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Beauty In The Details

Get lost in the small world of an autumn leaf.

October 23, 2019 Close Ups

The details of an autumn leaf are a world of their own. The closer you look, the more you see. Soon you're lost in a patchwork quilt of colors. But fall is fleeting, so don't wait too long to explore how to photograph autumn leaves up close.

Close up of autumn maple leaf.

A close up of a backlit autumn maple leaf.

Try this for yourself before the season disappears.

Choose a fresh leaf without flaws and tape it flat by its edges to a sunny window. The backlight will illuminate it like stained glass. Mount your camera and close-up lens to a tripod. Adjust the height until it's even with the leaf. Zoom in or move closer until you find the leaf section you like best. Now slowly and carefully adjust the camera and tripod until the camera back is parallel to the flattened leaf. This makes it easier to get sharpness edge to edge and top to bottom because the plane of the sensor is parallel to the plane of the subject.

Don't settle for one composition. Zoom in, zoom out, flip from horizontal to vertical, and watch the corners and edges as you go. Take your time and fine tune things before you move your gear. I used a Nikon D850 and a Nikon 200mm macro lens on a Really Right Stuff ball head on a Gitzo tripod. And as always with close ups, I used an electronic cable release and mirror lock up.

If you don't have a macro lens, make your favorite long zoom a close-up zoom by adding a close-up accessory like an extension tube or close-up filter.

Add an extension tube between your camera and lens and you'll be able to push in closer to make the small details larger. Use a tube or combination of tubes that is compatible for your lens and camera body. They may be made by your camera maker or by another manufacturer like Kenko. Be sure the tubes couple properly to the lens and body mounts and their electronic connections.

Or choose a Canon D-series filter-style close-up attachment. Look for the one that's compatible with your lens' focal length and filter thread size. No matter what brand lens you own, these are just filters, so they fit on anything as long as you get the right D-series filter for it. You may need a step ring to make it fit the filter threads on your lens, if you don't see a D filter that matches perfectly.

Avoid the cheaper +1, +2, +3 close-up filters. You'll be disappointed if you use them. The Canon D-series attachments are two elements of fine optical glass that make sharp images even at the edges without color shifts or light drop off.

As for exposure settings once you've made a pleasing composition, choose Aperture Priority and a middle aperture like f/11, maybe f/16 if the leaf isn't quite flat. There's no need to worry about shutter speed, if you're locked on a tripod. Now you're ready to find the beauty of an autumn leaf's details for yourself.

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