(Published July 2008 in Murray Bolesta's "The Borderlands Photographer" in Tubac Villager.)
How can the bronzed and windblown borderlands photographer take his or her eyes off of our famously widescreen panoramas to focus on the minuscule?
In the movies, a young Ava Gardner or Grace Kelly, among other starlets new to their career, yearned for a first chance to have a classic cinema close-up: a photograph of her face, or even closer, of her eyes, which would stamp an indelible impression upon the audience.
|A tender wildflower against a prickly pear cactus.|
This close-up had the power to make someone a star. Here in Arizona's borderlands, a simple, blown-up image can be more memorable than one depicting a wide-open panorama stretching beyond the horizon.
Today’s borderlands photographer has the chance to make a star image out of so much that resides here just out of range of normal sight. Taking the time and effort to photograph the little things yields big rewards.
Vigorous effort often is needed to reach the object or critter ready for its first great photo close-up. Bending over, kneeling down, even lying flat on your stomach with your elbows in the dirt is often the physical price to pay for a good close-up shot. The intrepid photographer always is ready to contort to achieve the right proximity.
Distance and angle in relation to your close-up subject are crucial to obtaining a great result.
|A horned lizard is ready for a star turn.|
Distance affects how much of your subject will fill the frame in order to achieve a high level of detail. Distance will also affect the depth of your focus zone. Angle will help capture the “good side” of your subject and create visual impact. Angle will help achieve the right lighting contrast for an artful image.
Very close-up images can become truly abstract – removed from context and hard to define – presenting an entirely new option for photographers. Abstraction provides an escape from the bounds of literal photography, setting the artist free.
|The fruit of a barrel cactus provide some unexpected color and shape.|
Technically, folks often use special-purpose lenses for close-up work. These “macro” lenses are designed to focus sharply on very small area, leaving the surroundings blurred. Further afield is microscopic photography.
But close-up photography doesn’t require the purchase of special equipment if you’re careful about the variables influencing depth-of-field, or focus depth. These variables include distance from subject, lens focal length, and aperture setting. An inexpensive 300-mm zoom telephoto is what I use as my “butterfly lens," allowing me to achieve the right distance to fill a frame sharply with a small subject. Also, there are many opportunities using a standard lens that comes with your camera and the close-up settings on most of today’s digital equipment.
As a borderlands photographer, you'll spend most of your time “panning” your camera across this region's expansive landscapes, but instead, go ahead and add close-ups to your mix. This will provide refreshing variety to your collection of images.
Live large by thinking small!