Understanding Close-Up Photography, by Bryan Peterson | Book Review

This book is a great choice for amateur and enthusiast photographers looking to open up new photographic possibilities by getting in close.

Understanding Close Up Photography By Bryan Peterson
Last Updated:
Filed Under: Books

This post may include affiliate links. Read more.

Understanding Close Up Photography By Bryan Peterson

Title: Understanding Close-Up Photography: Creative Close Encounters With or Without a Macro Lens
Author: Bryan Peterson
Publisher: Amphoto Books
Publication Date: Mar 31, 2009
Total Pages: 160 pages
ISBN-13: 9780817427191
Buy Now

The closer you focus on a given subject, the more that is revealed, and it is with these revelations that the “drug” that is close-up photography maintains its constant and unrelenting hold. (p.8)

I’ve been reviewing several macro and close-up photography books lately. With the current stay-at-home restrictions in place, it’s been a good opportunity both to catch up on some book reviews that I’ve meant to get to for a while as well as focus on some photography subjects that can easily be shot at home. And at this time of year, with the springtime flowers coming out, it’s an especially good time to find photographic inspiration in your garden or planter. If you’re in very tight quarters, even a single pot plant or cactus can make for some interesting photos, especially if you can get in very close with a macro lens. Because a macro lens can reveal worlds you hadn’t noticed before, and some of them can be quite beautiful and compelling.

Here I’m reviewing Understanding Close-Up Photography, by Bryan Peterson.

Mr. Peterson has published several books, and the ones I’ve seen so far have been impressive. He knows his stuff, and his guides are packed with useful information without spilling over into dry technicalities. The book of his that I’m most familiar with is Understanding Exposure.

The structure of the book is quite traditional in that it starts with a detailed rundown of gear and technique before moving on to the creative side of things. He covers some of the most important specialized tools of the trade, including macro lenses, extension tubes, close-up lenses (with particular praise for the Canon 500D, and reversing rings. But there’s also a section on using point-and-shoot cameras, which has the virtue of being usable in many places where a larger DSLR/macro setup would be impractical or ill-advised.

After the gear section, the book moves on to a lengthy discussion of depth of field preview and why it’s useful. And then there are a bunch of different close-up tips, including things like using specular highlights, framing with foreground elements, filling the frame, cropping, and experimenting with textures.

For both amateurs and professionals, close-up photography continues to enjoy great popularity. While such obvious subjects as flowers, butterflies, and insects are ideal here, so are the more unusual subjects. In my online courses, I’ve noticed more and more of my students turning their close-up gear toward the industrial world and the abstract—and coming away with some truly compelling imagery. (p.136)

Something I like about this book is its range. Yes, there are flowers. Yes, there are bugs. But there are also plenty of other creative ideas for making use of some unexpected things you have lying around your house to make visually striking images. There’s a section towards the end called Close-up at home that gives some simple but effective ways to create something very different. A slice of lemon in a glass against a green background, for instance (pp. 140-41). Or woven salad forks making an abstract (pp. 142-43). Colorful reflections off a cheese grater (pp. 144-45). Or using “dewdrops” (in this case, really just small drops of water on a clear sheet) to create a bright and interesting pattern (pp. 150-51).

So, as much as this book is about conventional close-up photography (i.e., the flowers), it is certainly also about unconventional close-up photography. In my mind, close-up photography must include anything that isn’t normally experienced up close. (p.11)

Overall, this is one of the best books on close-up photography I’ve seen. There are other good ones focusing more specifically on flowers, but I particularly like that this one gets very creative on the subject matter, at fully enjoying the world up close. While published in 2009, it remains relevant, and because it doesn’t spend much time on constantly-evolving topics like digital image file formats or post-processing software—subjects that are always a moving target—the book’s content doesn’t go out of date. This book would be a good choice for anyone looking to get in close with new shooting subjects.

About the Author

Official Bio:

Bryan Peterson is a professional photographer, an internationally known instructor, and the bestselling author of Understanding Exposure, Understanding Shutter Speed, Learning to See Creatively, Understanding Digital Photography, and Beyond Portraiture. In addition, he is the founder of the online photography school the Perfect Picture School of Photography. He lives in Chicago.

Table of Contents

Close-up vs. Macro Photography

  • What Does Macro Mean?
  • If It’s Not Macro, It’s Close-up Photography
  • Using Wide-Angle Lenses for Close-up Work


  • Macro Lenses
  • Extension Tubes
  • Close-up Lenses vs the Canon 500D
  • Canon 500D and the Wide-Angle
  • Reversing Rings
  • Digital Point-and-Shoot Cameras
  • Wide-Angle Lenses
  • The Fish-Eye
  • Reflectors
  • Ring Flash
  • Tripods
  • Small Things

Depth of Field & Aperture

  • Depth of Field
  • Correct vs. Creatively Correct Exposure
  • The Depth-of-Field Preview Button
  • Exposure without DOF Preview
  • Specular Highlights
  • Sunrise, Sunset

Close-up Tips

  • Foreground and Background Framing
  • Really Filling the Frame
  • Horizontal vs. Vertical
  • Texture Up Close

Up Close Indoors

  • The Home Studio Setup
  • The Kitchen
  • Other Rooms, Other Subjects, Other Light
  • The “Dewdrop” as Mini Fish-eye Lens


  • Appendix A: VR and IS Lenses Exposed
  • Appendix B: Macro Magnification Ratios

Publisher’s Blurb

In his sixth book, renowned photographer, popular instructor, and best-selling author Bryan Peterson challenges and inspires us to see close-up photography in new ways when we view it through his eyes. You’ve seen the dewdrops, but what about dewdrops on a bird’s wing or raindrops on a car windshield? You’ve seen the bumblebees on vibrant flowers, but what about the fluid edge of just one petal or the colorful rusting metal at industrial sites? Even when Peterson does capture the more traditional subjects, it’s done in untraditional ways–and often with minimal specialized equipment! Most important, he moves beyond the commonplace to inspire new ways of getting close, using your lenses, and discovering unconventional subjects.

Where to Buy

You can find Understanding Close-Up Photography at good bookstores.

Images and product information from Amazon PA-API were last updated on 2023-05-29 at 21:03. Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on Amazon Site at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.

David Coleman / Photographer

David Coleman

I'm a professional freelance travel photographer based in Washington DC. Seven continents, up mountains, underwater, and a bunch of places in between. My images have appeared in numerous publications, and you can check out some of my travel photography here. More »

Leave a Comment