This article was updated July 2013.
You may wonder why we are covering a subject that you shoot indoors during summer but still life close up photography can keep you busy on a rainy summer's day or if it is sunny, you can set up near a window and make the most of the natural light pouring through them. Although you may need to diffuse it slightly, which we'll cover in the technique.
A camera with close focusing capabilities will help. Switching to Macro Mode (usually represented by a flower) will help get even closer to your subject if using a compact. If you're using a DSLR and are photographing small items such as rings you may find a macro lens more useful. For larger objects a standard zoom lens such as a 17-55mm will be fine. For those thinking of buying a new camera & lens do remember Pentax has several DSLR / Lens combinations currently available with up to £85 cashback on.
Tripod – if you use a tripod your hands are free to move the objects you're photographing around the frame. It'll also help you keep shake out of your shots. One where the centre column can be switched to a horizontal position will help you position your camera directly over the object you're photographing.
For still life, close up photography you need a suitable flat area to lay your item to be photographed on and good lighting. Remember to focus on the point of the frame you want sharp and where possible, select a small aperture to ensure maximum depth-of-field.
As you're working indoors you either need to be close to a window so you can use natural light or use artificial light such as a flashgun.
This example of an old oil can shows the difference between using bright daylight which produces harsh shadow on the background (left) and subdued daylight to pick out textures and ageing of the can (bottom).
Window lighting provides the easiest option, but there are a few things you need to look at to ensure the results are good. First remember that the light is coming from one side, so, depending on the size of the subject, the side furthest from the window is going to go progressively darker. If the subject has depth, the side facing the window will be in light and the side facing away will be in shadow. If you position a reflector at the dark side it will reflect light back into the subject and will 'fill-in' the shadows. Purpose made reflectors are available, but you could use a piece of cooking foil mounted on card or white card as a low cost alternative. Move the reflector around while looking through the viewfinder until the shadow area lights up before taking the picture. Also, direct sunlight from a window will be harsh and can cause deep shadows. If you find this to be a problem you can use something on the window to diffuse the light such as a piece of muslin or take a piece of paper and place it at the side of the camera to soften the shadows and reduce contrast.
Old photographs can be copied with ease when using window light. Place the picture on a flat surface near a window, position the camera above and parallel to the photo and move up or down so that the frame is filled with the photo. Avoid direct flash and ideally have the light coming across from an angle to prevent reflections, which will be more noticeable on glossy photos.
If you can't work close to a window you can use your room's lights, but make sure you take a test shot to make sure there's no colour cast. Your camera's auto white balance control should be able to fix it but if it doesn't, switch to manual and set either tungsten or fluorescent balance.
The other option, and probably the trickiest, is using flash. It's even harder to use if the only flash you have is the one built into your camera. Flash of this kind will hit the subject and bounce straight back making the subject have a distracting bright highlight in the middle of the photo. If you have a flash gun use it off camera and fire it from an angle to avoid reflections. This opens up a whole new article though so here we'll just cover making the most of the built in unit.
There are a couple of ways to improve your chances of getting a good photo using the built in flash. The first, using a head on approach, is to diffuse the flash by placing some tissue over it. This will also reduce the power though, so you need to experiment with distance and exposure.
The other option, and one that's more likely to produce good results, is to photograph the subject from a slight angle. You won't get a squared up photo so it's not ideal for say copying old photographs, but is fine for many subjects as the flash reflection will go off in another direction.
When photographing shiny metal objects you really need to take care with reflections. For the shot to the right I made a simple but effective paper cone tent to diffuse the ambient light while photographing some cutlery.
To make one, tape some pieces of A4 paper together and make it narrow at the top with just enough space for the lens to poke through and the bottom should be wider than the subject area. The cutlery was placed on the floor and the camera was positioned directly above it, facing down.
Jewellery can also be tricky to photograph because of all the reflective surfaces but by using reflectors you can create a soft surrounding light to improve things.
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