Up Close & Personal


James Gifford

On Your Doorstep! With the bounty of big game opportunities spread across southern Africa, it’s easy for wildlife photography enthusiasts to forget that there’s a fascinating miniature world, with an infinite supply of photogenic subjects, right on their doorstep.

Not only is staying home cheaper than travelling to a national park or private concession, but you also don’t have to spend hours traipsing around in search of a suitable subject, only to find that it’s sleeping or in terrible light.

Animal, Vegetable or Mineral

It‘s amazing how many eligible subjects you find lurking around every corner as soon as you start looking: from things like the beady eye of a preying mantis or the hairy leg of a spider, to the delicate stamens of a flowering plant. Getting up close allows the viewer to see a level of detail which is not normally noticed by the naked eye, and this is what makes this genre of photography so special.

Get Dedicated

These days, most point-and-shoot cameras, as well as some entry-level DSLRs, come with a macro function which is usually denoted by a flower symbol. Although this can be a useful introduction, investing in a dedicated macro lens will improve your images dramatically. A specialist lens will allow you to get much closer to your subject (often just a few centimetres away), and, importantly, magnify your subject. Technically, a true macro lens can shoot at a magnification ratio of at least 1:1, meaning that a 20 mm-long reed frog projects an image that is 20 mm-long on your camera’s sensor. To illustrate the point, an average sensor might be only 22 mm wide, so effectively the reed frog that is barely the size of your fingernail would almost completely fill the frame of your photograph!

Depth of Field

Macro lenses achieve this magnification because they allow you to shoot from incredibly short distances, which makes your depth of field very shallow. Even if you narrow the aperture (increase the f-number), you’ll still find that the background blurs out completely. On the plus side, this makes your subject stand out, which also makes the choice of your focal point even more important. Make sure you focus exactly on the most important part of the image, be it the water droplets on a flower, the teeth of a bee, or – most often – the eye of your subject.

Having such a shallow depth of field also makes background colour very important. Whether you’re shooting an insect on a red-tiled floor, or a dragonfly perched against an emerald-coloured leafy backdrop, position yourself so that you have the best backdrop colour available. With practice, you’ll soon get to know which colour combinations work best: pink and green complement each other well, for example, which is useful when photographing flowers.

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