How to shoot close up with a 70 – 200mm lens

Apr 9, 2018 | Inspiration, Photography tips

To get up close and personal with your subject, you don’t always need a macro lens. Pro photographer, Luka Esenko, discusses how to shoot close up with a 70 – 200mm lens…  and the results are stunning.

Luka writes “I am all about minimising my photography gear that I take with on my photo shoots in nature. Keeping my backpack light and not too crammed is important, not only for my back but because this also helps with creativity. I try not to think too much about what lens to use, or what else I should try – I just tend to shoot what I can with the gear available to me there and then.  For me, the saying “less is more” is particularly true in photography. in this short post I want to share with you how to shoot close up with a 70 – 200mm lens.

Here are my three usual camera and lens setups:

For nature and landscape photography: Nikon D810, 14-24 f2.8, 24-70 f2.8 and 70-200 f4 lenses (All Nikon).

For travel and street photography: Nikon D810, 16-35 f4, 24-120 f4 and 70-200 f4 lenses (All Nikon).

For mountain photography (which involves climbing and a lot of hiking): Nikon D810, 16-35 f4, 50mm f1.4 and 70-200 f4 lenses (All Nikon).

How to shoot close up (almost macro) with a 70 – 200mm lens

For every shoot I always carry with me a tripod with ball-head, remote release, memory cards, polariser, ND filters (4 stops and 9 stops), an allen key, lens wipes and spare batteries.

Even though I really enjoy macro and closeup photography, I rarely bring my macro lens with me on shoots. It’s a trade-off for keeping my camera gear minimal.

You will notice that my Nikon 70-200mm f4 lens is always with me. It’s one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. Ever since I bought it, I’ve never touched its big brother, the f2.8. There are two reasons for that; firstly, it’s twice as light as the f2.8 version; and secondly, and even more important to me, the minimum focus distance (mfd) is just 3.28ft (1m).  This allows me to use this lens also for closeup, almost macro, photography. Below I will walk you through some the shots made with this lens.

Lady’s Slipper Orchids, Triglav National Park, Slovenia

Both of the above shots were taken late morning after a landscape photoshoot. The light was already very strong and harsh; there were lots of bright spots where the sun was shining through the forest. I softened the light using small translucent reflector (22”, super light and small when folded). My friend simply held it above the flowers, and that was it – simple! There is hardly any editing to these shots.

Spring Crocuses, Velika Planina plateau, Slovenia

This was a really simple shot; 200mm, f4 and as close as it gets. The key here is to choose your background carefully.  No distractions, uniform colour and a soft, out-of-focus feel.

Wild Apple Tree Blossoms, Biogradska Gora National Park, Montenegro

The light we had hoped for never happened on this sunrise shoot; the wind blew away any decent reflections on the lake and it was very dim and flat light in general. Thanks to this lens I focused on surrounding details instead, and I managed to get this nice shot of a rare sight – a blooming wild apple tree. The trickiest part was to get this in focus as the wind was moving the branch, but using a higher ISO and VR function helped.

Pulsatilla Montana Flowers, Alpe di Suisi, Dolomites, Italy

This was taken early one morning in a mountain pasture. We finished our sunrise shoot but the light was still nice. I spotted these two hairy little flowers! In order to isolate them from the rest of the meadow flowers I used 200mm and a shallow depth of field. I wanted the light to be soft; the flowers were still in shade but the background already had  some sunlight giving it a warmer colour. The perspective is super low – I lay flat to the ground to create an “eye” level feel and was careful not to crush any of the other delicate flora around me.

Snake’s Head Fritillary, Ljubljana Marshes Nature Park, Slovenia

Here I used a similar set-up as for the photo above, but you’ll see here that the texture is emphasised and the colours are richer. This is because the flowers are backlit by soft evening sunlight.

Horn-eyed Ghost Crab, La Digue Island, Seychelles

These crabs were everywhere in the Seychelles and I wanted to get at least one decent shot.  I changed my lens from a wide angle to a telephoto, got down and waited for this little fellow to come out of his hole. He was quite small, about two inches or so, but using the 70-200mm f4 lens I was able to fill the frame with it. My aperture was f8 in order to get more depth of field on the crab. The background is still out of focus due to the close distance of the subject.

So here you have it – a few close up shots using a telephoto lens which allows me to get incredibly close to a subject. This gives me a wonderful new use for this excellent lens and means I don’t always need a macro lens to get closeups in nature.

Here are some additional tips on how to use a 70 – 200 mm lens more effectively for close up shots…

Focusing: When shooting around MFD (minimum focus distance) it is tricky to use auto focus. I usually set the focus ring to MFD manually and then slowly move the lens closer (or away) until focus is where I want it. This gives me more precise results.

Light: Soft light works best for these kind of shots. If shooting in bright sunlight it is good to have a translucent reflector that helps softening the light. This useful piece of kit costs a just a few bucks and folds down really small so you can always keep it in your bag.

Light again: If the light is soft enough, use backlight. It can really make your subject stand out. It will also emphasise the textures and make colours reacher, especially if the subject is a bit translucent.

Background: This is one of the most important things to consider. How many times have you become so involved with the subject that you completely forget about the background? Take care to avoid it being too ‘messy’, blown out, or competing with colours that just don’t complement the subject. Move your camera around (even a few centimetres can make a huge difference), remove that twig at the back or change the angle completely.”

Luka Esenko is an award-winning landscape and travel photographer based in Slovenia. Since 2008 he has run his own photo tour company and enjoys leading small groups of photographers across the Adriatic region, sharing his passion for nature and the mountains. His latest venture is SNAPP Guides, a mobile application offering digital destination guides for photographers available in the App Store and Google Play.