Macro competition encourages us to get ‘up close and personal’

By Geoff Harris

There has been a boom in close-up and macro photography during lockdown – hardly surprising given the travel and socialising restrictions, which are increasingly creeping back up and down the country.

If you need a bit more inspiration, the winners of this year’s Close-up Photographer of the Year, in association with Affinity Photo, have just beenannounced.

The overall winner is French photographer Galice Hoarau – a professor in marine molecular ecology – who triumphed with his beautiful image of an eel larva spotted off the island of Lembeh (Indonesia) during a blackwater dive.‘Peering through the darkness with your torch can be stressful the first time you do it, but it gets fascinating quickly, explains Galice. ‘After sunset, small pelagic animals (like this larva) rise close to the surface to feed where the sunlight has allowed planktonic algae to grow. At sunrise, they dive into the depths and stay there during the day to escape predators.’

© Galice Hoarau, Eel Larva, CUPOTY

Galice takes home £2,500and the CUPOTY trophy. He also sees his work displayed to a global audience in the Top 100 online gallery here

Global response

While Galice took the top spot in the Animals category, Mike Curry also impressed the judges with his shot of a butterfly surrounded by peeling paint in the Insects category. ‘The juxtaposition of manmade decay and natural beauty works beautifully here,’ said competition judge and top macro photographer, Ross Hoddinott. ‘The texture and pattern of the blistered paint creates a compelling close-up on its own, but the addition of the butterfly’s natural beauty and delicacy is a masterstroke.’

© Mike Curry, Fragile, CUPOTY

Winner of the Plants & Fungi category, Elizabeth Kazda, stayed closed to home by gathering tulips from her garden and combining multiple exposures to create a striking graphic image.

© Elizabeth Kazda-Mandala with Miniature Tulips, CUPOTY

Meanwhile entrant Mark James Ford trekked across a baking lava field in Hawaii, with heat rising from every crack, to create his image of lava flow setting – securing top spot in the Intimate Landscape category.

© Mark Ford, Cast-in-Stone, CUPOTY

In the Manmade World category Kym Cox took the title for a second year with her study of the life cycle of a soap bubble. Meanwhile The Micro category was won by Andrei Savitsky with his image of a glass worm, taken with a smartphone.

© Kym Cox-Life, Cycle of soap bubble iridescence, CUPOTY

It was another great year for Young Close-up Photographer of the Year with Tamás Koncz-Bisztricz scooping the overall title for his magical shot of a springtail in a meadow close to his home in Hungary. ‘One frosty winter’s morning I headed out to take some extreme macro shots at the surface of some frozen water that had pooled in the tracks left by a tractor, he explains. ‘Crouching down, I spotted some yellow globular springtails which were feeding in the sun-rays reflected from the ice. I used LED torches to illuminate one of them, and came away with a picture that celebrates this tiny creature.’

Get in there

Why not have a go at entering the competition next time around? Here are five tips to help you take better macro and close-up images.

1) Get a macro lens

While you may strike lucky with a smartphone, it’s a good idea to invest a decent quality macro lens. These enable you to focus really closely, without a lot of the ‘hunting’ you get with a cheaper zoom lens. Lenses from the big camera makers tend to be expensive, but you can save money by getting a macro lens from a well-regarded indie lens maker such as Tamron or Sigma. TheTamron SP 90mm F/2.8 Di VC USD Macro is a great used buy and you should be able to find one for £250. Your cheap zoom lens will struggle and distort.

2) Or a prime…

Failing that, get a good-quality prime lens (eg 35mm, 50mm or 85mm or equivalent) as these enable you to keep your subject sharp in the frame while getting a lovely background blur, particularly at wider apertures. You might need to switch to manual focus if the autofocus struggles to lock on, but this is not so much of an issue with a static or slow-moving subject.

3) Don’t distract

On the subject of backgrounds, try to keep them as non-distracting as possible, while also working well with the main subject. Scan all four corners of the frame for distractions before shooting your subject and get closer if necessary, but don’t go for a very tight crop as this can unsettle the viewer and make the subject cramped.

4) Think different

As the competition winners showed, you don’t always need to go with ‘obvious’ macro subjects such as butterflies, bugs or plants. You can see attractive patterns and textures everywhere if you keep your eyes peeled. Predictable images rarely win competitions, as do clones of last year’s winners.

5) Find stillness

If you like to do close-ups of plants for flowers, get a device, such as the Wimberley Plamp, to keep them still in the breeze without causing damage. Even a bit of movement will leave you with a soft shot.

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) - the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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