Reverse Lens Macro: How to use it as a Great Learning Tool

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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.

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The basic trio 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:

  1. Shutter speedreverse-lens-macro-photography-02.jpg
  2. Aperture
  3. ISO

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 and reverse lens macro

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).

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HOW DOES REVERSE MACRO TEACHES YOU ABOUT THE ART OF PHOTOGRAPHY?

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!

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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).

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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.

Happy clicking!

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Sharath Prakash is from Kerala, India and considers photography as his passion. He is currently doing his bachelor degree in engineering, and occasionally does paid work and administers a page in Facebook in which he has displayed some of his experiments with photography you can see those at Small Frames

  • traianvh

    D3100 with 55-200 kit lens reversed. Used a toothpick too keep the aperture steady.

  • Traian Victor

    Took it on a D3100 with the 55-200 kit lens reversed. I used a toothpick to keep the aperture fixed:)

  • Sharath Prakash

    @traianvictor:disqus Good one victor. There is many ways to get a reverse macro shot without even touching the shutter button. (use a tripod, reversing ring, remote shutter release ,and this toothpick thing you used). anyways hope this article and this technique has taught you something about photography

  • gnondpomme

    Using reversed lens is really a great way of enjoying macro photography, it’s technically harder but it gives great results for not much bucks.
    Here is one I made with an old Rokkor 28mm on my Nikon D90.

  • tbrixen

    I was amazed by how much macro you get.

    Had my old Sony camera stolen, and decided to give this a try since i still had the kit len. Used the 60D and the Sony kit 18-70.

    To hold the aperture fixed i drilled a hole in the plastic cover for the lens – it had a small pin that opened it up.

    Ended up with a picture of my watch (http://www.watches2u.com/watches/bering-time/32039-448-mens-ceramic-mesh-band-watch.html)

  • Tobias Brixen

    And the picture:

  • I tried one of these. I had a camera, a reverse ring where my 50mm was attached to it giving it a huge macro lens! The only problem was I needed, a tripod and a macro slider. I have a tripod but not the slider and because I have limited funds I could not afford to buy the macro slider. Perhaps one day… as a slowly build my equipment. I’ll get back to Macro photography again. I love the idea of photographing small things and make them fit the in the image!

  • Excellent article and using my reverse rings has pushed me to learn and grow tremendously!

  • Pati Beardsley

    I’m still hung on “double-headed sword”. It’s “double-edged”. I haven’t tried to reverse my lenses, yet. I’ll let you know.

  • DD877

    Would this also work on the Nikon 55-300 lens?

  • Yksvoklam Naj

    could someone link me the reverse link for canon 50mm 1.8 please

  • jsm1963

    Would be handy if they detailed how to reverse mount your lens. Simply showing a picture of a reverse mounted lens doesn’t provide much detail.

  • G

    You need a lens reversing adapter/ring. This fits to the lens mount on the camera, and the lens attaches via the filter thread.

    Most adapters seem to come in either 52 or 58mm thread, so you might need some step-up/step down rings too (depending on the lens used).

  • Jorge

    It’s clear how to control the lens aperture, what about the camera’s speed, my nikon D5100 goes automatically to the highest speed when no lens is detected. Please Advice.

  • HIWalkerPhoto

    I have a camera that has been “traumatized” – it works but I don’t have access to my menus. I thought I could try reversing my lens to play with this but my camera won’t let me because it doesn’t recognize the lens on the reversing mount. I can allow it through menus, but again, menus are not available to me anymore. Any suggestions?

  • Johann

    Do you mean the shutter speed? I don’t know about Nikon, but on my Canon EOS 1100D it works right on Aperture Priority.

    If that doesn’t work, try putting it in manual mode with automatic ISO.

  • Barry E Warren

    shoot in Manual,

  • Barry E Warren

    Use a prime lens. it works better

  • Ika Minó

    Canon 1100D- lens 18-55mm kit, reverse ring

  • Sharath Prakash

    Dear jojie all the photographs i have displayed here has been taken with a Nikon d3100 with 18-55 lens without even a reverse ring let alone slider and remote
    thanks

  • Sharath Prakash

    It should but i recommend using a small lens otherwise your camera’s mount may give way under the strain.
    🙂

  • Sharath Prakash

    Same procedure as mentioned but different thread size

  • Sharath Prakash

    Right you are

  • Sharath Prakash

    Its frustrating to hang by that . Good luck

  • Sharath Prakash

    Thnks

  • Sharath Prakash

    Nice lighting

  • Sharath Prakash

    Sharp…;)

  • Sharath Prakash

    The menu problem could be a firmware issue. But reversing works on most camera’s only in manual and in some the A mode also helps

  • Sharath Prakash

    Good tip

  • Dave

    Seems the reverse ring mfg should design in electronic contacts with remote ring to reconnect the lens to the body, or maybe a DIY hacker

  • Mubarak Open Hearted

    Exellent article, we are expecting more from you soon

  • Vikas

    Hey , Do you have any video like how can I fit the lens without the reverse ring. Thanks in anticipation.

  • Sovon Laskar

    Can i use my 18-105 by revarse ring with my D700? Is it safe for my camera?

  • Sithira Dias

    reverse lens method good or bad one in camera or lens..?

  • Rob

    Got an old Sigma 28mm and 24mm with aperture ring to do this

  • Sharath Prakash

    You must not put the mount under too much pressure

  • cycleguy55

    Using a reversing adapter / mount also allows you to use lenses that would otherwise not fit. For example, I can reverse my old Canon FD mount 50mm f1.4 lens on my Canon EOS 6D and, at f1.4, it’s 3 stops faster than the 24-105mm f4 lens. I also have an FD mount 24mm f2.8 that would still be a full stop faster than f4.

  • Abhineet Tomar

    For lenses with no manual aperture control. you can use DOF Preview button and then switch off camera keeping that button pressed that leaves aperture closed at that specific width.
    That way you can control depth of field as well.

  • Mike Sweeney

    You can do the same thing with an iPhone (smart phone) by shooting through the reversed lens. It’s a bit tricky but it does work – The attached image is from shooting through my Canon 50mm and the subject is the lens barrel of my Yashica rangefinder. iPhone 4S- This particular image was processed for a 30DayBandW project

  • Sharath Prakash

    you can find many such videos around in youtube.

  • Sharath Prakash

    @mike sweeney fantastic one sir…

  • Sharath Prakash

    I have a Nikon d3100 and I haven’t experienced any such behaviours. try putting the camera in manual mode

  • Maha

    Can you share a video to show how the lens is reversed. I have a Nikon D60

  • davesalpha

    I got a reversing ring for my Sony a350 about 2 years ago. I get it out every so often. Should get it out more.

    https://www.facebook.com/#!/photo.php?fbid=1260025509253&set=a.1260024349224.2033647.1488137876&type=3&theater

  • Sharath Prakash
  • Straggler

    Just out of interest, what diameter hole did you drill? I guess you were at the 70 mm end of the lens but impressed by the depth of field!

  • arjun

    Hi, I have got Nikon D7000 and i use 50mm 1.8 G lens and 18-105 can i use adapter ring for these two for reverse macro photogrpahy, If so please let me know which one to buy . Thank you .

  • ysh

    can i use my 18-135 mm?

  • ccting

    lol, i won’t risk my lens..

  • Havico

    How well does a Macro Filter work? This is also way cheaper, too!

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