Ways to do Macro Photography

Ways to do Macro Photography

Buy a Macro Lens

This might seem trivial this is definitely the easiest and best solution. The focal lengths available vary from about 35mm to 200mm and the thing is the distance you need to be away from your subject. Focus still works, and all the metering still works fine. This is the best option a “real” macro-lens – best quality, best control, most convinient, up to 1:1 magnification (in most cases) (and most expensive). This lens can also be used for portraits, some purists claim you need a specialised lens, however budgets and baggage limits often make this difficult. You do get excellen result from using a macro lens for portraits, is my experience.

Macro Photography with budget contraints

You do not have to invest in a dedicated macro lens to get started with macro photography. Below, we suggest some low cost accessories to for those who want to try out macro photography with a budget contraint.
An important concept in macro photography is magnification, which is written as a ordinary fraction (e.g. 1:2) or a decimal fraction followed by an “X” (e.g. 0.5X). It tells us the ratio between the real life size of an object, and the projection of that object on to the sensor. A magnification of 1:2 or 0.5X indicates that the subject is captured at half-life size. similarly 2:1 means 2 times life size.

The magnification is roughly the longer focal length divided by the shorter focal length. With a 50 mm lens reverse mounted on the end of a 200 mm lens, you will get about 4:1 magnification (200/50). Both lenses are optimally set at infinite focus although setting the rear lens (the lens mounted to the camera) to a shorter focus commonly works fine. The principle is very similar to add-on macro lenses. The reversed lens acts much like a high-power add-on macro lens for the normally mounted lens. Of course since you are using high quality optics the results can be quite good. I have also used the autofocus which may or maynot work, depending on how close you are. Normally end up focus stacking anyhow, but when you have a non cooperative spider you need the shot fast so the technique of move closer till you can see the subject, focus and capture can be quite quick. Otherwise put the spider in a jar in the freezer for 20 mins will also slow him down, I am just not happy to do that with agressive spiders!

Reverse Mounting

Next are reverse lens – with reverse lens you can achieve really crazy magnifications (like 5:1 or even 10:1) with good quality. This is the act of mounting the lense backwards. Of course this disconnects the lens electronics from the camera, so for some camera there are connection cables and mounts to still connect these. This produces often good results its a bit of an art to be able to know when you have to move closer and further away to get the lens to focus and when you can just adjust the focus ring. Often adjusting the focus ring causes the image to change magnification as well, so then you can’t focus stack (more on this later).

This is actually a popular technique due to the high magnification possible. The pairing of the lenses can be tricky and differnt lenses will pair better than others. Make sure you are familiar and have tested this well before you need to used it.

Double Reverse

This works quite well, and gives a great magnification. I personally like this as you are not swapping lenses off the body! I actually avoid doing this, just to keep everything clean. Its almost trivial to screw a reversed lens onto the end of your installed lens. Just need a reversing ring, and some adapters to fit a filter on the back of the reversed lens.

Double Reverse Macro Setup
Double Reverse Macro Setup

Normally you need the lens attached to your camera to have a longer focal length than the reversed lens, as this sets the multiplicaton factor, and also causes vignetting. When coupling lenses, the main problem that you may have is with vignetting – darkening of the edges of the image. Vignetting in the case of coupled lenses typically takes the form of mechanical vignetting. With lenses that don’t match well you will see an image of the aperture(s) in the viewfinder surrounded by black. Vignetting is also influenced by the f stop of the 2 lenses, so test this and find out what works for you and your lenses. Magnification you will find is both needed and a curse. Also just different pairs of lenses will work together and some won’t!

Now we have 2 sets of controls, 2 focus rings and 2 aperture rings, the best is to set the aperture on the front lens, having said that its more conenient to use the back one. The theory says adjusting the front lens aperture will give you the sharpest image and resolution. Personally there is so many adjustments I am making as I do this, I just see what works for me at the time! Note you will find some lens pairs just don’t work well and others do!

Use a Telephoto lens

Yes, this can work, if the lens is able to focus close enough! And that is normally the issue that you just can’t focus when you are close to the subject. So the solution for this is to add an extension tube, moving the lens further away from the sensor means you can focus closer. You do loose the ability to focus to infinity though! If you use the telephoto for the back lens of a double reverse setup then you can get a higher magnification.

Extension Tubes

Budget Extension Tubes, note no electrical contacts.
Kenko Extension Tubes
Kenko Extension Tubes

Extension tubes, which can be used alone or in conjunction with reverse mounting, essentially serve to extend the length of your lens. Normally, your SLR won’t allow you to take a picture if you’re too close to your subject due to focusing issues. By using an extension tube you can get the lens a lot closer to what you’re shooting while maintaining focus. These are hollow sections so comparitively cheap. The more expensive units have the electronics and the shutter connections all working. Extension tubes can get yo a magnification of 1:2 or even 1:1.

Diopter Lenses

These are the worse quality and maybe the cheapest, although reverese mounting is very cheap as well. However reverse mounting is using a high quality optic, as its your lens just working backwards! The Diopter filters or lenses are made often as a cheap addon, and their quality off center is difficult to know without using them. The X Diopter close-up filters you can buy and come in a range of different magnifications. Its the lightest addition to your bag.

Canon Closeup Lens
Canon Closeup Lens


There are also bellows which are really adjustable extension tubes, however I seem to prefer short extension tubes for Macro work and therefore have never bothered to investigate this. The setup seems tricky as you are moving your lens without solid connection or positioning.


Macro MethodMagnificationDistance to subjectRelative Cost
Std Macro Lenssmall – 1:1∞ – 25mm100%
Canon 65mm
f2.8 MP-E
1:1 – 5:165-20mm200%
Closeup Lens1:5 – 1:1250 – 50mm5 – 20%
Extension Tubes1:4 – 2:1200 – 25mm10 – 20%
Reverse Adapter1:1 – 8:160 – 10mm5%
Double Reverse2:1 – 8:150 – 10mm5%
Croppingsmall – 1:5∞ – 500mmfree
Teleconvertersmall – 1:3∞ – 500mm110%

Please use this table as a guideline as the individual prices vary alot and the results are not reflected in the costs! For example double reversing does not include the cost of your already owned lenses, Its just the cost to allow you to do it with a typical photography bag!!!

This is a summary to get you started, try some of these and get a feeling for what you need to do and what compromises you then face. I certainly have developed an appreciation of people who do this a lot!

After this you will find a need to focus stack your results due to the very small depth of field when working with any magnification, and due to the smaller apertures (higher f stop number) to gain some more deepth, then you will want some macro speedlights as well. Hmm I wonder how Gear Aquisition Syndrome (GAS) came about!!!

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