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Lens-Reversal Macro Photography
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Gaining aperture control on a reversed lens


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Lens-Reversal Macro Photography

with Ben Long

Video: Gaining aperture control on a reversed lens

If this course is your first foray into real macro shooting, then you might find yourself surprised at just how shallow the depth of field is in a macro shot. When you are into a macro distance and your lens is open all the way, depth of field is often measured in fractions of a millimeter. Now this can cause a tremendous lost of detail across the surface of your subject especially if your subject has any depth. As you saw in the last movie, with the lens reversed, the camera has lost its ability to tell the lens to close down to a particular aperture, which means you're stuck shooting wide open, which means you'll have the least depth of field possible with that lens.

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Lens-Reversal Macro Photography
32m 36s Intermediate Apr 12, 2013

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You don't necessarily need a macro lens to do macro photography. By mounting a prime lens "backward"—with the front elements closest to the imaging sensor—you can turn it into a low-cost macro lens. All you need is an inexpensive adapter called a reversal ring. A sense of adventure helps, too, because your camera's normal metering and focusing features don't work when the lens is attached backward.

In this course, photographer Ben Long details the tools and techniques of lens-reversal macro photography. After investigating reversal ring options, the course explores the focusing and exposure techniques involved when shooting with a reversed lens.

Subjects:
Photography Cameras + Gear
Author:
Ben Long

Gaining aperture control on a reversed lens

If this course is your first foray into real macro shooting, then you might find yourself surprised at just how shallow the depth of field is in a macro shot. When you are into a macro distance and your lens is open all the way, depth of field is often measured in fractions of a millimeter. Now this can cause a tremendous lost of detail across the surface of your subject especially if your subject has any depth. As you saw in the last movie, with the lens reversed, the camera has lost its ability to tell the lens to close down to a particular aperture, which means you're stuck shooting wide open, which means you'll have the least depth of field possible with that lens.

Now if you're using an older lens, you may have an actual aperture ring on the lens. This lets you set the aperture anywhere you want just by turning the ring. Your meter should still work, because as the iris is closing, the amount of light passing through the lens is diminishing and that's reflected in your meter reading. You can then adjust shutter speed accordingly. My lens doesn't have an aperture ring, though. The aperture can only be changed electronically by the camera. But again, when the lens is reversed, which it's not right now, but when it's reversed, the camera cannot send orders to the lens.

However, there is a work around. I have my lens on normally because this workaround starts with the lens being attached properly. What I want to do is set the aperture to where I want it for my reversed shot. So I have my camera in Aperture Priority mode. That's really the only setting that matters right now. It's an Aperture Priority mode and I'm going to dial in an aperture that I want. I'm going for deep depth of field. So I'm going to choose a small aperture and dial in F16. My lens is still wide open because the aperture is not going to close down until I press that Shutter button or until I press the Depth of Field Preview button.

Now the Depth of Field Preview button closes the iris down. It just happened, I heard a little sound, but it doesn't actually take a picture. The idea is this lets me look through the lens and get a preview of what the depth of field might be. It also tremendously darkens the View Finder. So sometimes it's hard to actually see the depth of field. But in many cases, this is really a handy feature. We're using it for something else right now though. I'm going to press the Depth of Field Preview button with this finger over here. I just heard the iris close. Now I'm going to take the lens off and when I do that, the iris stays closed to F16.

If you actually look into the lens, you can see that the iris is closed down to a little small hole. It's going to stay that way until I reattach the lens to the camera properly. But I'm not going to attach the lens to the camera properly. I'm going to screw it on backwards, because I've got my reversal ring already attached and now I'm shooting at F16. So my meter still works in Manual mode. I'm switching back over the Manual mode. I'm in ISO 1600. Now right away, I've run into a problem. My View Finder is really, really dark because the aperture is closed down so far and I don't have a tremendous amount of light coming through my nice afternoon window here.

But I'm going to see what my meter says if I dial my shutter speed properly. So to get good metering, it's saying a 1/3rd of a second. Honestly, I don't think I can handhold at a 1/3rd of a second steadily enough to get a nice sharp image. I'm going to bump my ISO up to 3200, but that's only going to buy me a stop and sure enough, that is now metering at the sixth of the second. So I think that my hope of shooting at F16 just isn't going to happen in this situation.

So I'm going to open it back up again. Now I have no way of opening it back up again while the lens is attached this way, so I'm going to detach it, put it back on normally and when I do, I should hear, there we go, little aperture just opened up again. So I'm back into aperture priority. I'm going to dial it down to F8. Press my Depth of Field Preview button; take the lens off and sure enough, now I have a wider aperture than I had before, it's open a couple of stops, so now I can put the lens back on and see what my meter says now.

I'm still at ISO 3200, back into Manual mode and the View Finder is definitely brighter. Now when I meter, it's recommending a shutter speed of a 20th of a second. That's pretty good. My lens isn't stabilized and I'm in real, real tight. So that's still going to be a difficult hand holding situation. But I'm going to go ahead and take my shot and see what I come up with; it felt a little slow. All right. Reviewing the image, and reviewing the image with a histogram shows me that I've actually got a lot of brightness in this image.

I can't really tell anything useful about focus on the back of the camera. I don't know if my focus was soft. I can zoom in a little bit. It looks pretty good actually. That was kind of amazing to handhold that well, at that shutter speed. Anyway, I definitely have more depth of field. This looks much better than when it was wide open. But because I've got all this brightness that I don't need, I'm going to actually underexpose the shot. That will give me a better chance of shooting a sharp image. So I'm going to come back in here again and I'm going to dial my Shutter Speed to a 40th of a second.

When I do that, it shows me as under-exposed by one stop. But I'm figuring if that's too much under-exposure, I've got room to brighten it up in my image editor. So I am not going to worry about that, and it's going to greatly improve the chances of me having a sharp image. And actually, still that exposure looks good at least on here and when I check the histogram, I find that nothing is under-exposed. My tones are on the whole a little bit below the midpoint, below middle gray. I can brighten that up without introducing any bad artifacts.

So very often, I think you'll find that you're going to want to maybe underexpose a little bit to keep your Shutter Speed up with the idea that you'll brighten it up later in post. If you're working in bright daylight, you don't really have near the trouble that I'm having here because you're going to have enough light to keep your shutter speeds up. But this means that I now have a true macro lens with aperture control by doing nothing more than attaching a reversal ring and understanding that I can, through this kind of weird hack, manually adjust the aperture. It takes some practice to remember all the steps, but this is a very efficient, very practical way of shooting macro shots.

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