Close-Up and Macro Photography

The weather in the past week has been dreary. So I decided to work on close-up and macro photography in my home studio.

Close-up photography is related to macro photography. Macro photography, in its pure sense, is defined as extreme close-up photography, usually of very small subjects in which the size of the subject in the photograph is greater than life size. In a general sense, macro photography refers to photos approaching a one-to-one ratio, even if they are not fully life-sized on the print.

Close-up photography is just as the name implies. It consists of photographing a subject in close proximity, although not necessarily in a full one-to-one ratio. In the following article, the first photos are examples of close-up photography, which the last two are examples of macro photography.

Basic Shots – Close-Up

I started with a couple of simple subjects: the ends of a bundle of colored pencils and a bundle of plastic drinking straws. Lighting for both subjects came from a single desk lamp with a 100 watt daylight corrected bulb.

colored pencil
Ends of a bundle of colored pencils
drinking straws
Simple drinking straws in a bundle

Since I don’t own a dedicated macro lens — one capable of focusing at very close distances from the subject — I used macro filters. These glass filters allow focusing of a regular lens at a shorter distance.


This shot of a University of Louisville baseball used basically the same techniques as the previous photos. The major challenge was to keep the ball from rolling without using an obvious support. Setting the ball on a black velvet sheet provided some resistance. A piece of double-stick tape helped to keep everything in position.

University of Louisville baseball

The white cover of the ball presented a challenge. The simple light I used could not be dimmed, except by moving it away from the object. It was a balance to light the logo and seams without getting undue light reflection from the cover. This type of lighting issue is not uncommon in almost any photography, but is magnified in close-up situations.

Macro Photos – Tiny Bubbles

From there, I moved into slightly more complex scenarios. These represent true macro photography – the subject of the photo is at life size or larger.

In this photo, I used a Pyrex baking pan filled with about ¼ inch of water. The ends of the pan rested on small cardboard boxes which served to suspend the pan above my working table.

Bubbles from oil and water mixture over a colorful cloth background

Underneath the pan, I placed a colorful cloth — actually one of my wife’s scarves — on the table. I then positioned the desk lamp to light the scarf with a resulting reflection of light up through the bottom of the glass pan. I positioned the camera pointing down above the pan to focus on the surface. The use of a 10x macro filter on a 50 mm prime lens achieved a close focusing distance of about 3.5 inches.

Next, I squirted some canola oil into the water. Naturally, the oil and water did not mix and a small amount of agitation created bubbles on the surface. By focusing on a group of bubbles, I was able to photograph them with the pattern of the scarf providing an out of focus, soft background.

Fizzy Lemon Macro

The final project that I worked on this week involved creating a bubble pattern on the edges and service of a slice of lemon. The technique involves submerging a thin lemon slice — sliced thin so that light would show through it — in a container of club soda. The interaction between the lemon juice and the soda caused bubbles to form on the surface of the lemon.

fizzy lemon
Bubbles form on the edges and surface of a lemon slice

For this shot, I used two different lights. The desk lamp with its 100 W bulb was positioned to one side to provide overall illumination. I then placed a strobe light above the container with the light set to a low power. This provided the shine of light through the lemon.

For this shot, I tried several different lighting combinations before I found one that I liked. Another issue was that the chemical reaction between the acid of the lemon and the soda reached equilibrium. At that point, the bubbling stopped.

To get the photo shown in this section, I actually used two bottles of soda and three lemon slices. However, I was happy with the way it turned out. The photo below shows an overall view of the set-up.

lemon setup
An overview of the setup for the lemon bubble shot

Although it appears that there is a lot of complexity to this type of shoot, it is actually not difficult. It just requires attention to detail.

If you have any questions, feel free to pose those in the comment space below.

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