Thursday, November 22, 2012

Macro Photography Without Macro Equipment?

"If your photographs aren't good enough, you're not close enough." 

This Robert Capa quote could be one of the most well-known sayings about photography, and could be one of the truest, too. Details create gesture, textures form landscapes, an expression becomes intimate: getting in close to a subject brings out new worlds in any image. So much so that close-up photography has its own genre, its own competitions, and even its own lenses. What this wise quote fails to mention, however, is that said close-up lenses can easily cost up to thousands of dollars, not unlike much specialized photography equipment today. So what about those of us who can't afford paying even a few hundred for macro equipment?

Well, I took this photo with my 18-55mm f/4 kit lens. 

"Mucrones" (Fork)
1/50 sec.    f/0.7   ISO 500

How was I able to get this without any specialized macro equipment? DIY Photography's "How I Took It" contest has given me the opportunity to share, and if you have an SLR camera, then you can achieve this same effect. So, without further ado, this is how I took it...


The secret isn't much of a secret, though I don't know a single professional photographer who's taken the time to try it. What is it, exactly? Detaching the lens. Yes, taking the lens off of the camera. Known as "free-lensing," this technique opens up new opportunities for many amazing effects, and makes macro accessible to anyone with an SLR. If you think it sounds dangerous, you're right. Exposing your mirrors and sensors to moisture, dust and other irritants can do damage if you aren't careful, so handle everything delicately, and only detach the lens when you're ready for the shot.


When you've found your subject get up close, meaning a few inches away, and ever so slightly move the lens away from the camera body. The effect can be drastic or subtle; the farther you move the lens, the more magnification you'll get. Try experimenting with larger or smaller aperture settings while the lens is still attached, and use the zoom to achieve illusions with distance. Zoom out to make the shortest distances look huge, or zoom in to bring everything together.

The best thing you can have with you is a tripod. If anything, find a place to rest your elbows and use a neck strap on your camera. Not only does this preparation reduce the danger that comes with juggling lenses and bodies, but it also helps to stabilize the shots - even with Image Stabilization on your lens, a little extra shake should be expected.


An anomaly you should expect is light leak. The larger the gap between the lens and the camera, the easier it is to let streaks and flares into your image. You can use them to your advantage. Find different colored light sources, look for interesting shapes, and try to position flares in the right places. You may be pleasantly surprised with the results.


Nail  -  Highest Macro Setting
1/60 sec    f/6    ISO 400    55mm (2.7in)
If the macro achieved with basic free-lensing isn't enough for you, the next step is to reverse the detached lens. Hold the filter-end of the lens up to the camera body, and shoot through it that way. The result is incredible magnification and apertures as big as f/0.7; this is how I was able to get the fork photo at the beginning of the article.
I end up using this trick again and again. If you find yourself doing the same thing, you can even get a "reversing ring" for as little as $10 on Amazon, to mitigate many of the risks that come with free-lensing. Not a bad price compared to the alternative of paying a few hundred. So next time you want to get that macro photo without spending exorbitant amounts of money, you'll know a few new tricks to help you make it work.
Nail - Reverse-Lens Macro
1/50 sec    f/0.7    ISO 800