5 Essential Tools For Closeup Photography

Tidy Tips / Photo by Steve Berardi

Photo by Steve Berardi

As nature photographers, we usually have to limit the amount of gear we carry (and that is certainly a good thing).

But, there’s always that list of “essential” items we bring on a hike, so here’s a little peek at what I carry in my bag when I know I’ll be doing some closeup photography:

#1 – Light Diffuser

Since you won’t always have the most ideal lighting conditions, it’s helpful to carry around some tools to help you control the light. A light diffuser will probably be the one you use the most, because they help balance the light on your subject. You can get a light diffuser at a camera store, or make your own out of a wire clothes hanger and a shower curtain.

#2 – Remote Shutter Release

The remote shutter release prevents you from touching your camera when you snap the photo. And, this is helpful because pressing a button on the camera will cause it to shake a little, and that could potentially result in a less sharp photo.

#3 – Extension Tubes

An extension tube is a hollow tube that attaches to the back of your lens. It allows your lens to focus much closer to your subject, which helps a lot with closeup photography because getting closer will help you fill the frame and get a more out-of-focus background (remember: depth of field decreases as you get closer to your subject).

#4 – Tripod

To ensure you get the sharpest photo possible, it’s important to keep your camera steady. And, nothing will do that better than a tripod. Yeah, they’re heavy and take a lot of time to setup, but you’ll be happy you used one when you’re back home admiring your super sharp photos 😉

#5 – Bean bag or soft cloth

Some of the most interesting subjects in nature are found so low to the ground that a tripod won’t work. So, you’re only option is to rest the camera directly on the ground, but if there’s a bunch of rocks on the ground that could be a problem for your camera. To avoid scratching your camera, it’s helpful to carry around a beanbag or even just an extra bandana so you can rest your camera on it for those super low shots.

What did I miss?

Is there another tool or camera accessory that’s been invaluable to you for closeup photography? Please tell us about it by leaving a comment below! Thanks 🙂

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steveb2About the Author: Steve Berardi is a naturalist, photographer, computer scientist, and founder of PhotoNaturalist. You can usually find him hiking in the beautiful mountains and deserts of Southern California.


  1. I also carry a telescopic antenna; rescued from an car on its way to the scrap yard. I use this to clip or tie flower stems to on breezy days to stop motion. I just stick it in the ground of clip it to something solid close by and tie the flower stem to it. When compacted down it takes no space and weighs virtually nothing.

  2. I carry a rain cover for my camera and use it to shield the LCD in order to focus manually using live view.

  3. John Bradford says:

    I find that a 5-in-1 reflector is critical. I use one which is 32 inch expanded and 13 inches folded. In addition to altering the light, it also can serve to block the wind.

  4. You didn’t mention Macro Lens OR Long telephoto (300mm) lens. I am a wedding photographer but I assume you would need one if not both lenses.

  5. Diane Bodkin says:

    A right angle viewer helps with the flowers that are close to the ground, so you don’t have to get down to eye level to view through the viewfinder.

  6. Frank Townsley says:

    Along the line of the extension tubes, a cheaper option is the close-up filter which can be bought individually or as a set of 3 which I have. Acting as a ‘magnifying glass’ they can be used in combination for extreme close-up.

  7. And Raynox dcr 250

  8. I realize this is pretty obvious and simplistic to most, but I learned the hard way that it’s vital to carry eye protection! A good hat protects eyes, and can even serve as a light diffuser–in a pinch.

  9. I opt for using a five second delay timer rather than a remote shutter release. Gives my camera time to settle down before the image is made. Although…a remote shutter release comes in handy in windy conditions when timing is everything. I also use a Plamp…flexible third hand that clamps to my tripod. It can be used to steady the subject and it can be used to hold a diffuser.

  10. jack rideout says:

    In addition to the rest of the gear , I always take a camera too … LOL

  11. I always care a hand held GPS. It is great for returning to that special spot found in Nature and you want to return to at another time of year. I use mine for marking areas of wild flowers, and return to it for a seasonal followup later in the year, or early the next year to catch the growth at various stages. Along with the GPS I carry a small notebook to note informtion not available with the camera or GPS.

  12. Very interesting article and comments. Thank you.

  13. Patience! Close up photography takes a different skillset than other types of photography so take your time and be patient and you’ll be rewarded with some great images.

  14. Wow, thanks everyone for adding your great suggestions!

  15. sumant prasad says:

    This is a very interesting article on close-up photography. The author has clearly mentioned the points we should adhere to while taking close-ups.Thanks alot tothe Author.

  16. Hi Steve,
    Reflector was also my first thought. The collapsible ones are amazing and the can work as a wind break! I often attach them to a light stand or tripod with a clamp to keep wind off of certain subjects, in addition to potentially adding nice fill light.

  17. I think we also have to realize that nature photographers love to get down and dirty and into the world we are shooting. Make sure you take water, sturdy shoes and clothes you don’t mind getting messy laying in the dirt. I always prefer to shoot holding my camera so I feel close to my subject. Tricky yes but well worth it.

  18. H.W.Carter says:

    Mirror lock-up. For digital I use the two second delay on my camera which both locks the mirror and of course gives two seconds for settling down, for medium format film it’s the mirror lock. If your tripod must be in a precarious position and it has a hook on the bottom of the center post, hang your camera bag or other weight from it. Something to pad your knees/body when shooting in rough terrain – I use a section of a quilted moving pad (which is great until it gets wet!). It’s easy to build a collapsible diffuser of any practical size with schedule 40 PVC tubing and white ripstop nylon, I made mine 2×3 feet so it’s large enough to cover the background as well – you don’t want your beautiful softly lit subject framed by distracting high contrast elements. I shot with a good set of close-up filters for years, but what filters and tubes do not address is angle of view and working distance – you will eventually want to invest in true macro (1:1) lens of 150mm to 200mm. I’ve been very, very satisfied with the Tamron 180, a superb lens for not too much money. I heartily second other contributors suggestions of Plamps, sticks and the like for positioning and steadying your subject, another great tool is a human assistant!

  19. I bought an umbrella at Payless (cheap) that has an undercoating of silver – also have a windshield/dashboard protector that is great – it folds up little and one side is silver – they are cheap too, both work great (the umbrella has a clamp for use on the tripod)

  20. When I know that I’m going to be macro shooting primarily – and insects or low lighting might be involved – I take my Canon MT24 EX twin macro flash. Even though it’s pretty big, I can take photos much more quickly than having to always set up the tripod (although I do when I can) and I can take some photos that I simply can’t get to with a tripod.

  21. Great informative article.

  22. I was told by another photographer to carry a frisbee. You can put the bean bag in it (flipped up side down) and scoot it along the ground when approaching small wildlife while lying prone on the ground. It is light, inexpensive and can actually be used for its intended purpose in camp.

  23. Virginia Nordin says:

    Picky! Picky! I noticed in the first paragraph, saying taking “peak”, believe should be peek!
    I have enjoyed all of these articles. Was just being picky!

  24. Stephen L. Winn says:

    I’m still fairly new to DSLR photography but I read somewhere that a water/squirt bottle was a must for macro photography. This gives your subject that “wet” look as if it had been raining. Does anyone agree with this?

  25. @Stephen – I’ve heard of some photographers who carry around a water bottle to add some little drops of water to plants, but personally I’m not a huge fan of this. I like to keep my scenes in the condition that I found them.

  26. Kneepads for ground work, as well as a small pair of scissors….to clip away any unsightly twigs, dead leaves/petals, etc. out of your photo.

  27. William Dochertaigh says:

    I carry an assortment of 8×11 1/2″ felt sheets from local crafts store. In black, white, tan and green. They double as a flag to block sunlight, but primary purpose is as. Bakground.
    Vivid flowers really stand out against black bakground. They work great when i have. Distrcting or unnatural background such as a fence, lawn sprinker etc. with some 18″ 3/16 dowels and mini clips i st up the mini studio in any garden without disturbinf anything. And the results have brought much praise.

  28. I have a small spray bottle that fits in my hand that I use in painting. Going to start taking it with me. You can find them at the $store or the dollar/travel sections of stores like walmart.
    Love the frisbee idea!

  29. The picture in the beginning of the article is simply beautiful, I knew it was your work as soon as I saw it. The frisbee idea to use with the bean bag is very cool. The small diameter dowels are a great idea to hold the sheets, you can glue wood clothespins to the tops of the dowels, no loose parts and they should not damage the sheets at the same time. Once again Stevie boy, you have enlightened me with your great tips. Peace and Jesus is Lord.

  30. Hi there ; Excellent advise on shooting wild flowers . One thing I would like to mention is locking up the mirror . This really helps in making for a sharper photo . If you start out with a tac sharp image you can always alter it later . It also helps to know your lenses prime area of focus . I believe that you should strive for the best image possible ( in the camera ) . Composition can be achieved later . Watch your back grounds and be aware of flare .

  31. Aside from the various camera gear everyone has mentioned I carry a few large trash bags. I have used them as ground covers for me to kneel, crouch, etc, clean ‘cloth’ to set the camera on when setting up unconventional ‘tripods’, rain cover for me, etc and if I’m on my way back to the car I also use it to pick up & carry out trash people have left behind. They are light weight, cheap and take up very little space.
    I also carry a small spray bottle, usually empty and if I need it I’ll use a little of my drinking water.

  32. Am going to Africa to a safari.I have a telephoto lense 70-300mm.I bought a teleconverter 2x pro optic.Is any way to tell me how to use it or I waist my monney.Is it goinh to help me take better phots and magnify the animals?

  33. diana Spitzley says:

    I find a clothes peg useful to pin back intruding leaves or stems.

  34. The bean bag support is very very useful . Instead of a loaded bean bag ( heavy ) try a plastic bag and a big oven mitt or what ever to slide your newly filled plastic bag into . I would also like to mention caring at this moment . Please try to not flatten the whole area around your subject . Hard to do and just a thought .

  35. Eva krejci says:

    I enjoy the discussion above , thank you everyone for sharing! 😉


  1. […] you’re heading out to work on some close up photography make sure you’ve got the right tools for the […]

  2. […] April 24, 2012 By Steve Berardi 19 Comments In previous posts, I’ve talked about helpful accessories for your camera and tripod. But, I always seem to forget one item that almost always gets mentioned […]

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