Posted on November 17, 2013
I’ve mentioned this before on this site, but one of the most enjoyable techniques I’ve learned since I started in photography is the “close-up with context” technique where a wide angle lens is used in an atypical way to take a macro type shot.
I say ‘an atypical way’ because we don’t typically think of using wide angle lenses for anything other than landscapes or cityscapes where we’re trying to capture large expanses. It takes a fairly special lens to be able to do this, a very steady hand, and lots and lots of practice to nail the focus when you are literally right on top of your subject with your camera. Your wide angle lens needs to be able to focus within a few inches of your subject, which is a rare find, and you have to find a body position that allows you to minimize your hand shake so that the details aren’t obscured by blurring.
For these types of shots, I use the live view feature on my camera, and I’m usually crouching down with the camera and lens steadied on both hands literally inches away from whatever I’m trying to capture. I keep emphasizing “inches away” because you will be surprised how close you have to be to your subject the first time you try shooting close up with a wide angle lens. I then manually focus on the most impressive details in the shot, focus on being as still as possible, let all of my breath leave me (like a sniper), and gently press the shutter button. It’s much, much harder than it sounds, but once you master it you won’t ever want to use your real macro lens again (I actually sold mine) because the wide angle shots are so much more interesting with the surrounding context that the wider view gives the image.
For this particular photo, I used a Zeiss 28mm f2 lens set at an aperture of 4.0. This lens has an exceptionally short minimum focus distance, and a drawing style that is unique within the Zeiss line, and most comparable to that of the 50mm 1.4 lens. It’s not a super sharp architectural style lens. It’s an artistic lens that’s more comparable to a paint brush than a piece of camera glass.
Give the ‘close up with context’ technique a try sometime, and see if it makes you forget about your macro lens too…