Sculpture of a man seated on a bench with a magnifying glass superimposed
Lens-Artists,  Photographic techniques,  Themed galleries

Gallery: getting closer and closer

To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.

Elliott Erwitt

I love to photograph details. So much so that when I review a day’s set of images I’m slightly disappointed to realise that I forgot to take any wider shots showing the whole of a building or statue or fountain or …!

So perhaps it’s not surprising that, when I started to look for images for Patti’s Lens Artists challenge this week, I had plenty of close-up shots but few wider ones. Her suggestion that we show the impact of moving closer to a subject implies of course that we also show the version in which we hadn’t moved closer!

However I already had a couple of good examples from our recent trip to Costa Rica; and a bit of head-scratching and searching unearthed a few more. I think these illustrate the points Patti was making about the benefits of moving closer. We see things differently; we notice the small details; we eliminate the distractions of the subject’s surroundings. And often, I believe, we simply create a better photo, with more impact and creativity. See what you think as you browse my contributions.

Sculpture in the garden of the Hotel Bougainvillea, Costa Rica
Sculpture of a man seated on a bench
Sculpture in the garden of the Hotel Bougainvillea, Costa Rica

I spotted this sculpture on our first morning in Costa Rica, while wandering around the hotel garden looking for birds and flowers to photograph. At first glance I was struck by the realism of the casual pose.

But getting closer and zooming in showed me that it wasn’t just the pose that was realistic. Look at the details on the face and on the bare foot.

View from the dining room of Lagarta Lodge, Costa Rica
Looking down at a river flowing on to a black sand beach
View from the dining room of Lagarta Lodge, Costa Rica

I have shared some of the stunning views from our room at this lodge in a previous post, but not, I think, this one, which we enjoyed every morning from our breakfast table. It’s a beautiful, tranquil scene.

But get out the zoom lens and take a closer look. There is activity down on the beach from time to time, as I discovered. Soon after I took the above photo two local fishermen appeared and waded out into the waves, casting their nets.

Two men fishing in the sea with nets
Fishermen seen from the dining room of Lagarta Lodge, Costa Rica

And every morning we saw a woman paddle across the river with her dogs, which is the only way to access the long black sands of Nosara Beach beyond.

Woman with two dogs wading across a river
Dog walker seen from the dining room of Lagarta Lodge, Costa Rica

Memorial at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, Pyongyang, North Korea
Memorial with soldiers surrounded by fountains
Memorial at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, Pyongyang, North Korea

We weren’t permitted to take any photos inside the Palace of the Sun; indeed all cameras and mobile phones had to be left in lockers by the entrance. So when I got my camera back after our visit I was keen to capture some shots outside. This memorial, which I took to be dedicated to the soldiers who guard the palace, caught my eye of course; I was fascinated throughout our trip there by the brutalist style of the country’s many monuments.

A closer look may reveal why I find them so fascinating. Look at the detail! The proud stance of the soldiers and their expressions. The detailing on their uniforms and the ropes and tassels draped from the flags. And each is different; these are real people I am sure.

The statue of Bach at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, Germany
Bronze statue of a man and an organ

Bach was music director at this church in Leipzig from 1723 until his death in 1750, and his remains (probably) lie in a tomb in the chancel. His statue outside includes an organ; he played the organ here (and in another of the city’s churches, the Nicholaikirche) regularly, although the one he played was replaced during renovations in the 1880s.

Tourists flock here to pay their respects at his grave. However  it is by no means certain that the simple tomb in the chancel does hold his bones. When he died he was first buried in the hospital cemetery of St John’s Church in the city, and largely forgotten. Then in the 19th century, with increased interest in his work and therefore the whereabouts of his remains, attempts were made to identify them among of a number of exhumed bones. So while it is probable that these are his bones, no one can say so with certainty.

Whether Bach is truly buried in the church or not, his tomb and his statue attract his many admirers. A closer look at the statue will reveal not only the details (note the roll of music in his right hand, raised to conduct) but also a tribute left by a fan; his left hand ‘holds’ a small flower.

The ‘Moment Before the Kiss’

The ‘Moment Before the Kiss’ is one of two sculptures on Tallinn’s so-called Kissing Hill, Musimyagi (the other is called, unsurprisingly, the ‘Moment After the Kiss’). The sculptures, the work of Tauno Kangro, invite young lovers to provide the missing moment, hence the name of Kissing Hill. I took my first photo from a distance; I liked the contrast between the bored looking man on the bench and the clearly not bored embrace of the sculpted figures. But it takes a close-up shot to reveal the tender moment itself.

MoPop, Seattle’s Museum of Popular Culture

This striking building was designed by Frank O. Gehry. He is said to have been influenced by ‘a smashed electric guitar’ in creating this rather astounding structure made up of 3,000 stainless steel and painted aluminium panels. From a distance it looks other worldly, as if a spaceship has landed, rather appropriately, at the foot of the famous Space Needle. Get close and you can find a myriad of reflections in its distorting surfaces, including the Needle itself.

So whether it’s landscape, architecture or art, taking a closer look with our cameras is always a worthwhile exercise.

If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough

Robert Capa


  • Tina Schell

    Lots of excellent examples Sarah – you’re right, sometimes we focus so intently on the details we miss the big picture. Maybe we need to do a “zooming out” challenge LOL. Your final example was my favorite. Couldn’t figure out what the right side image was until I read your description. Terrific

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks so much Tina – haha yes, a ‘zooming out’ challenge sounds fun. I actually have to remember to set myself those on occasion so I get the big picture 😁 Glad you liked the MoPOP photos. I have a few of the various reflections, such as trees, but I think this one of the Space Needle is the most interesting.

  • Monkey's Tale

    It’s great to show both perspectives. I go back to the wider view after you’ve shown me the details that I otherwise would have missed. Great post! Maggie

  • RosalieAnn Beasley

    I tend to take detail shots too, but because I’m often moving while photographing things, sometimes all I have is a wide shot which I have to crop to get rid of distracting reflections.

  • pattimoed

    I’ve been waiting for months for a new more powerful zoom lens, but even with the less powerful one I have, I always want to get closer to the subject. We share that trait! Your collection really shows the impact of the wide view vs. the macro view. Wonderful post, Sarah, as always!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you 🙂 I was fascinated to see them, and it was really only possible to do so through the zoom lens (or binoculars, but we don’t tend to take those to breakfast, although maybe in CR we should have!)

  • Rusha Sams

    What fabulous examples! And we have something in common: I, too, often forget to take a “big picture” of where we are because I can’t wait to move in and capture the details.
    Of your photos, I love the ones of the Costa Rican beach, mainly because I love all beaches near or far!

  • maristravels

    These are wonderful, Sarah, and perfectly illustrate what you say in the text. And while I admire Capa’s statement, in my case when my photos aren’t good it is mostly because my hand shakes!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Mari, I’m glad you feel they made the point effectively 🙂 As to hand shake, I know exactly what you mean! But in a way that makes Capa right, because hand shake is worse on zoom, so if you get closer you might reduce it?! Also, I recently discovered the wonders of Topaz Sharpen. It costs a few pounds but it does an amazing job of correcting a slightly blurred image, whether it’s camera movement or poor focusing to blame 😀

Do share your thoughts, I'd love to hear from you! And please include your name in case WP marks you 'anonymous' - thank you