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All posts for the month January, 2012


It’s the start of a brand new year and I have a new technique for you to try that will revolutionize your photography from this day forward. Get Closer!

Get Closer? Get closer to what? Your friends? Your family? Your camera? Ohhh I bet your camera would love that, take it out to a nice dinner and a movie.

No, get closer to your subjects! One of the absolute most simplest, best ways to improve your photography is to start getting closer to your subjects. Perhaps a visual demonstration is in order…take my Gorilla friend here.

Gorilla Full Torso Shot

As photographs go, it’s not a bad shot. It shows the overall Gorilla, it’s relative size, and some of it’s surroundings. There may be some glare from the glass that was captured, but that can be forgiven considering the fact it was shot at a zoo. However, it is kind of boring and plain when you look at it. It’s basically just a Gorilla standing there.

So what if we got closer, much, much closer like this (btw I highly recommend clicking on the photo to see the full effect)…

Gorilla Face Closer!

Now the photograph has taken on a completely new meaning. It puts us right there eye to eye with the great majestic beast. At this distance we can see every wrinkle, every nuance of character in the Gorilla’s face, and most importantly those big, brown eyes starting right back at us.

There are so many visually interesting things to look at and think about now. Look at those crumbs in his beard…I wonder what he ate for lunch? His eyes look kind of sad…is he going through a rough time in his life, is he trying to express his displeasure at being stuck behind glass, or do his eyes always look like that?

Being so close to him in this photo it’s almost impossible not to connect with him on an emotional level, and think to yourself, wow those eyes really do look so human. All from simply doing nothing more than getting closer to your subject.

Now of course, when we say “get closer” we mean in a safe and responsible way. Certainly, I’m not suggesting that you climb into the Gorilla enclosure and meet them face to face.

There are 3 ways that you can get closer to your subjects when shooting your photos:

  1. You can physically walk closer to them when taking your shot; but perhaps not in the case of dealing with Gorilla’s or other wild animals. That would give a whole new meaning to the term “that’s the end of that camera”. It does work amazing when shooting people though, especially children.
  2. You can use the zoom function on your camera, or a zoom lens in the case of an SLR camera. This is a great way to get close to subjects that are very far away, or are out of reach, such as if they are a wild animal behind a glass enclosure.
  3. You can crop the photo in post-production after you’ve taken the shot to make it appear that you were closer. This is a good option for those times when you forget to get closer to your subject when shooting and decide later on that would be a better composition.

Each of these methods has positive attributes and also some drawbacks depending on the situation.

Physically getting closer to your subject is usually the preferred method if possible. This allows you to better connect with your subject while taking the shot, and also helps you to see your subject from a new perspective as the surroundings often change when you move closer. This allows you some really great options to set up the perfect composition in your shot. So why not do this all the time?

This method has some drawbacks too, which we discussed briefly before. Sometimes your physical location in relation to the subject doesn’t allow you to get any closer. Perhaps you’re behind a barrier of some kind. Maybe getting closer would put you in a dangerous situation such as if you were photographing a fire, or a flash flood. One key to taking great photos is definitely remaining safely out of danger so you can share them with others.

Physically getting closer to this flower, afforded me the opportunity to also capture this pollinating bee in the shot.

Getting Physically Closer – Flower and Bee

If you can’t get physically closer to your subject, you can try using the zoom function on your camera, or a zoom lens to get yourself closer to the action. Using zoom is a great alternative to get closer when your shooting situation doesn’t allow you to physically get as close as you would like. Such as, if you were shooting some people on a boat out on the lake, while standing on the shore. Or perhaps your subject is in a show or a concert, you certainly can’t get right up on stage with them. I mean you probably could, but it would most likely be the last thing you ever shoot in that venue.

Zooming is great, but it has it’s drawbacks as well. If you are using the zoom function on a point and shoot camera you need to be careful not to zoom too far. Point and shoot cameras use 2 types of zoom systems, optical and digital.

Optical is when the lens physically moves to make the image larger and the glass elements arrange themselves closer or further away to zoom in on the action. Digital zoom is when the camera actually does it’s own cropping of the image it’s shooting. In essence it’s not really zooming but enlarging a portion of the scene that the camera lens is seeing. Digital zoom is actually something you want to stay away from because it causes your images to have less resolution and pixelate the more zoomed in that you go.

Most point and shoot cameras use an optical system up to a certain point and then switch to a digital system. For example your point and shoot camera might use optical zoom until your image gets 3x as large, then it switches to a digital zoom up to 10x as large, which will cause pixelation. So as long as you use only the optical zoom function your image should still retain maximum resolution. Most cameras allow you turn off digital zoom in the camera’s settings.

If using an SLR camera with a zoom lens, you don’t have to worry about pixelation  as an SLR uses a completely optical zoom system. However, you do need to be concerned with camera shake. When using a zoom lens each small movement of the camera gets magnified because you’re focusing on a smaller area of the scene in front of you. This can cause blur to show up in your images and make them less sharp.

So how much zoom is too much on an SLR? The rule of thumb is that in order to hand-hold your camera your shutter speed should not fall below the value of the focal length of your lens. So for example, if you are using a 100mm lens on a full-frame SLR camera, you should make sure to use a shutter speed of 1/125s  (1/125 is the closest full shutter stop to 100) or faster in order to hand-hold your camera. Putting your camera on a tripod will of course eliminate camera shake and allow you to use slower shutter speeds with your zoom lens.

By the way…it’s important to remember when using a crop-sensor SLR camera that you want to use a shutter speed that doesn’t fall below the full-frame equivalent value of the focal length of your lens. For example, if you were shooting with a 150mm lens on an crop-sensor (APS-C size) SLR camera, you should make sure to use a shutter speed of 1/250s or faster in order to hand-hold the camera. This is because the full-frame equivalent of the 150mm lens is approximately 225mm. The closest full shutter stop to that is 1/250s.

Using a zoom lens allowed me to get a great shot of the “burning man” at the Lights, Motor, Action stunt show in Disney’s Hollywood Studios while remaining a safe distance away from the flames in my seat at the show.

Using a Zoom Lens – Burning Man

Which brings us to our last method of getting closer to your subject. Cropping your photo after-the-fact. Cropping is perfect for when you’re back at home reviewing your photos and that “ah ha” moment hits you, I should’ve gotten closer! Cropping allows you to almost create a brand new composition out of an existing photo while directing the viewers eye exactly where you want them to look in your photo.

If cropping is so great and affords you such a high level of control, then why not just shoot all your photos in any haphazard way and worry about cropping them afterwards? Because cropping has one nasty side effect. Think back to zooming for a minute, remember when we talked about digital zoom, and how it doesn’t actually change your lens configuration, but instead magnifies a tiny portion of the image being captured by the camera? Hmm…sounds a lot like cropping doesn’t it?

That’s exactly what it is! Digital zoom is a form of cropping, and why don’t we like digital zoom? It reduces the resolution of the image and causes pixelation. Unfortunately, the same thing occurs when you crop a photo in post-production. Your camera only captures a finite amount of pixels when it takes a photo.

Let’s say you have an 8 megapixel camera. That means when you take your photo it will be made up of roughly 8 million pixels, or tiny dots. You can never get more pixels than what is originally captured…so when you crop that photo the result is only a small portion of the original photo. That means that you have thrown away quite a few of those pixels in the areas of the photo that you cut out. Which means the portion you are left with may only have half the pixels of the original or less. If too many of those pixels get thrown away then your photo will start to get grainy, and pixelated.

So, when cropping your photos make sure not to crop too tightly, or throw away too much of the original photo. That’s why the best way to get a close-up image is to use one of the first 2 methods and not have to crop at all. This will make sure you have retained the highest amount of resolution in your close-up photo and will prevent pixelation.

As you can see in the image below when you crop the original photo too much, it becomes, grainy, blurry, and pixelated. Basically at this point it is unusable.

Too Much Cropping Causes Pixelation

There are so many ways to get closer photos of your subjects, there’s no excuse not to. I guarantee doing this one thing will add a whole new dimension to the photos you take.

How do you know when you’re close enough? What I like to do is get as close as I can, and when I think it looks right to me in the viewfinder and I’ve gone far enough…I go just a little bit further. Then I can be sure I’ve gotten just the right amount of closeness between me and my subject. Plus, if you find that you need just a little bit more after you’ve taken the shot…you can always crop it after-the-fact. Starting out with a close photo of your subject will ensure that you won’t have to sacrifice too many pixels if you feel the need to crop later on.

I have a bit of a homework assignment for you to reinforce this idea and it’s something I like to do from time to time because it really makes for some very interesting shots. You can do this whether you have a point and shoot or an SLR. Set your camera to the highest zoom setting, or if you have an SLR, use your longest zoom lens. Keep it at that setting for the entire day when you go out shooting. No matter what you want to take a picture of, don’t change that zoom setting. Find a new creative way to shoot that subject up close!

You’d be amazed at how it makes you see the world differently, and you’ll get some pretty interesting and spectacular shots. As always please feel free to share the results on here, we’d love to see them!

Scott Dengrove is a professional photographer from the NYC area. Scott’s work has been featured in many national photography competitions and published in several nationally circulated magazines and publications. In addition, his work can currently be seen in 2 exhibits at Cosi® restaurants in New York and Connecticut and a traveling exhibit entitled “America: Coast to Coast”. For more information, and to see more of Scott’s work visit his website at www.dengrovestudios.com and connect with him on his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/dengrovestudios