One of the toughest things for new photographers to do is to get in close to their subject, particularly if it's a fellow human being. Shooting Close Up For Impact (affectionatly known as SCUFI) does not pertain to macro photography, but to stepping in close to your subject.
While you might sometimes need more background in your image to properly set a scene, getting in close often provides greater impact to an otherwise ordinary photograph. Even using a telephoto lens, many photographers fail to fill the frame. Including needless background details often results in images that are best described as snapshots.
Shooting people is quite possibly the most difficult close up to arrange. Even knowing the subject, we are often loathe to invade another human's personal space. Get over it. Get in, get the shot, and get out again if you are uncomfortable, but get in there! The more often you do this, the more comfortable you will become. The more comfortable you are, the more confidence your subject will place in you and your abilities.
This image does a fairly good job providing a context for the subject: a shaved ice vendor (the ice, not the vendor). A 17mm lens brings in a lot of the background giving the viewer a sense of physical location. The extra background does not really provide a lot of valuable details, however.
Getting in closer, shot from the same position with a 35mm lens, the subject comes to life. Her personality provides an intensity lost in the first image. We don't lose all the details as we can still see the menu behind her.
An outdoor bar in Tokyo creates a somewhat interesting snapshot as you walk by. This image is a nice memory or a souvenir, but you're unlikely to feature it in a collection of your best images.
Get in closer, however, and your rather ordinary snapshot becomes an inviting a story ... figuratively and literally in this case! Although we can still make out the fact that this is an outdoor bar, getting in close and capturing the reaction of a single patron adds character to the image.
With judicious use of your telephoto lens, you might sometimes fill most of the frame in a candid moment.
While you might occasionally get turned down, most people are happy to pose if you approach them politely. Now your zoom lens enables you to completely fill the frame and a get a very different photograph.
There are times where you are unable to get as close to the action as you like. If you plan ahead, you can set up the shoot so you can crop the image later. Prepare by shooting at the largest image size and finest resolution your camera supports.
The more digital information you have to work with, the more you can do with the image in your digital darkroom. By cropping as much as fifty percent of the image, the action in this shot is as tight and dramatic as the race itself.
This statue of Lincoln has been photographed from most every conceivable angle. Getting in close with your telephoto lens, cutting out the rest of the elements in the scene, provides a dramatic composition.
However, getting much closer with a longer telephoto lens (or by judicious cropping), you can create an even more powerful image.
Yes, there are times you may not want to get close, but do it for the sake of the art!
While it appears that people might make the best subjects for getting in close, this technique applies equally well to other subjects. Get in close to your inanimate subjects, too! Doing so often separates them from the background, making the viewer concentrate on the subject and not the context. Remember, this technique is not macro photography, but trying to fill the frame as much as possible.
Ceremonial flower arrangements awaits the rising tide. The subject dominates the frame while still providing context.
Blossoms, fallen from the nearby frangipani tree, lie on the lawn.
Ornamental detail of a Shinto shrine.
Ceremonial wrapping on a tree. Showing more of the tree would show less of the straw and its impact would have been diminished.
Decorative birds dressed up for the holidays. Shooting close up enables them to dominate the frame. Judicious placement separates them from the background.
A hot pot dish, fresh from the kitchen, focuses attention on the food.
A row of Korean dolls.
Detail from an ornate bronze lamp. Shooting the entire lamp would have introduced distracting background elements.
A glass of whiskey standing in front of a row of its fellows. It fills the frame from top to bottom.
This close up view of the totem still allows for a view of the distant village. Imagine how different the image would look if it had been shot further back.
The next time you raise your viewfinder to your eye, ask yourself if you're about to take a snapshot. If the answer is "yes," move in closer and see what results. Remember SCUFI, Shoot Close-Up For Impact!