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Reverse Lens Macro: How to Use It as a Great Learning Tool
Yesterday one of my friends called me late and told me that he was going to buy a DSLR and asked me which one he should choose. As a friend, I knew that this was his first camera and he was in fact a complete stranger to the field of photography. I told him to buy a good compact camera in order to get used to the basic concepts of photography and to buy a DSLR only when he feels his equipment is limiting his creativity.
On the other hand are the people how have already bought an SLR, but get confused and overwhelmed by the level of control these cameras offer, and the sheer amount of effort they have to put in to make their photographs look beautiful. I write this article for those people who bought a DSLR, and are in distress seeing none of their photos looking as good as someone else’s.
Considering that you have bought a DLSR and are delving into some advanced levels of photography, let’s see how an interesting and fun technique known as reverse lens macro can teach you a great deal about your camera, light and in effect make the art of photography.
Before understanding reverse lens macro let’s take a look the basic trio that every photographer needs to know to take a well exposed shot:
Shutter speed is in essence the duration for which light falls on the camera’s sensor, shown in most cameras as 1/250th or 1/30, lower the denominator, the longer the duration.
Aperture is the opening in the lens which controls the amount of light entering your camera and the area in your image which is in sharp focus (aka depth-of-field) usually shown as f/5.6 or f/7.1. The lower the number, the more light getting to the sensor, and smaller the area in focus.
ISO determines just how sensitive your camera’s sensor is to the light falling on it. ISO usually ranges from 50 to above 100,000 in number. Large numbers represent high sensitivity.
Macro photography is a beautiful way to capture subjects as it gives you a very different and up-close perspective of photography. What macro photography does is to help us see the small world around us in a big picture. What your lens in its normal state does is to make the big world around you small, so just think what it will do when used reverse mounted? Yes, make the small world even BIGGER. But the fact is that dedicated macro lenses cost a fortune which puts it out of the reach of many of us. Reverse lens macro technique allows you to get really close without having to lighten your wallet on expensive lenses.
To take reverse lens macro shots, you have to reverse mount your kit lens (as depicted in the picture below).
Everything is a double-headed sword. So is reverse macro, though it allows us to get really close to your subject it also means you have less light at your disposal, a very tight frame, and a very narrow area which is in sharp focus (depth-of-field). Less light means you will have to adjust shutter speed, aperture and ISO to get good exposure and nice depth of field.
But the best part lies ahead, when you reverse mount your lens, the camera loses all the electronic means to communicate with the lens, so you will have to move your camera back and forth to get your focus right and you have to use the small lever on the back (now front) of the lens for controlling the aperture. An interesting point to be noted is that the actual focal length (55mm gets you closest to the subject for 18-55mm lens) of a lens in normal operation is also reversed, meaning that you can get closest to your subject when the lens is at its widest (18mm for the same lens). Now when you look through the viewfinder you will see the magic unfolding right in front of your eyes!
Suddenly your viewfinder becomes a visual textbook through which you will see all the subtle changes that aperture, shutter speed and ISO makes on your image and how subtle changes to these can bring amazing clarity and depth to your images. At first this may seem a difficult task because of the extreme stillness needed to take them successfully and clearly, but “practice makes perfect”, doesn’t it?
The interesting part being that you can apply the information you learn, when you use your camera normally. Obviously this can also be learned with time and effort but rest assured many get bored or disheartened because their photos are not looking good before they understand how to use the camera. Reverse macro, as mentioned earlier, magnifies the world beyond what our eye can see. It is because of this magnification that the effect the changes you make to (shutter speed, aperture, ISO) have on our image becomes more apparent than in “normal” use. When doing reverse macro I recommend not using a tripod because that way you will also learn to keep your hands steady (a boon when shooting in dim light).
So because you get to see the magic of light unfold right in front of your eyes it registers quickly, and with practice becomes rather instinctive. This will startlingly improve the way you approach photography and ultimately your photos.
As Ansel Adams, a master of photography said “A Good photograph is knowing where to stand”. Understand where you stand now (as a photographer) and where you have to be standing to take photographs that exude beauty and share the emotion of the frame with the viewers.