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A magnifying glass is a handy little tool, popular with intrepid detectives and bug collectors. As the name suggests, the convex lens produces a magnified image of an object, but it can also be used to make some unusual and eye-catching imagery. Pairing a photographic lens with a magnifying glass will probably not create a flawless alternative to a macro lens, but the unique properties of a handheld convex lens mean that there are endless combinations of optical effects to exploit.
The first thing to remember when using this technique is that the glass in your average, run-of-the-mill magnifying glass will be of far lesser quality than that of the glass inside your camera. The nature of the cheaper quality glass lends a softening effect to an image so sharpening in post-production (using software like Photoshop or Camera Raw) will help to add a bit more definition to the photographs. But don’t worry if you aren’t getting pin-sharp precision, the softness can actually add to the image overall.
Using a tripod to photograph subjects through the lens of a magnifying glass is a good idea too. Without a tripod, camera shake will add another layer of difficulty to a process that can be slightly tricky at times. For the purpose of this tutorial, I’ve chosen flowers as my subject. They make good subjects for this technique because they are colorful, interesting and they don’t move around. Getting the hang of this technique on a static subject will save you a bit of frustration when moving onto more animate subject matter later
First, clean the glass of the magnifying glass with a tissue or cleaning cloth to avoid dust spots. Maneuver your camera up close to the subject. If you are using a zoom lens, zoom in as far as possible. Your autofocus will most likely get confused by the additional glass between the lens and the subject, so set your lens to manual focus instead.
Hold the magnifying glass over the front of the lens with your hand. Notice that it will either make the subject appear bigger or just extremely out of focus. With one hand you will need to either adjust the camera focus manually or move the magnifying glass forward and backward between the camera and subject. Trying to find a sweet spot where part or all of the image looks focused can be tricky – but be open to how the magnifying glass alters the photograph. The results can often surprise you.
Keep in mind that the extra layer of glass will cut down the amount of light that reaches the camera sensor so you may have to adjust the exposure compensation, depending on the available light of your setup. Don’t forget to experiment with depth of field by adjusting the aperture as well. Taking control of the aperture will guide the viewer’s eye around the photograph. That can be crucial in more abstract images like these floral landscapes.
The best bit about this technique is that it rewards experimentation. Once you have a feel for photographing your subject through a magnifying glass, why not use two taped together for greater magnification? Or take a chance at photographing a friend or pet? Or why not try including the loop of the magnifying glass to create a framing effect? With even the slightest adjustment in angle or distance a magnifying glass can render some unique results. Take the time to experiment and have fun.