Taking great close-up photos is much easier than you think. Based on the multitude of blurry detail pictures I've seen on ebay and craigslist, it must be a skill many don't possess. With these skills I've become that guyat work they come to when someone needs a good picture.
(This is an entry in the photo contest, so please vote if you like it!)
Note (10/29/09) - Thanks to everyone who voted for this! Your participation is appreciated.
Step 1: Executive Summary
I'm going to start with the executive summary instructions for those who don't want a big explanation, then go into the how and why of it all for those who do.
Set the focus to macro mode, turn off the flash, and set the timer.
Set up the camera on a tripod, or on a table so it won't move.
Place the object to be photographed in front of it.
Press the shutter button and take your hand off the camera.
That's all there is to it. If you want more of an explanation, read on, if not I hope this helps you.
Step 2: What You Need
A camera with a macro setting. (I wasn't going to put this as it seems way too obvious, but if I didn't I'd probably get a comment about it.)
Optional items include a small tripod and some way of holding the item you want to photograph. Modeling clay or some push pins or anything like that usually works well for holding coins or irregular shaped objects. There are a few instructables on making tripods out of tennis balls and the like. Give it a search when you're done here. Sometimes you can get away with propping the camera up on something to get the correct angle.
Step 3: Buttons
Take a look at your camera. There's probably a button with a flower on there. That's the macro button. Or maybe it just says Focus. For close-ups, the macro button is your friend. The macro setting is designed to allow the camera to focus on subjects that 18 (45cm) away.
Now take another look, this time for a button with a lightning bolt on it. That's the flash button. For most close-ups, the flash is not your friend. For close up shots, the flash is much too bright and can cause a bad reflection on shiny materials.
And last, you need to find the timer button. Usually it's a circle with a line from the center out to the edge. This isn't absolutely necessary, but it's very helpful to have. We'll discuss that more later.
On some cameras these features will have to be accessed through one of the menus. Check your manual on how to find those. There are far too many cameras to go into specifics here.
Step 4: Lights!
Also you need some sort of light source. The more light the better, but you don't want it too harsh. Diffuse light is best, such as on an overcast day where there aren't many shadows. A naturally lit room is usually bright enough. Most of these pictures were taken in a room with a skylight on a day with average sun and with a 60w desk lamp above the items.
Here's the thing about light. When you turn off the flash, the camera automatically compensates for it by leaving the shutter open longer. The longer the shutter stays open, the more chance there is for you to move the camera and cause motion blur. Longer shutter times can also lead to more noise or graininess to the picture. Most cameras will give you a shaky camera warning icon when the shutter time gets longer than 1/30th of a second or so. The more lighting you have, the shorter your shutter time will be and the less chance you'll get camera shake. IF you have a situation where you don't have enough light, don't fret, that's where the timer comes in.
Note: I know a digital camera doesn't really have a shutter in the true sense, exposure is probably a better term, but this is what I went with. Either term gets the point across.
Step 5: Action (Or Lack of It)
Even if you have the camera on a tripod, there will probably be some movement when you press the shutter button, unless you have nerves of steel. This is where the timer setting comes in. Most cameras have a 10 second, and probably a 2 second timer. Either one will work, but the two second is better for impatient people like myself. The key here is to have the camera set up, press the shutter and move away so you are not moving the camera when it takes the picture. This will ensure there is no motion blur.
Step 6: Setup Considerations
When using the macro setting, the depth of focus gets pretty tight. That means the camera is in focus for a very narrow distance. Anything closer or farther from that target area will be out of focus. In the picture of the tap taken on an angle, the tip of the tap is out of focus, the middle is in focus, and the back end is out of focus. On the picture taken from the side, the tap is in focus for its entire length. You can also see where it loses focus by looking at the specks in the gray pattern. On most cameras, if you partially depress the shutter button, a box will pop up showing you where the camera is focusing. Some settings make this the center of the frame, others use some Skynet artificial intelligence to guess what's the item of interest and focus on that. Make sure the focus box is on the item you want to have in focus.
Step 7: Conclusion
Macro pictures look cool. Most people don't know how to take them well and are easily impressed by them. Good pictures of small parts can make all the difference in an ebay auction or a craigslist posting. As a mad scientist, I often use it for taking pictures of test results and using it to see details too small to see with the naked eye. Doing a quick measurement of the tap on my screen, my 7 megapixel camera gives me about an 8x magnification when viewed on the screen at full size. For more detail, you need to get into microscopy. That instructable will be coming along soon.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, a good macro picture must be worth&the one thousand and sixty-nine words here.
Since the small photos here don't really do it justice, I have the full size images here:
Runner Up in the
Digital Days Photo Contest