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Magnifying Glass Photography: A Quick Guide

A guide to magnifying glass photography

Magnifying glass photography is a great way to capture unique and creative photos – but how does it work? And how can you get the best results?

In this article, I explain everything you need to know about capturing eye-catching photos with a magnifying glass, including:

  • What magnifying glass photography actually is
  • A step-by-step approach for great shots
  • A handy list of ideas to inspire you
  • And more!

So if you’re ready to have plenty of fun, then let’s dive right in, starting with:

What is magnifying glass photography?

As the name suggests, magnifying glass photography is a technique that uses a magnifying glass along with a standard camera and lens setup. The magnifying glass goes between the lens and the subject to create all sorts of interesting creative effects.

Magnifying glass photography

For instance, you can use a magnifying glass to:

  • Enlarge the subject
  • Produce optical distortion
  • Highlight compelling details

In a sense, a magnifying glass can act as a budget macro lens, though the resulting photos tend to be a lot wackier than what a conventional macro lens might create! What’s nice about magnifying glasses is that they’re very cheap and many folks may already have them lying around the house, so they’re ultra-accessible. Plus, they offer endless opportunities for creative photos!

Magnifying glass photography: a step-by-step approach

In this section, I share my approach to beautiful magnifying glass shots. Note that, for the purposes of this tutorial, I’ve chosen to photograph flowers. They’re colorful, interesting, and don’t move around, so they make good subjects for this technique. (And once you can create great images using inanimate objects, you can always move on to more animate subject matter later!)

Required materials

  • A camera
  • A magnifying glass
  • An interesting subject
  • A cleaning cloth
  • A tripod (optional)

You can use any type of camera to create beautiful magnifying glass photos; while a high-end mirrorless model will work great, you can also use a smartphone.

Also, if you want to increase your versatility, it’s a good idea to purchase a few magnifying glasses of varying sizes. Larger models work better if you want to create subject-focused images that don’t include the magnifying glass in the frame, but smaller models can also work well, especially if you’re looking to get creative.

Finally, a tripod can be helpful for a number of reasons: It’ll keep your camera stable while you hold the magnifying glass, and if you’re working indoors and in low light, it can prevent blur due to camera shake.

Magnifying glass photography

Step 1: Set up your camera and clean the magnifying glass

Start by turning on your camera and – if its lenses are interchangeable – mounting a lens in the 50mm-105mm range. (If the lens is too short, you may struggle to get the magnifying glass edges out of the frame, and if the lens is too long, it may be a bit unwieldy.)

If you have a tripod, you’ll want to extend the legs to sitting or standing height. Place the camera atop it.

I’d also encourage you to clean the magnifying glass with your cloth. (A lens wipe also works.) It’s important to remember that the glass in your average, run-of-the-mill magnifying glass is far less impressive than the glass inside your camera, so it’s good to always clean the glass element before use. That way, you can maximize image sharpness. (However, don’t worry if you don’t get pin-sharp images; the softness can actually add to the overall effect!)

Magnifying glass photography

Step 2: Find a subject and position it near your camera

For this example, I’m using flowers as my subject, but you can use pretty much anything: toys, food, electronics, books, or even people. I do recommend you choose a subject with plenty of detail; the more detail that’s present in the subject, the more the magnifying glass has to highlight!

Once you have a subject, adjust your camera’s position until the camera and the subject are close. (You may need to adjust the tripod legs, and it’s a good idea to prop your subject up on a table or other stable surface.) Your autofocus will likely get confused by the magnifying glass, so set your lens to focus manually.

Step 3: Position the magnifying glass

Next, hold the magnifying glass over the front of your camera lens with your hand and look through the camera viewfinder. The image will probably be extremely out of focus, so you’ll need to either adjust the lens’s focus or move the magnifying glass forward and backward between the camera and the subject. This can be tricky, but I encourage you to persevere.

The goal is to find a sweet spot where part or all of the image looks sharp, but don’t be too picky. It’s important to be open to how the magnifying glass alters the photograph!

Magnifying glass photography

Step 4: Adjust your settings and take a photo

Once you get an effect you like, go ahead and press that shutter button! But pay attention to your camera settings, and keep in mind that the extra layer of glass between the camera and the subject will cut down on the amount of light that actually reaches the sensor.

Therefore, you may need to lower your shutter speed or raise your ISO until you get a reasonable result. You can also adjust the exposure compensation if your image turns out too dark or too light, and you should definitely experiment with the depth of field by adjusting the aperture, too. (A shallow depth of field can work great if you’re hoping to produce abstract photos!)

Step 5: Experiment!

At this point, you know the mechanics; you just need to experiment. In my experience, constant testing makes for the best photos!

For instance, once you get a feel for photographing your subject through a single magnifying glass, why not try taping two magnifying glasses together for greater magnification? Or why not move from inanimate to animate objects and try photographing a person or pet? Or why not try moving the magnifying glass ultra-close or ultra-far from the subject? Even the slightest adjustment of the setup can render some unique results, so take the time to experiment and have fun!

Magnifying glass photography
To create this image, I taped two magnifying glasses together.

Magnifying glass photography ideas

As I emphasized in the previous sections, you can capture beautiful magnifying glass shots of pretty much anything, but here are a few easy ideas that use materials from around the house!

You might photograph flowers (either real or artificial) and position the magnifying glass far enough from the lens that it appears as a blur in the composition:

Magnifying glass photography

You might also experiment with a black-and-white conversion, which will highlight the shape and form of your subject and emphasize the ethereal effects created by the magnifying glass:

Magnifying glass photography

You can also use a shallow depth of field to create a beautiful abstract photo (with plenty of gorgeous background blur):

Magnifying glass photography

Another idea is to capture a self-portrait. Set up your camera, then hold the magnifying glass in front of your face. It may take a lot of tweaking to get it right, but the results will be worth it! (If a self-portrait is too difficult, you could try photographing a friend or family member.)

Magnifying glass photography

Finally, try to photograph some animals or insects! You’ll need to be fast, but you can certainly create some unusual images:

Magnifying glass photography

Magnifying glass photography: final words

Well, there you have it:

Step-by-step instructions for capturing beautiful magnifying glass photos.

So grab that magnifying glass, find a fun subject, and get started. Pretty soon, you’ll have a whole portfolio of creative shots!

What do you plan to photograph? Do you have any additional ideas? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Megan Kennedy
Megan Kennedy

is a photographer and writer based in Canberra, Australia. Both her writing and photography has been featured in numerous publications. More of Megan’s work can be viewed at her website or on Instagram at MK_photodiary.

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