Rule 21: Shoot Small


Beach Zen

I like minimalism. Just not too much. — Robert Wyatt

Certain photographers inspire because their vision was all-encompassing, and they had subject matter to match. It’s something you find a lot of in landscape and architectural photography. There seems to be an entire genre of photography dedicated to impressing us all with the regal hugeness of everything.

It’s easy enough to find a money shot in a mountain range or skyscraper. What’s more challenging, I think, is finding those small but telling details. Sometimes, it can be fun to find the smallest thing that can tell the story of the whole, while at other times, you may find that the detail you’ve chosen has something all its own to say.

Best of all, this doesn’t require fancy or expensive gear. Granted, macro lenses are good if you want to get close enough for an ant’s antennae to tickle your nose, but for the most part, this is more about patience, persistance, and close observation than it is about gear. I started shooting this way out of necessity; my first digital camera didn’t have much zoom range to speak of (it only went to the equivalent of 111mm), but it did a respectable job of macro shooting. Consequently, I spent a lot of my time getting nice and close to my subjects, looking for subjects within larger subjects.

What started out as a matter of necessity became something done more for the fun of it, and a technique that I’ve taken into most of the shooting I’ve done. While I love a good sunrise, sunset, or landscape as much as the next person, every so often you’ll want, or need, to get your lens out of the clouds and focus on something a bit more down-to-earth.

Three tips:

1. If you’re in the habit of using your zoom to compose, try doing it without the camera. Begin by seeing the big picture, but don’t stop there. Don’t stop with the first thing within that scene that draws your eye, either. “Zoom in” not with your lens, but with your eyes and your attention.

2. If you’re using a compact, check to see if it has a macro mode (often denoted by a flower icon). In this mode, the camera will allow a shorter focusing distance.

3. Regardless of what kind of camera you’re using, check out the minimum focusing distance of the lens. Most compacts with a macro function will allow you to get as close as one centimeter. SLR’s, unless you’re using a dedicated macro lens, generally require more of a focusing distance. Not every shot calls for macro, but it’s a nice option for those times that you’d like to get in close and still have a sharp photo.

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