identification much easier.
Copyright © David Boettcher 2006 - 2017 all rights reserved. This page updated October 2017. W3CMVS.