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In these unprecedented times many of us are stuck at home in isolation. If you’re not working and need something to do then photography is a creative outlet that can keep you busy. Of course, it’s not easy to come up with ideas, especially if you are used to having the freedom to take photos outside without restriction. But there’s something we can all try our hands at – making close-up photos indoors.
Don’t worry if you don’t own a macro lens or extension tubes. All the techniques in this tutorial are possible without specialized gear (although of course it does help). I’ll show you how to work around this limitation.
There are also a couple of other ideas for projects you can try at home at the end of the tutorial.
Making close-up photos at home
The beauty of close-up photography is that you can do it at home with minimal equipment.
But first, let’s say you don’t have any specific close-up gear and you’re in a position to buy some. What do you need and what should you buy? There are four options.
1. A macro lens. A macro lens is the most flexible and versatile option. They are surprisingly inexpensive if you buy them from companies like Rokinon (also known as Samyang), Sigma and Tokina.
Handling is important. Longer focal lengths such as 100mm are better for taking photos of subjects like insects as you can take photos from further away, but are harder to hand-hold as they are heavier.
2. An extension tube. Extension tubes are a good option because you can use them with virtually any lens, although they’re more effective with shorter focal lengths. If you have a 50mm prime lens or 18-55mm kit lens then an extension tube is a great option.
Even if cash is tight it’s a good idea to avoid inexpensive extension tubes sold Ebay or Amazon that have no electrical connection between camera and lens. On most modern lenses this means you can’t stop down and are restricted to working at its widest aperture. As you need to stop down to get more depth of field and better image quality, this is something to avoid if possible.
3. A close-up lens (also known as a close-up filter). This screws onto the front of your lens and acts like a magnifying glass. You can buy inexpensive close-up lenses if you don’t mind making compromises on image quality. Or you can spend more and buy a double element close-up lens (such as the Canon 500D, shown below).
4. Reversed lens macro. A technique where you use a metal ring with a screw thread on both sides to mount a reversed lens onto another lens. In this case the reversed lens acts like a high powered, high quality close-up lens. It’s a fun and inexpensive technique if you already own lenses with matching filter thread sizes. You can get higher magnification levels than a dedicated macro lens with this technique. As a result it’s more commonly used for photographing insects rather than the subjects you see in this tutorial.
What if I don’t own any of that gear?
By now you may be wondering what your options are if you don’t own any of the equipment listed above (or have the spare cash to buy it).
Many of us find ourselves in a situation right now where we have to improvise. Here’s what you can do.
1. First, determine how close you can get with the lenses you already own. An 18-55mm kit lens or 50mm prime lens is a great place to start as these lenses tend to have a short minimum focusing distance.
Switch your camera’s autofocus off. Turn the focusing ring until it’s set to its minimum focusing distance. Then look through the viewfinder (or use Live View) and move your camera close to your chosen subject until it’s in focus. That’s the closest you can get without extra help.
That’s how I made this photo of a coffee cup. I put it on the edge of table in the garden to make this photo.
2. Still not close enough? Take the photo anyway, with the subject in the center of the frame. Use a wide aperture to blur the background as much as you can. Then crop.
Cropping isn’t the big deal it used to be. My first digital camera had an eight megapixel sensor. You don’t want to crop if you only have eight megapixels to play with. But if you have a 20 megapixel camera, you can crop half the image away and still have 10 megapixels left. That’s more than enough to create high quality photos.
3. Take photos of bigger subjects. If you don’t have the gear to take photos of small subjects like cutlery, how about making photos of larger objects like garden tools? Go take a look in your shed or garage and see what you have to work with.
Close-up photos of household objects
Now it’s time to start thinking about what subjects you can shoot in close-up. For this I decided to make close-up photos of metal objects.
That’s because I have some vintage cutlery and toy cars that are ideal for close-up photography.
I made all these photos using a 35mm lens (on an APS-C camera) with a 16mm extension tube, hand-holding the camera.
Here are some photos I made of a metal fork using this technique. You saw a couple earlier, here are two more.
Here you can see the setup. I used a piece of white foamboard for the background. You can use white paper, cardboard or even a white wall. The light is coming through a window to the right.
Here are some photos I made of the same fork lit by direct sun coming through the window. The sunlight hits the fork and creates interesting shadows.
Metal forks are not a colorful subject so I converted them to black and white to make the most of the shapes and textures.
Here are some photos I made of a toy car with a similar simple setup. The difference is that I laid the foamboard on the desk and placed the car on top of it.
Taking it further
If you have more time for photography at the moment then you have more time for post-processing. So how about moving beyond Lightroom Classic and trying a few plugins as well?
You don’t have to buy them. Just download the trials and have fun.
Here are the results from Exposure X5. I used presets that emulate the process of developing black and white prints in lith developer.
And the results from Topaz B&W Effects 2.
Close-up photos of food
Food photography combines two activities – cooking (or baking) and photography. If you’re a good cook, it could be the perfect subject you. If you more time than normal at the moment for cooking and baking, why not make use of it for photography?
There are two sides to food photography. One is the ability to prepare food so that it’s photogenic enough for a photo. The other is to create the right environment to show the food off at its best.
Once again it’s time to improvise and put to use what you already have.
It’s okay to be a bit rough and ready with your food cooking and photography. This isn’t about perfection. You’re not shooting for a magazine and I bet you can’t make your food look as good as Jamie Oliver does.
This is about you having fun with it. Don’t compare your creations with the professionally produced work you see in cookbooks and on the television.
For lighting, nothing more sophisticated than window light is required. Keep it simple – put your food on a plate, make it as presentable as possible, and put it on a table next to a window. The closer you can get, the less important the background is.
For example, the other day I made some flatbreads, spread peanut butter on one side, rolled them up and sprinkled icing sugar on top. I put them on a nice plate, put the plate on a windowsill and made the photos below. It really doesn’t get any simpler.
Close-up photos of flowers
Flowers are another obvious subject. If you have a garden with flowers in it you can get outside to make photos, or you can bring them indoors.
Tips for close-up photography indoors
Get creative with subject. I’ve given you some suggestions to get started, but don’t be afraid to look at just about anything you have in your house as potential subject matter.
Use a fast shutter speed. If you’re hand-holding your camera set the shutter speed to 1/250 second to prevent blur caused by camera shake. Remember that camera shake is magnified in close-up photography so you’ll need to use faster shutter speeds than normal. Naturally this doesn’t apply if you’re using a tripod.
Don’t be afraid of high ISO. If you’re hand-holding your camera don’t worry about raising your ISO to 6400 plus to get your fast shutter speed and stop down for depth of field. The quality of your photos will be fine.
Play with light. Experiment with light and mix things up. For example, you can make some photos using soft light from a window facing away from the sun, then make some more photos using sunlight coming in through a window.
Shoot through stuff. Put something in the foreground that goes out of focus to add a hint of mystery to your compositions.
Other photography ideas
Here are a couple more photos ideas for you to try if the opportunity arises.
1. Room with a view
Do you have a room with an interesting view? Open the window and take some photos. Take full advantage of the golden hour, both morning and afternoon. Observe the light and make your photos when it’s at its most beautiful.
Here are a couple of photos I made last week from a window in our house.
2. Don’t forget family
If you’re stuck at home with kids you’ve probably got your hands full keeping them entertained and active. It’s hard work, but keep your camera close at hand and don’t forget to take photos of them at play and doing their regular daily life activities. Looking after kids is tiring, especially in times like these, but you’ll regret it if you don’t make the most of your photo opportunities.
Here’s a photo of my son at play made just a few days ago.
Here are some more creative photography projects for you to try at home.
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