Macro photography on the cheap

Using a reversing ring for macro photography.

Due to the combination of the Covid 19 lockdown and an achilles injury I wanted to find something to do with my time which could be done from home.

I have always wanted to give macro photography a go but good macro lenses are very expensive.

I have seen reverse ring macro photography mentioned quite a lot but didn't really give it much thought until I was in the situation where I needed something to do and to stop me going mad and I was surprised how cheap it was.

What is a reversing ring?

Basically a reversing ring is a ring of plastic or metal that has the same mount as your DSLR on one side and a filter thread on the other, no electronics, or anything else required which makes them cheap to buy, normally less than £10.

It allows you to mount your lens onto you camera backwards which will be explained later.

What do I need to know when ordering my reversing ring?

There are just two things you need to know before ordering your reversing ring:

1. Which DSLR you intend to use it on

2. Which lens you plan to use

The reason for this is that you need to buy a reversing ring that will mount onto your DSLR in the same way that lenses mount and you need to find out the filter thread size of the lens you intend to use as this is how the lens will attach to the reversing ring.

In my case I decided to use my EOS R and my RF 35mm lens.
Therefore I bought an EOS R mount reversing ring with 52mm thread as this is the filter size of the RF lens I am using. Simple as that.

EOS 52mm Reversing Ring - Other brands are available

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How does it work?

If you look through a normally mounted lens the image appears smaller like looking through the wrong end of binoculars and this is done to project the image onto the small sensor inside the DSLR.

Using the reversing ring to mount the lens onto the DSLR backwards means it actually magnifies the image instead.

Reverse mounted lens

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What are the disadvantages of using a reversing ring compared to a dedicated lens?

Unfortunately but as expected due to how much you have spent there are going to be a few disadvantages to a £10 reversing ring compared to a £1000 + dedicated macro lens which I will cover.

1. The lens becomes completely manual.

As you can see from the above image, once the lens is mounted backwards its electronic connectors are not communicating with the camera.
This means that you have no automatic focusing and no aperture control with modern lenses.

2. The depth of field is extremely shallow with modern lenses
With modern lenses, when mounted the correct way round, as soon as you turn off your camera or remove the lens then it will automatically open to its widest aperture and when mounted backwards the depth of field is fractions of a millimetre.

3. The rear element is exposed
Again, as you can see from the image above, when mounted backwards the rear element of the lens is exposed and tends to protrude more than the front element, plus you will be getting very close to the subject.
I cannot say for certain about this but I would think that, because the rear element is normally tucked away inside the body of the camera it may not have the same quality of protective coatings (if any) that the front element so you should be very careful where you put the lens and put the rear cap on it when not in use.
I also noticed after photographing some flowers there was pollen on the rear element so carefully clean the element after use using a soft brush and/or rocket blower.

Are there any workarounds to these disadvantages?

Focussing is not going to be an issue as I will explain later on.

For the aperture I have read that if you mount the lens normally to your camera, set the aperture then hold down the Depth of Field Preview button and then remove the lens whilst leaving the camera on it will be fixed at that aperture.
I haven't tried this yet as I don't like to take risks with such expensive camera equipment.

You can buy reverse ring adapters that connect to both ends of the lens and will allow the lens to communicate with the camera but, although cheaper than a dedicated macro lens they are still quite expensive. I may give one of these a try sometime and if I do I will update this blog.

You could buy an 'old-fashioned' film style lens which would have a ring for controlling the aperture.
This is worth trying as you may be able to pick up older lenses very cheap second hand or from car boot sales etc.
I intend to do this once I can get out again and I will update the blog accordingly.

OK I have my reversing ring and have my lens mounted backwards, what now?

Now you have all the hardware you are ready to enter a new world of all things tiny!

When I first tried this I picked some tiny flowers from the garden and laid them on my desk and mounted my flash with a bounce card as I knew lighting would be an issue.
This worked OK but I found it was difficult to position the flash to get the light directly on the subject.
Also it was difficult to see the subject to make sure it was in focus.

So the next plan was to try continuous lighting and I had a small led light that worked perfectly as I could now see the subject clearly through the camera and had an idea of how the final image would look.

Lighting the subject with continuous lighting

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How do I focus on the subject?

This I found to be the trickiest part of photographing the subject.

As I mentioned earlier, the depth of field especially when using a modern lenses and not doing the aperture trick, is absolutely tiny.

I tried turning the manual focus ring but had varying results with that.I was hand holding the camera so then I tried it by moving the camera backwards until it was in focus but, as you can imagine, once you get your focus point even just pressing the shutter button is enough to lose focus.

Finally I put the camera on a tripod, lined it up with the subject, tightened everything down and then gently slid the whole camera and tripod backwards and forwards until it was just right.

I strongly recommend using live view when doing this as it is much easier to check focus on the larger screen.

Also if you have a cable release use this to avoid camera shake when pressing the shutter. If you don't have a cable release set the camera to timer mode so after pressing the shutter button the camera has a few seconds to settle down from any shake.

The Canon EOS R was ideal for this as, not only does it have the flip out screen, you can also trigger the shutter by tapping the screen.

As you will see from the picture above I also invested in a cheap set of flexible clamps, the sort that are usually used for soldering etc. These are useful for getting the subject into the right position and keeping it there.

I hope this made interesting reading and gave you an insight into macro photography.

Below are some examples including one to give you an idea of the size of the flowers I was photographing

Sample Photos

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