Close-up photography: capturing details that often escape the naked eye

Most people, myself included, tend to use the terms close-up photography and macro photography interchangeably. But according to strict definitions, there is a difference. Close-up photography refers to taking magnified images; macro photography means close-up photography using macro lenses. The difference is really more apparent than real because the end result is the same. But, you know, photographers, just like cooks, like to forever debate over purity of form and technique. Many photographers, for instance, insist that zooming in on a subject to magnify it is not really macro photography. Neither is taking a large-format photo within normal range then cropping a portion to magnify selected details.

Personally, I don’t give a shit about the purity stuff. Art is an application of sensual perception and no one can dictate standards on how to perceive anything. So, simply put, when I talk or write about close-up photography or macro photography, I am referring to that genre of photography which produces images of details that often escape the naked eye. It’s like discovering a world within a world by viewing ordinary things from an entirely different perspective.

Have you ever noticed that bubbles form differently depending on the thickness of a liquid? Alex prepared a cup of cappuccino one afternoon, there was a huge bubble on the surface and it was curious that the ones immediately surrounding the bubble were larger than those farther away from it. It’s a foam, really, but does sea foam appear similarly? coffee

Does the subject of close-up photography have to be tiny all the time?

Small animals, insects especially, and flowers are some of the most common subjects in close-up photography. Because insects are tiny, when they are magnified through the camera, the viewer almost automatically concludes that he is looking at a close-up photo.

Sam took the three photos of insects below — insects that are no more than a quarter of an inch from head to tail. insect-1 insect-1 insect-1

And when you isolate small details of an object, like the beads of condensation on the bottle of orange juice below, it is still close-up photography. water condensation on a bottle of orange juice water condensation on a bottle of orange juice

The photo above was so highly magnified that the paper pattern is visible behind the condensation. Would you notice that if you were merely looking at the bottle? But how interesting the water looks, doesn’t it, when viewed through a macro lens? spider

See, that is what close-up photography is all about — discovery. You see something and it seems so uninteresting that you give it neither a second glance nor a second thought. But you look closer and what seemed ordinary becomes extraordinary.

Close-up photography is a good exercise in developing different perspectives, I tell you. It shows you how reality can be viewed in various ways. And when you apply the principle in other aspects of life — in politics, for instance — you’ll start wondering why some people see things only from a certain point of view.


  1. says

    Discovery and developing different perspectives. Thank you for sharing these beauties, and for a wonderful post :)

  2. lemon says

    Thanks for another informative post. I’m printing this and your other photography tips.

  3. Beatrize says

    To me up, close and personal, the bottle of orange juice actually looks like fish scales! :)

    • says

      Nice point! If I hadn’t said it was a bottle of orange juice, who would have guessed eh? See how the eyes can deceive because there are pre-conceived associations in the brain? :)

    • says

      You might want to add a tabletop tripod too hehehe Sam, well she’s 16 and she has very steady hands. With close-up photos, the lightest camera shake can ruin them.

  4. says

    The bottomline is, with macro, you get more magnification larger than lifesize. Hence, sharper and more detailed images because the lenses are configured for such application. The terms are often used interchangeably but you can spot the difference between a close-up shot and a macro shot by the fine detail that the latter offers. The devil is in the details hehehe. Interesting shots you got there btw.

    • says

      Consider this: You’re in a garden and insects are buzzing, hopping from one flower to another sipping nectar. You want a close-up shot but you know you can’t get too near because you’ll scare the insects away. You take a zoom lens and zoom in and voila! you have a close-up photo of a bee or a butterfly getting drunk on nectar.

      Purists will say it’s not macro photography but a zoomed in shot. And they’ll scoff. Question: If I kill a bee or a butterfly so I can position it on a tabletop (maybe with a flower or two) and take photos with a macro lens attached to a cam mounted on a tripod, will the resulting photos be better?

      See, some people are so concerned with the technical aspect of photography, they lose sight of the substance. :)

  5. Jess says

    hi Ms Connie, good day to you. I never really realized the similarities of cooking and photography. Thanks for the wonderful insight. I hope you keep writing articles such as this.