Macro lenses are expensive, so good thing there are cheaper ways to do macro photography. I’ll go over Reverse Lens Mounting and a bit on using extension tubes.
Supplies: First, I’ll go over the things you will need and some you might want to have…
01. A tripod (optional)
02. An SLR camera with a kit lens or any lens 50mm or wider.
03. A reverse mount ring (optional but recommended)
04. AND/OR An extension tube
Shooting Tip 01: Aperture Size & Depth of Field
The results will have a very shallow depth of field, so you will need a small aperture to increase the depth of field enough to have a decent amount of the image in focus rather than just a couple of millimeters. You will want to set the aperture to f/11 or f/16. You might not be able to see much when composing the shot if there isn’t a lot of ambient light, but it can mean the difference between this:
Shooting Tip 02: Manual Aperture Hack
If you’re shooting Canon and the lens you’re using doesn’t allow manual aperture control there is a “depth of field preview” button right underneath the lens release button. This button temporarily sets the aperture so that you can preview the depth of field by closing up the aperture to the setting of your choosing. Normally, the aperture is set to the max aperture [wide open]. I don’t really see the difference in its intended use, but it has a much more useful purpose.
Just set the aperture in the camera’s settings and press the DOF button while removing the lens. It will hold the aperture setting once removed.
Shooting Tip 03: Lighting
The lack of light from using a very small aperture will likely cause you to need more light and even a higher ISO to avoid camera shake. A flash can come in handy. Sometimes, you can get away with using a built in flash if you can figure out how to bounce the light just right, but you will probably need an external flash or some other light source. It could even be something you already have lying around like a desk lamp…
Shooting Tip 04: Focal Length & Magnification
The wider the angle (the shorter the focal length) the more magnification you will get. My favorite focal length to use when shooting bugs is 35mm. Using an ultra wide lens will produce some extreme macro shots like the ones i posted below taken with the 10-22mm lens.
The Camel Logo on a Cigarette
Shooting Tip 05: Focusing
You will need to manual focus each shot. It helps to physically move the lens [and yourself] back and forth to focus once you have the focal length and the focus set. Once you try it out you’ll get a feel for the limitation of how it the lens is able to focus. You will need to be so close you are nearly touching the subject – especially with shorter focal lengths [18mm]
Method 01: Free-lensing
Reverse Free-lensing is probably the cheapest method. It’s possible to do it with just the kit lens, and no extra attachments need to be purchased. In this method all you do is hold your kit lens reversed in front of your lens-less camera. You will also get a tilt-shift effect depending on how you hold the lens. There are a few drawback such as, dust getting into the camera and lens and light leaks. Here is a photo I took with a 10-22mm wide angle lens of my hair. You can clearly see my terrible split ends. :-/
Method 02: Using a Reverse Mount Ring
A Reverse Mount Ring can be purchases anywhere online for anywhere between $4 & $8. It’s probably best to purchase a common size like a 58mm ring and just get step up or step down rings for any other lens sizes. To use it, just attach the ring to the filter end of the lens and then attach to the camera. I find this to be the best way to get good macro shots. I don’t have to worry about light leaks or dropping the lens. Dust (and other things) can still enter the open end of the lens. I once had a jumping spider jump right into the lens! D:
I eventually got the spider out… This guy, actually:
Method 03: Extension Tube
Using a 50mm lens and an extension tube can give you similar results to reverse mounting, but extension tubes can cost $10 or more. It simply attaches between the lens and the camera to increase the focal length, but it doesn’t do much to increase working distance. You still need to get extremely close to focus on a subject.
Method 04: Combination
You can go on to combine the extension tube and a reverse mount ring to get even more magnification, but it still wont increase working distance and the depth of field may become too shallow. But of course, you can experiment with that if you like…
I find that my best shots were taken with the reverse mount ring method.
I even shot some stereoscopic 3D macro shots, so you can get pretty creative with this stuff. [Cross your eyes until you see the 3D effect]
and to give you a better idea of the scale of some of these things…
If you want to see more examples, check out the Flickr Set with all my Reverse Mount Macro Shots.
Sure, a real macro lens will give you some good working distance, but the point here is really to have fun doing macro photography for under $10. You get what you pay for, sort of…