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TV pundits and editorial columnists are fond of the expression the devil is in the details. That saying may well apply to congressional bills and budget plans, but in photography, the opposite is often true. When you take a long-distance view of a scene, you may not see anything of obvious visual interest. If you focus your attention more narrowly, however, you may discover incredible beauty in the details. As an example, take a look at the top image on Page 20 of the color insert. When I first came upon this bed of tulips, I took a wide shot of the flowers, thinking that they offered a pretty color palette. And indeed, the photo is colorful but other than that, it s nothing special. In search of a more interesting image, I began concentrating on individual flowers. Toward the edge of the bed was a tulip in its last hours of glory, hanging on to two petals. My eye was attracted to the way the sunlight was shining through the petals, playing up their silky texture, sensual form, and subtle blend of colors. So I switched the camera into macro-focusing mode, crouched down to petal level, and snapped away. I love the outcome, shown in the larger image, because it reveals an essential beauty that isn t obvious in a tulip that has all petals intact. When you want to get up close and personal with a subject, the tools and techniques covered in this chapter can help you capture the image you have in mind. This chapter also contains information about how some common digital camera features, such as the inappropriately named digital zoom, affect your close-up photos.
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If you want to record the details in a subject that s more than a few feet away, you have two options: You can increase the focal length of the lens, either by using your camera s zoom or by attaching an accessory telephoto lens. Or you can simply move the camera closer to the subject. Which choice you make affects your photo in a few important ways:
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As you increase focal length, you narrow the camera s angle of view. That means that your picture will contain less of the surrounding area than if you position the camera closer to the subject and use a shorter focal length. Figure 5.1 and the corresponding color examples on Page 20 of the color insert illustrate this effect.
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FIGURE 5.1
I took both pictures with a camera that has an optical zoom range equivalent to about 35 140mm on a 35mm film camera. I shot the left image from a distance of approximately six feet, with the camera zoomed in to the maximum focal length. For the right image, I zoomed all the way out to the widest-angle setting A long focal length (left) enables you to capture a subject with less and moved to within background than a short focal length (right). about a foot of the vase. The vase and feathers are roughly the same size in both pictures, but the wide-angle version reveals much more of the surrounding area my living room, if you re interested.
For an explanation of why focal lengths on digital cameras are stated in terms of equivalent numbers on a 35mm film camera, flip to 1.
CHAPTER 5: Capturing Close-ups
Spatial relationships
Moving the camera also changes the spatial relationship of your subject to other objects in the scene. Notice that in the right image in Figure 5.1, the wood cabinet in the background appears to be smaller with respect to the vase than it appears in the left image. (The camera angle is slightly different between the shots, which also has a minor impact here.) If I had taken the right image from the same distance as the left image and merely zoomed out to the 35mm (equivalent) focal length, the size relationship of the cabinet and vase would have remained constant. Increasing focal length also decreases depth of field (the range of sharp focus). In Figure 5.1, for example, the wood cabinet is much less sharply focused in the zoomed image (left) than in the wide-angle picture. For this subject, the shorter depth of field is helpful because the grain of the wood becomes less distracting. A telephoto lens (long focal length) transmits less light than a wide-angle lens (short focal length). So as you change focal length, the camera needs to adjust aperture or shutter speed accordingly to ensure a correct exposure. In autoexposure mode, the camera handles this adjustment for you; in manual mode, you need to make the necessary changes. Keep in mind that enlarging the aperture (selecting a smaller f-stop number) further shortens depth of field, as explored in 2. (Also see Page 13 of the color insert.) And a slower shutter speed means there s more possibility of handheld camera shake, so you may want to use a tripod. If you opt for a wide-angle shot, be on the lookout for convergence problems. As explained in 4, convergence can make vertical lines appear to lean inward. The problem usually gets worse as you shorten the lens focal length. ( 4 shows you how you can fix tilting lines in a photo editor.) In addition, remember that getting too close at a wide-angle setting can distort a subject s proportions, as covered in 3.
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