Taking Close-Up Photographs with a Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi/450D

You see close-up (or macro) photography used in many nature photographs and most product photography. Your Canon EOS Digital Rebel can take close-up photographs, and you don't necessarily need a fancy macro lens. Following are some tips on macro photography.

  • Check your owner’s manual to find out the minimum close-focusing distance of your lens. How “up close and personal” you can get to your subject depends on your lens, not the camera itself.

  • Take control over depth of field by setting the camera mode to Av (aperture-priority autoexposure) mode. Whether you want a shallow, medium, or extreme depth of field depends on the point of your photo. In classic nature photography, for example, the artistic tradition is a very shallow depth of field and requires an open aperture (low f-stop value). But if you want the viewer to be able to clearly see all details throughout the frame — for example, if you’re shooting a product shot for your company’s sales catalog — you need to go the other direction, stopping down the aperture as far as possible.

    Not ready for the advanced exposure modes yet? Try Close Up mode instead. (It’s the one marked with the little flower on your Mode dial.) In this mode, the camera automatically opens the aperture to achieve a short depth of field and bases focus on the center of the frame. As with all the other automatic exposure modes, though, the range of apertures available to the camera depends on the lighting conditions.

  • Remember that zooming in and getting close to your subject both decrease depth of field. If you need depth of field beyond what you can achieve with the aperture setting, you may need to back away, zoom out, or both. (You can always crop your image to show just the parts of the subject that you want to feature.)

  • When shooting flowers and other nature scenes outdoors, pay attention to shutter speed. Even a slight breeze may cause your subject to move, causing blurring at slow shutter speeds.

  • Use fill flash for better outdoor lighting. A tiny bit of flash typically improves close-ups when the sun is your primary light source. You may need to reduce the flash output slightly, via the camera’s Flash Compensation control. Keep in mind that the maximum shutter speed possible when you use the built-in flash is 1/200 second, so in very bright light, you may need to use a high f-stop setting to avoid overexposing the picture. You also can lower the ISO speed setting, if it’s not already all the way down to ISO 100.

  • When shooting indoors, try not to use flash as your primary light source. Because you’ll be shooting at close range, the light from your flash may be too harsh even at a low Flash Compensation setting. If flash is inevitable, turn on as many room lights as possible to reduce the flash power that’s needed — even a hardware-store shop light can do in a pinch as a lighting source. (Remember that if you have multiple light sources, though, you may need to tweak the white balance setting.)

  • To really get close to your subject, invest in a macro lens or a set of diopters. A true macro lens, which enables you to get really, really close to your subjects, is an expensive proposition; expect to pay around $200 or more. But if you enjoy capturing the tiny details in life, it’s worth the investment. For a less expensive way to go, you can spend about $40 for a set of diopters, which are sort of like reading glasses that you screw onto your existing lens. The downfall of diopters, sadly, is that they typically produce images that are very soft around the edges — a problem that doesn’t occur with a good macro lens.

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