Reverse Lens Macro: Close Up Photography Lesson #3 -

Reverse Lens Macro: Close Up Photography Lesson #3


This is the third in a series of four lessons on close-up and macro photography by Andrew S Gibson, author of Up Close: A Guide to Macro & Close Up Photography.


In my previous articles I looked at two easy techniques for getting closer to your subject – using close-up lenses and extension tubes, you can catch up on them here:

In this lesson I’m going to take a look at a technique you can use to get even closer – reverse lens macro.

If you already own a 50mm prime or standard kit lens (around 18-55mm focal length range) then reverse lens macro is also the least expensive way there is to get up close.

The reverse lens technique involves turning the lens around so that the rear element points outwards, and the front element faces the camera body. You can buy special adapters to attach the reversed lens to either your camera body or another lens.


If you haven’t seen this in action before, it may seem like bit of a strange thing to do. But it works. The above diagram shows why. In normal use, a 50mm lens focuses light from far away so that the image is much smaller and can be recorded by a digital sensor or on film.

Reverse the lens and the opposite occurs. The 50mm lens magnifies what it sees, giving near life-size reproduction.

There are two ways you can use the reverse lens technique:

1. Single lens reverse macro


Use a reversing ring (illustrated above) to attach your reversed lens to your camera. You can buy these adapters inexpensively from Amazon or eBay. One side screws into the end of your lens like a filter, the other attaches to your camera’s lens mount.


The photo above shows how it works.

This technique works well if you have a lens with a manual aperture ring. Depth-of-field decreases as you get closer to your subject, and at the high magnifications obtained by reversing a 50mm lens, you need to stop down to increase the zone of sharpness.

If your reversed lens doesn’t have a manual aperture ring, you can’t stop down and are forced to work at the maximum aperture of your lens. However, don’t let this stop you trying out this technique – take a look at the work of Roni, who uses a reversed 50mm lens at its widest aperture, to take some beautiful photos.

2. Twin lens reverse macro


Use a coupling ring (shown above) to attach your reversed lens to another lens. The reversed lens acts like a powerful close-up filter (I covered close-up filters in more depth here).

A reversed 50mm lens has a strength of +20 diopters. A reversed 24mm lens has a strength of +41.6 diopter. Considering the most powerful close-up lens I know of has a strength of +10 diopter, you can see how powerful this technique is.


The above photo shows how I use this technique. I attach a reversed 50mm lens to my 85mm prime lens. In this set-up, the 85mm lens is called the primary lens and the reversed lens the secondary lens.

You can try this with any lens as the primary lens. The longer the focal length, the more magnification you’ll achieve. The important thing is that the filter thread sizes match, or are close to each other, so you buy a coupling ring that will join them together. You have the option of using a coupling ring combined with a stepping ring if you need to.

The advantage of twin lens reverse macro is that you can leave the reversed lens open at its widest aperture. You stop down the primary lens instead to increase depth-of-field.

Depending on the lens that you attach the reversed lens to, you can achieve up to 3x life-size reproduction. That’s three times as close as most macro lenses.

Caring for the reversed lens

The reversed lens technique does leave the rear element of your reversed lens open to the elements. You should always take care with the reversed lens to avoid scratching the exposed element.


If you have an extension tube, you can attach it to the reversed lens (see photo above). This helps protect the rear element and also acts as a lens hood.

Image sharpness

The reversed lens technique gets you so close to the subject that it’s virtually impossible to hand-hold the camera. For best results, use a tripod to keep the camera steady, and a cable release to fire the shutter.

I find it best to use this set-up indoors, especially for delicate subjects like flowers. If you try it outside, the slightest breeze will move the flower and spoil the photo.

For best results (in terms of image sharpness) stop down the primary lens to at least f4. This increases the depth-of-field and also avoids softening of the image that can happen when you use the twin lens reverse macro technique with the primary lens at it’s widest aperture settings.



You can use natural light to illuminate your subject, as long as you don’t mind using a tripod and long shutter speeds to obtain the required exposure.


You can also use flash. You don’t need a specialised macro flash – I use a Canon Speedlite with a small softbox. That’s all I used to take the above photo. The diagram shows the set-up.

Kit lenses


I’ve used a 50mm prime lens to illustrate this article, but don’t forget you can try this out with just about any lens, although 50mm seems to be the ideal focal length. Kit lenses like the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 IS II pictured above work great.

In the next and final lesson we’ll look at the Wonderful World of Macro Lenses


You can learn more about close-up and macro photography in my new ebook Up Close: A Guide to Macro & Close Up Photography, available now from Craft & Vision for just $5.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Andrew S. Gibson is a writer, photographer, traveler and workshop leader. He's an experienced teacher who enjoys helping people learn about photography and Lightroom. Join his free Introducing Lightroom course or download his free Composition PhotoTips Cards!

Some Older Comments

  • Gabrielle August 29, 2013 08:48 pm

    I did try manual. I'm not sure what else I could try.

  • Kenneth Larsen August 29, 2013 04:43 pm

    Gabrielle : Did you try in manuel ?

  • Gabrielle August 28, 2013 09:22 pm

    I've tried this with the Nikon D5200 and my camera won't take a picture. It says no lens attached.

  • calvin wild photography March 25, 2013 06:22 pm

    "For best results (in terms of image sharpness) stop down the primary lens to at least f4. This increases the depth-of-field and also avoids softening of the image that can happen when you use the twin lens reverse macro technique with the primary lens at it’s widest aperture settings."

    It's that part which doesnt make sense. you say stop down, but f4 is opening up the aperture ring on most lenses. If you said stop down to like f8 or f10 that would make sense, by making the ring smaller and sharpening your images.

    I guess if you are using an f1.8 would be an exception. But the info is misleading in general.

    hope that explains my point.

  • calvin wild photography March 25, 2013 06:16 pm

    sorry, i enjoyed the article. but the aperture info bothered me. that is the only thing about single lens reverse that is NOT backwards LOL

  • calvin wild photography March 25, 2013 06:15 pm

    aperture or f stop info for single reverse lens is inaccurate. But only half wrong. Depth of field does seem to change the closer you get to you subject, but you do NOT compensate in reverse and open up your aperture ring to gain sharper images. You must use a smaller aperture more like f8 than f4, but watch out for light vignette and keep your light from refracting your bck element.

  • Joe March 21, 2013 09:28 pm

    Okay I think I figured out that a male-male should do the trick for connecting two lenses.

    Also, if anyone is looking for an adaptor that would connect a filter on the back of a lens (as you would if you use a reversed lens), then it seems like the Nikon BR-3 is the way to go.

  • Joe March 21, 2013 07:38 pm

    So, to do the twin lens reverse macro technique, do you need a male-male coupling ring? Or is it female-female? Thanks for the article - I'm so excited to try it!

  • Hasso March 13, 2013 08:48 am

    The old 35mm or m42 lenses are great for this macro. They are solid full metal jewels.
    Some examples

  • Kenneth Larsen March 2, 2013 05:10 am

    Hi Nora.
    Yes it will work very well with a 35mm lens.


  • Nora March 1, 2013 09:57 am

    Hello! Great article. I was curious though, would this reverse lens adapter work on a 35mm fixed lens?


  • Adil January 21, 2013 03:51 pm

    Hi thank you for posting this great article on Macro photography.

    I have recently been fascinated by the macro photography and trying out the macro photography myself. I use a nikon D90 and extension tubes from Fotodiox with a reversed Nikon AF 50 mm f/1.4 D Fx lens. I really able to great magnification but DoF seems to be a great challenge even at lowers apertures. I am currently trying get more light at lower apertures by using an external flash with a softbox to diffuse light.

    I currently have a vivitar DF 383 flash and i cannot get this to flash to work when i reverse the lens.

    Can some one advise on how a DF 383 Vivitar flash can be activated in a nikon D90 when a lens is reversed?


  • Jean-Pierre August 20, 2012 02:40 am

    You could use a magnifying glass, there are also macro attachments for certain p&s cameras.

  • Trina Madrigal August 20, 2012 02:34 am

    I am a photography newbie and, although I feel like I have a decent camera for a beginner, the tips here cannot be used by me as I have a Nikon P90. I dont have the ability to remove, switch, or reverse lenses. Are there any articles on macro photography for users of fixed lens camera users?
    Thank you!

  • Kenneth Larsen July 22, 2012 07:15 am

    Jay: take a look at what i wrote.

    Hemant: Tjek the diameter on the filter thread

    And usually when people don't get sharp images its a user error :-) There are many places on the internet where you can learn to shot better pictures.

  • Hemant July 21, 2012 07:15 pm

    I am new to photography & 2 months back i bought EOS 1100D with standard 18-55mm IS lens. I want to buy a macro to try reverse macro technique but dont know which one is compatible with it. Can anyone share a link through Amazon (or any other) which i can buy. Moreover, i have noticed my images are not as sharp & professional as other pics which i see on internet. Is it due to my camera(Entry level DSLR) or basic lens(18-55mm) or i need to practice more. I want to learn but have many doubts.
    Thank You,

  • Jay July 21, 2012 04:36 am

    RE: "If your reversed lens doesn’t have a manual aperture ring, you can’t stop down and are forced to work at the maximum aperture of your lens".

    Perhaps the aperture can be first set (to say, f5.6) by normal mounting the lens, then reversing the lens? Will this "hold" the aperture?

    I have ordered a reverse ring; hope this will work.


  • Kenneth Larsen July 20, 2012 04:39 am

    It is not intirely correct that you have to use you'r lens wide open
    if it's without a apature ring.

    I'm not shure this will work with any camera but for Canon there is a trick.

    Mount the lens in normal position and turn on your camera.
    set it to AV and set the apature to the number you want.
    Press the "Depth of field preview" and hold it while you take the lens of your camera.
    The camera have to be on while you do this.
    This will let the apature stay where you sat it on the camera.
    Now you can mount it reversed at the apature you want to :-)


  • Alan July 20, 2012 03:50 am

    If you don't have a lens with manual aperture controls, you can manually pre-set your aperture when reversing the lens or using extension tubes. On my Canon, I set the Aperture to what I want, then remove the lens while holding down the DOF-Preview button.

  • Daryl July 20, 2012 02:15 am

    Some manufacturer also have adapters for the rear such as Nikon BR3 which will protect rear of lens by allowing a filter to be installed

  • Kbln July 20, 2012 01:49 am

    I would like to add that there is another technique to control the aperture. Mount you lens like it is normally done, set you aperture and press your Depth of Field Preview button.. This should step down or step up the aperture on the lens. Now while still holding the DOF Preview button, removing your lens.. The aperture is now set and will not change as long as you want to.

    [eimg url='' title='photo.php?fbid=406006279446187&set=a.227989170581233.53718.128688260511325&type=1&theater']

    You can find more such shots on my .

  • Elizabeth July 19, 2012 03:20 pm

    Awesome! I can't wait to order a reversing ring and try this. Thanks!

  • Mark Baily July 18, 2012 06:20 pm

    Here's a picture I took with the basic reverse ring with a 50mm lens it's great fun for very little money

  • Eeps July 18, 2012 01:29 pm

    The thrifty fifty (50/1.8, around $100) and standard kit lens (18-55, around $140 if it's not included with your DSLR) are 2 of the most affordable lenses out there. What may be throwing you off is that they are either mounted backwards on the camera or joined together by using a special adapter. Both mounts/adapters are quite affordable also (around $5-$10).

  • raghavendra July 18, 2012 12:30 pm

    Why the font size is too big in this article
    and what is the cost of those lenses?

  • Scottc July 18, 2012 09:19 am

    It is an incredibly powerful technique, and one that is difficult to master. A great article, probably the best of I've read on this subject.

    I've got a ways to go in mastering true "close-up" photography.

  • Tony McCann July 18, 2012 06:45 am

    Good article, I wish you'd posted it earlier, as this was something I was looking into. I have just ordered a coupler ring 58-58 and the above advice would have been useful. I will hopefully post some results later.

  • John Velocci July 18, 2012 04:54 am

    Hi, I have the Raynox 150. If I use this reverse lense technique with my Canon 18-55mm kit lens, will I get higher DOF than using the Raynox 150?

  • Life with Kaishon July 18, 2012 03:34 am

    Thanks for sharing this. I keep meaning to try it!

  • Zibri July 18, 2012 03:03 am

    Some pics done with reverse lens macro: Sigma 70-300 mm + 50mm F1.4 reversed.


  • Jean-Pierre July 18, 2012 03:00 am

    I do disagree with some information, albeit that the reverse lens and stacked lens techniques are awesome. Mainly, handheld shots are my only way doing macro because bugs move too much. If you're doing still life you're good, but a fly jumping from leaf to leaf is to much movement. I do, from time to time, use a mini tripod with the legs against my chest for added stability.

    I use a manual aperture, manual focus lens for my work. This way, you have full, easy control over what's going on on the reversed lens. I tried stacking lenses and the magnification is unreal. So stopping down is important, but an external flash becomes a necessity for sure.

    Here's a sample I hadn't posted before with the reverse lens. Awesome quality at a super lower price:

  • Sreenivasa Sudheendra July 18, 2012 02:55 am

    mindblowing articleeee :) great one andrew

  • Spotpuff July 18, 2012 01:34 am

    Nikon makes a part that screws onto the lens mount so you can attach filters to the rear side of the lens when it's reversed. This also allows you to use a clear filter just to protect the rear elements. a CPL could be nice as well.

    Their reverse mounting adapter is also top notch and very high quality.