How to Take Macro Photographs Without a Macro Lens

Want to take super closeup shots of little tiny things like insects? Snowflakes? Flowers? How about a burning match?

What's that you say? You don't have a dedicated macro lens? No worries! This guide will show you how you can achieve super macro photos with only an ordinary camera lens. You will need an interchangeable lens system, however; a point-and-shot camera will not work.


  1. Image titled Nikon j1 reverse lens
    REVERSE the camera lens and hold it against the camera body. That's right, I said reverse! By simply flipping the lens around, you now have a macro lens. Neat, huh?
    • This is not without risks, however. You must be extremely careful to not let moisture or dirt get into the camera body. If it is raining or snowing, do not attempt this. You must also be very careful to hold the lens firmly against the camera body and not let either drop.
    • You CAN buy adapters specifically designed to let you mount a reversed lens. They're less than $10 and are highly recommended if you plan to perform this technique often. One side threads onto the filter ring of the lens and the other mounts the camera.
    • Try whatever lenses you have. A 35mm is a good choice. So might a 24mm or a 85mm. Maybe even a zoom lens. However, the lens needs to have an aperture ring or else it may be too difficult to get the correct exposure.
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    Put the camera in manual mode. Manual focus, manual aperture, manual shutter, and manual ISO. The lens is now a 'dumb' lens because the camera body cannot connect and communicate with it, so you will have to perform all these calculations yourself.
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    Hold the lens very steady and experiment with different distances, focus positions, apertures, shutter speeds, etc. If you're not using the adapter, it's easier to set the position of the focus ring and then figure out what distance things will focus at by moving the camera around.
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    Maximize the amount of light. You can experiment with using the flash, but it's best to use natural light.
    • High-end macro lenses have fluorescent bulbs at the end of the lens. In the same spirit as our reverse lens trick, you can try taping little LED flashlights to the lens, pointing away from the camera.
  5. Image titled A sample image taken with the reverse lens technique
    Point it at your subject and start taking some shots. Take as many as possible, in hopes that some will come out right.
    • The major difference to using reversed lenses instead of dedicated macro lenses is that the depth of field (the length in space that can be in focus) will be dramatically smaller. Although it will be trickier to get your subject in focus, you can use this to your advantage because the background will be significantly more blurry, creating excellent isolation and broken effects.


  • With the added requirement of manually setting the aperture, ISO, and shutter speed -- the three pillars of exposure -- you will need to learn how to use these together to achieve the correct exposure. For that, it is recommended that you read Fred Parker's ultimate exposure calculator:
  • The best lenses for this technique are the small telephoto lenses for film cameras from the 70's, 80's, and 90's. These types of lenses were in every photographer's gear bag back then, but now they can be found on eBay for pretty cheap. Also check for fair prices as well.

Things You'll Need

  • Interchangeable-lens camera body, such as a SLR, DSLR, or mirror-less system.
  • A 35mm lens, or thereabouts
  • Steady hands

Article Info

Categories: Merge | Macro Photography