Sep 02 2009

It’s a Small World: Up Close and Personal

 
The everyday becomes exotic when you get up close. If you’ve any doubts on this score, just look at a kid who’s got her hands on a magnifier for the first time. She’ll be captivated at every turn by what she sees. The weave of fabrics, the intricate twist of fibers in string, the complex geometry of tiny flowers, the leathery texture of bark, the variegated grains on a sandy beach—all these commonplace things are transformed into something delightfully other-worldly when viewed through even the cheapest hand lens. Exclamations of joy and wonderment are certain to follow.

Of course, kids aren’t the only ones to react this way. Getting up close and personal with the stuff of everyday life can be an eye-opener for us adults, too. Maybe that’s why most digital cameras have something called a Macro mode. Back in the day, when photography meant film, one-to-one shots were labeled “macros.” These were shots where the photographic image was the same size as the original subject. In classic macrophotography what you saw really was what you got. This had certain obvious limitations. Your subject had to be relatively small, and you had to get pretty close. But specialized lenses made it easier.

The macro label survived the transition from film to pixels, though today it also embraces the nearer reaches of microphotography: the macro settings on many digital cameras now permit magnification well beyond one-to-one. The upshot? If the small world intrigues you, and if your camera has a macro capability (it probably does, but check the owner’s manual to be sure), then you can shoot close-ups that would have old-school film photographers drooling with envy. One thing’s for certain—macrophotography gives you a whole new point of view. Take a look at the blossoms of Carolina spring beauty (Claytonia caroliniana) in the photo below. Spring beauties grow in abundance in the rich duff of northern woodlands. I spotted these along a portage trail not far from home. Each of the tiny blooms is no larger than a collar button, but that didn’t matter. The macro setting on my camera reveals details of their delicate parts that are hidden from the naked eye. I had to get down on all fours to snap the shot, but it was a small price to pay.

 

Claytonia, Up Close

 
You can also see the segmented leaf of a nearby club moss to the right of the spring beauties, while the very tip of my index finger provides an indication of scale on the left. I took the photo with my Pentax K200D and Pentax DA 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 II zoom lens. You don’t need a digital SLR to shoot arresting close-ups, however. My little Canon PowerShot A550 also has a macro setting. This photo of the bristles (entomologists call them setae) on the back of a woolly bear caterpillar…er…bears witness to its capabilities:

 

Woolly Bear

 
The bristles glisten in the sun. That’s immediately obvious, even if the nearer bristles are blurry and out of focus. This isn’t the fault of the lens. It’s a consequence of my allowing the camera to set the aperture. And that decision brings us to one of the most important considerations when taking close-up photos, namely, depth of fieldRead more…

 

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