Macro Week: Focusing the Macro and Close Up Shot

May 5, 2010

Photo Tips

[Editors Note: This week is Macro week here on DPE with Rob Sheppard. We’ll be having a macro tip every day, make to sure to check them all out!]

It isn’t that focusing itself is hard when you are up close, it is that focusing on the right spot is hard. The closer you get to your subject, the more critical focus becomes. No matter what you do, depth of field gets increasingly shallow. A small change in focus can dramatically change your picture, so you must very carefully place your focus rather than allowing the camera to do it for you.

Because of this, autofocus is very difficult to use up close. There are just too many things for it to find for focus in a small area. Autofocus will frequently give you focus in random places and all too often not in the right places.

The best way to deal with focusing your close and macro shots is to use manual focus. It is possible to use autofocus with a modification that I’ll tell you about shortly, but for consistently good results, focus manually.

That still won’t your change the fact that you’re going to have focus in the best spot. One of the problems of changing the focus of your lens up close is that as you make this change, the size of your subject also changes (this is how close-ups work). With image size and focus starting to shift, getting that perfect focus point can be difficult.

The way to do this is to get an approximate focus that gets you close, then move the camera gently toward and away from your subject until the subject is sharp in the right place. When you are close, the actual physical movement of the camera to and from the subject will give you a better idea of focus and help you focus better as well.

If you want to try autofocus, you can use a similar technique with single-focus AF. First, press your shutter half way to start the autofocus working (or whatever buttons have been set up for focus on the back of your camera), then when the camera has found focus, keep that shutter pressed to lock focus. Now move your camera gently to and from the subject to get the right focus and press the shutter the rest of the way.

Sooner or later, you’re going to find that your close subject is moving in the breeze and hard to focus on. This can get to be very frustrating. You can try to anticipate that movement the best you can and take your pictures when things look like they’re going to be sharp. Then you can check your LCD to be sure that you did get them sharp.

Another way of handling this is to turn on your camera’s continuous shooting function. This is best done with your lens focused manually. Move in until the subject looks sharp, then hold down the shutter for a burst of shots. Maybe you take three, four, five or more shots. There is no cost to taking these extra shots when you’re shooting digital. And often you will find that at least one of those shots is sharp.

The continuous shooting trick is also a good one when you are shooting with a slower shutter speed and can’t put the camera on a tripod. You may find that most of your pictures are still blurry from a slow shutter speed, but you’ll often get some that are very sharp.

For a continuing look at digital photography, especially nature photography, check out my blog at I am also on Twitter @robsheppardfoto.

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This post was written by:

- who has written 27 posts on The Digital Photo Experience.

Rob Sheppard is the author/photographer of over 30 books, the editor-at-large for Outdoor Photographer magazine, and a nationally known presenter and workshop leader. His specialities are nature photography and helping photographers with digital technologies from getting the most from small sensors to Lightroom to Photoshop. Check out Rob’s websites at and

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One Response to “Macro Week: Focusing the Macro and Close Up Shot”

  1. Doug Shoop Says:

    Another tip for Canon shooters is to use “Live View” when taking macro photos. With my Canon 7D in “live view” mode and auto focus on the lens turned off, just zoom into your focus point w/ the camera’s zoom tools (magnifying glass +/-) and focus manually the old fashioned way, while the view is zoomed. It’s spot on “in focus” at that point, then take the shot(s). You can scroll around in live view (with the joystick button) to the point in the frame you want to focus on. I do this all the time and it’s a great way to do macro.


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