Macro, or close-up, photography is a favorite amongst photographers. It is amazing to see all of the tiny little details of the world magnified to beyond life size for the human eye to enjoy. However, photographers commonly run into one issue when shooting macro shots–the photos aren't sharp! In this post I'll explain why that is and how you can improve the sharpness of your close up photos.
But before that, I need to clarify the term “macro photography.” Photographers have come to use this as a generalized term for any photo of something small that you shoot up close, but true macro photography means that the object being photographed is the same size in real life as the lens magnifies it to be on the imaging sensor of the camera. In this article, I'll be using the term macro to mean close up photography in general, as the sharpness issue is not unique to macro photography.
Four Essential Techniques for Tack Sharp Macro Photos
1. Do not shoot from the close focus distance
Every lens has a close focus distance, which means the closest the object of focus can be to the lens while still being sharp. If you have ever held your finger up very close to your eye, you have seen this phenomenon occur. Your eye simply is not capable of focusing on an object too close to it, and a lens works the same way.
The most common mistake I see from the macro photos sent to me for feedback from my online photography class students is that the photographer focused right up to the close focus distance. The problem with this technique is that the lens cannot focus quite as sharp when pushed to the limit of where it can focus. If the photographer scoots the lens back just slightly from the subject, the resulting photo will be significantly sharper.
It is true that by scooting back, the object does not look quite as large in the frame, but what good is a close object if it's blurry?
2. Shoot from a Tripod
When shooting up close at fine details in something smaller than life, you must understand that any camera shake at all can cause significant blurring of fine detail.
If you have ever held a laser pointer and shined it on a wall across the room, you understand how shaky the human hand is. When it is holding a camera and moving the shutter button, it becomes even more shaky.
When shooting flowers, insects, or anything else up close, remember to always, always shoot from a tripod and your photos will sharpen up quite a bit. This removes camera shake from all the potential causes of a photo that isn't sharp.
3. Be sure the wind doesn't ruin the photo
If you follow tip #2, you can be certain that camera shake does not cause your sharpness problem. However, that still leaves open the possibility that your sharpness problems are caused by the object itself moving.
I most often see this problem when shooting flowers. Even a slight breeze can cause a flower to move around rapidly, and it should be no surprise that such movement could destroy the sharpness of the photo.
4. Shoot with a sharp lens
It can be frustrating for photographers to hear that they need to buy more gear to get the photos they want. I do everything I can to avoid giving that answer, but there certainly are times when you do everything you can to solve the problem only to find out that the sharpness is not your fault–but is the fault of your lens.
The 50mm f/1.8 lenses offered by both Canon and Nikon are very inexpensive and both of them are sharp even close up to the lens, so that may be a good option for close up photography on the cheap.
Do you have a tip for getting sharper photos close up? If so, leave a comment and let other readers know!