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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.
Normally your camera can do a lot of things automatically including focusing and adjusting shutter speed and aperture. Shutter speed, ISO, white balance and lots of other things are camera functions. They happen in the camera, not in the lens. But focus and aperture are parameters that are controlled within the lens. Your camera controls these in-lens parameters through these electrical contacts v on what is normally at the back of the lens. But because we reversed the lens, the camera has lost contact with the lens.
So when shooting reversed, you'll have no auto focus, normally you have normal control of aperture. However, your light meter will still work, so you won't have to guess at exposure. Now because you've crippled the camera's ability to communicate with its lens, Auto mode, Program mode and Aperture Priority modes will not work. Shutter priority may work fine on your camera, but you probably won't have a usable meter in that mode. So you're going to need to switch to manual. When working at extremely close macro distances, low light will be a problem.
Sometimes your lens will be shading your subject and sometimes just the deep, dark places on your subject, you just won't have a lot of light on them. Also, the lens itself wasn't engineered to work reversed. So it won't be as capable of delivering a lot of light when it's turned around. Right away you know that low light is going to be a problem. With that in mind, I'm going to go ahead and crank up my ISO to 1600. If you don't understand why I did that, check out my course Foundations of Photography: Night and Low Light.
Normally in Manual mode on this camera, this dial changes shutter speed and this dial changes aperture. But I have no aperture control now because the camera can't talk to the lens. In fact on the status display, it's showing my aperture as zero-zero. Now there is no F0 aperture, so this is just the camera's way of saying, I don't know what's up with aperture, you're on your own as far as that goes. But it's saying it very politely, so I don't really take offense at it or anything. But what is my aperture setting? If you've watched my Foundations of Photography: Exposure course, then you have some experience with the depth of field preview button, which may or may not be located right here on your camera.
Remember, normally, the aperture in the lens is open all the way. This is to ensure that you have enough light coming into the view finder to be able to see and compose your shot. If you've set you camera to a small aperture, say f16, doesn't matter. The aperture in your lens is still open all the way so that you can see. When you press the Shutter button, the aperture closes down to whatever aperture setting you've chosen. When the exposure is over, it opens back up so that you can see it again. Of course, all of this happens very quickly. That's great for being able see through the view finder, but with the lens reversed, when we press the Shutter button, there is no way for the camera to tell the lens to close its aperture to any particular setting.
So for now, we are stuck with the aperture open. That means that the only way that I can control exposure is through shutter speed and ISO. On most cameras, your camera's light meter simply tells you in Manual mode whether the things are over or under-exposed at your current setting. So I'm giving up on Depth of Field control right now, but I can still get an image with good overall illumination. I'm here in Manual mode, ISO 1600, I'm going to go ahead and frame up my shot and right now, the meter in my camera in Manual mode is telling me that I'm over-exposed.
Well I was doing some low light shooting earlier and my camera is still set at a 1/6 of a second. So it stands the reason that I'm over-exposed. So I'm going to turn my shutter speed down. I'm turning the knob the wrong way. I'm going to turn my shutter speed down until the meter says, I'm no longer over-exposed. When I do that, I get a shutter speed of a 1/1000 of a second. That's great, because one of the big problems I'm going to face, shooting up close like this is handheld camera shake. So it's nice having that really high speed shutter. That's what ISO 1600 is getting me.
So I can get the shot. This looks pretty good. The problems I'm facing in shooting macro with any kind of lens are depth of field and auto focus. Now I have no aperture control nor do I have auto focus. Focus is easy though. I just moved the camera in and out just like I would with a normal macro lens. Usually, you're going to want to be stabilized both to ensure sharp focus and to just have an easier time framing your shots. So normally I would probably be working on a tripod, although I can do it pretty well here.
The other thing I do to improve focus is to increase depth of field. Now you might be thinking, well I can't increase depth of field because to do that, I would need aperture control. Fortunately for the sake of your images, there is a way that you can take control of aperture when shooting with a reversed lens and we're going to look at that next.
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