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When starting out in photography, you quickly find out that one of the biggest constraints is money. Between the camera bodies, lenses, gear, and accessories, you can find yourself overwhelmed with how much money you can invest, even in just one area of photography. But the thing about photographers is that they are crafty and resourceful and often find inexpensive solutions to their problems. For macro photography, this would be the reverse lens method, also known as the poor man's macro.
But the word “poor” here does not refer to the quality of the method. In fact, the only limit on the quality of your images using a reversed lens is the quality of said lens. A reversed lens will give you the same quality whether mounted correctly or in reverse. But since we're trying to save money here, an expensive lens is out of the question. However, a solid prime lens is far more affordable than a good quality macro lens, and there are several advantages. So for those who are looking to get into macro photography and don't have a lot of money to spend, try out this method.
Reversing adapter ring
The first thing you'll need is an adapter ring to mount your lens on backwards. These can be purchased off of ebay for very little (I got mine for $6). One side of the ring mounts to your camera like a normal lens, and the other side screws into the filter threads on the front of you lens. So the filter size for your lens will determine what size reversing ring you will need.
Adjusting for aperture
Changing the aperture varies depending on the lens. For older lenses with aperture rings, there's no difference because you can control it manually. For most newer lenses with digitally controlled apertures, you will find a lever on the back of the lens. Move it back and forth and you will see the aperture open and close. When removed from the camera, some lens apertures close completely, while others stay wide open. You simply need a way to keep the lever where you want it. I usually fold a small bit of paper and stick it between the plastic and the lever to keep it open. On occasion I have even used a small twig. I'm sure you can find your own solution.
For Canon EOS lenses, a little trick is needed. Mount the lens normally, set your desired aperture, then press the DOF preview button. While holding it, remove the lens. This will keep the aperture set to that position.
Adjusting for focus
Your ability to focus to infinity is now gone. Looking through your viewfinder, you will only see blurry colors. Your focus range will be very limited and you will need to approach your subject very closely in order to get it into focus. The more telephoto your lens, the more focusing distance you have. However, the magnification level will be less. Wide angles have the greatest magnification factor, but the shortest focusing distance (almost to the point of touching your subject with the lens).
A few more things
Make sure your camera is in manual mode, otherwise it will complain that there is no lens attached. You will have a very narrow depth of field, and lack of light is also a common problem. These are hurdles of general macro photography, so you may need to brush up on how to take macro shots.
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Photo copyright Spencer Seastrom
Written by Spencer Seastrom