In this installment of our fundamental tips series dealing with compelling composition, we’ll take a close look into photographing detail highlights. (I know you loved that pun.)
Macro Mode, Low Apertures, & Wide Angles
Unlike other compositional devices which allow you to break the Rule of Thirds (such as symmetry… ok, I admit that was a shameless link), photographing fine details requires a moderate dose of technical know-how with your camera. For point and shoot users, you’ll need to find and turn on your camera’s “Macro Mode.” Most likely this is easily accomplished by pushing the button with Mario’s fire-flower next to it (pictured right). Otherwise, on one of your top in-camera menus you should find this common setting.
More advanced cameras may not have this option (I’m looking at you rangefinder and DSLR users). Without getting too technical, zooming out completely and setting your lens to the lowest possible aperture stop will give you similar macro results more or less. I’ll get into the mechanics of apertures and focal ranges in another fundamental tip article. For now, since you own such sophisticated equipment, I presume you know what I mean.
As you will see in some of the shots in this article, you do not necessarily have to be in macro mode to capture detail. The point is to isolate detail. Among other methods, this can be done by simply zooming in on a subject. The trade-off is that your depth of field widens proportionally to how telephoto you go. This means that the further you zoom, the less your subject will be the only thing in focus in your shot. For this reason I recommend using Macro Mode, lowering your aperture, and zooming out to your lens’ widest angle.
What to Look For
With our cameras now geared-up to shoot close-range, it’s time to start squinting for some striking detail images. Aside from the obvious answer of “small stuff that looks cool,” here’s what to look for:
Textures and Patterns
The point of shooting macro is to magnify small details that frequently go overlooked or are hard to see. Enlarging a subject so that the surface texture is easily discernible provides viewers a new perspective and is compelling. A good example is the texture of the cracked face of a clock frozen by the Nagasaki atomic bomb.
On overcast days, I immediately start looking for close up shots that highlight colors. The reason for this is that shadows are at a minimum which reduces contrast. Although typically contrast is considered a good way to heighten the dramatic impact of images, it also distracts from a subject’s coloration. In even lighting diffused by the thick cloud cover, colors shine most vibrantly. By tightly framing subjects close up, I remove them from their surrounding context and let the colors be the driving emotive force of the image.
Right off the bat, let me say that I’m not really into abstract art. I’ve studied it in school, and i even understand some of it (I think). Nonetheless, I appreciate how cloud like these water worn designs are in this shot of an extremely un-cloud-like rock on the Maine coast. If you take a close enough crop of an object, sometimes you can find some very appealing abstract images.
And the Rule of Thirds?
Keep the Rule of Thirds in the back of your mind, but don’t let it control your macro shots. If you think it will enhance the composition of your carefully selected details, then go for it. However, since the primary goal of macro photography isn’t strong movement, don’t feel bound by the Rule of Thirds or other compositional devices.
Study the following examples and determine:
- What details stand out and are they compelling to you?
- Where might you find similar more striking details to photograph?
- How does the crop selection compliment the details that are being highlighted?