A couple of days ago I taught a small class on “close-up” photography and I brought in my Fujifilm 50s and 120mm macro lens to shoot with.
I don’t call what I do “macro” because that implies 1:1 magnification and a bunch of other stuff. I have always preferred the term “close-up” photography so I am not constrained in any way with trying to fit within a construct of a genre. I just shoot what I want at whatever magnification I want.
So, back to the class. We had a wonderful time talking about close-up photography and we all came away learning a thing or two about this style of shooting. Besides talking about gear and general tips for shooting, there were two main points I wanted to impart to the students….
Doing this type of shooting requires a lot more patience than other genres of photography. Because your working distance is so short, AND, your depth of field is so small, oftentimes micro adjustments are needed to get the composition just right and/or getting the exact point of focus for the aperture you’re using just right. This can mean small movements of the tripod, then small movements of the ballhead, then micro-adjustments of the focus. All of this takes time and patience.
When you are doing this work, talk to yourself and tell yourself to slow down, take several deep breaths and enjoy the process. Don’t rush. It can even be a bit of meditation if you really get in to it.
Develop your vision
Learning to “see” compositions for close-up work is something that we can all work on. For landscape or street shooters, we are used to taking in and processing the entire scene and putting together compositions from the world around us. Vision in the close-up world is different. We need to take in the scene around us, then find a segment of the scene, then find a segment of the segment to focus our attention to build a composition.
I remember one trip to Grand Teton National Park in the winter, with the grandeur of the mountains, the snow and the sky all around me, I spent 20 minutes analyzing the side of an old barn looking for patterns in the wood that I wanted to make a composition of.
Once the presentation was done in the class, we all grabbed our cameras for some practical application. The beauty of close-up photography is that you don’t necessarily need to travel to far away locations….you can do it in the comfort of your home if you choose. We were in a classroom in a church! I had brought in some flowers, toy cars and other things for the students to practice with. As everyone settled in to working a subject, I started looking around the room to see if I could challenge myself to find a comp that wasn’t obvious, as a teaching moment. Because it was a classroom, there were some school supplies around for the kids so i started examining those. I let out a big whoop when I found something that would prove my point, and would be pleasing for most to photograph. I found a bin of loose crayons. Color, random patterns, textures….it was all there in this bin that most of us would normally overlook. We all had a great time shooting this unexpected find.
Shooting with the GFX and 120mm Macro lens is amazing!!!! I’ve only had the GFX system for about 5 months, so I’m still overjoyed each time I use it. I find that the GFX really suits my shooting style, that of slower contemplative shooting. There is a bit of a reverence using the camera that causes me to slow down. I’m sure that feeling will pass with time.
With most lenses I’ve shot with over the years, I wouldn’t typically push the aperture past f/18 due to too much distortion and other issues with many lenses at the small end of the aperture range. The Fuji GF120mm Macro lens though, that’s another story and I’m feeling very comfortable shooting at F/20, f/22 and beyond. Its range is from f/4 to f/32!!!! So at f/22 I know I’m well within it’s sweet spot without any types of distortion. The reason I haven’t been regularly shooing at smaller apertures is that I’m having to overcome years of ingrained performance from other lenses and learn to trust the Fuji lens. I’ve taken test shots at f/32 and to my eye, I really can’t see any issues at all! It seems to be tack sharp from edge to edge across its entire range. Fuji is renowned for its lenses and this one doesn’t disappoint.
What an amazing camera/lens combination for shooting close-up. I know how good this system is for landscape work and now I’m doubly impressed with it for detail work that I like to do at times.
Note: I am a photography workshop leader based in the Pacific Northwest. I lead group and individual workshops across the West and beyond and teach courses in person as well as online. If you want information about my workshops, prints, podcast, please visit my website at www.johnpedersenphoto.com