Delving into Macro!
Macro photography opens the door to the intricate and beautiful detail of our world that often goes unseen by the naked eye. It forces you to view things differently; it really encourages curiosity; it transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary. There are new worlds ready for you to explore – all around you!
As you may know, this type of photography can be very expensive, as it’s often accomplished with highly specialised lenses and accessories. Fortunately, there are many alternative options you might consider if you want to start experimenting with this genre of photography.
This may come to you as a surprise, but you already have everything you need to shoot amazing close-up images. One simple technique will change your creative life forever. All you have to do is take your kit lens off your camera and shoot through it the other way round. This is called reverse lens technique.
Reversing a lens moves the lens farther away from the camera, giving it the ability to focus at closer distances, having an effect similar to using a set of extension tubes.
At first, it may be quite hard for you to capture images, as nothing works automatically. Because the lens is detached it loses its electronic communication with the camera. Autofocus and auto aperture will not work. It is crucial that you switch your camera to manual or ‘M’ mode, as some cameras will not release the shutter if there is no lens attached.
The next step is to set your aperture. When you first put the lens and camera together and look through the viewfinder it will probably just look black. This is mainly because the aperture of a lens will go to its smallest setting when the lens is removed from the camera body.
Aperture, in all modern lenses, is controlled by the camera. As the lens is not attached to the camera we need a little trick to help us. Next to the rear glass element of the lens is a small metal rectangular tab – this is the aperture lever. That lever controls the opening of the aperture. If you slide it to the other side it will open it as wide as it can go. Since the lever is on a spring, you will need something to hold it in place to keep the aperture lever pushed to the side. A small piece of paper or a sale tape will do the trick. Just be careful not to damage the lens while doing this.
To focus, put your eye to the viewfinder and gently rock the camera and lens combination back and forth over a few millimetres until your subject is sharp. As with all macro work, even small movements can make a great difference to your outcome, so hold your breath to steady yourself before and while taking the shot. A reverse mount lens has a fixed plane of focus, so the only solution is to physically move yourself, or the subject, into focus. You can try focusing manually, using the focus ring, but it’s a lot easier and more successful to move forward and back. Remember, you have to be REALLY close to something to achieve focus.
It is possible to make the shots handheld if you have enough light and a hand steady enough to deal with the demands of close-up shooting. I wouldn’t recommend using a tripod with this technique, but a monopod will give you enough camera support and a lot of flexibility with movement.
Keep an eye on the exposure; chances are, the camera’s metering system won’t give extremely accurate results. Take the shots and check the exposure and sharpness on your LCD screen. Take care of your lens when holding it the other way round; you don’t want to scratch the elements.
Although you can handhold a lens in front of your camera’s mounts, it easier to compose when your lens in fixed in place. Fitting a reversing ring is a solution; you can purchase one on EBay for a few dollars. One side of the reversing ring screws into the front filter thread of the lens; the other side fits on your camera’s lens mount.
Reverse lens shooting isn’t something that should be done in a hurry. It’s also not easy; it requires a lot of patience, but I want to encourage you to try it. Experiment, investigate, discover. Don’t limit yourself. Be a real explorer of creative possibilities.
If you would like to explore creative macro photography in more detail, check out my online course, The Hidden World of Macro Photography.