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Home photography ideas: Shoot macro with no macro lens, using a reversing ring

Home photography ideas: Shoot macro with no macro lens, using a reversing ring

Reversing rings are seemingly obscure accessories to new photographers, yet they offer a superb level of additional functionality for your existing lenses – they transform a normal lens into a macro lens! 

By attaching a reversing ring onto the filter thread of a standard or moderate wide lens, this can then be mounted on a camera body in the same way as any other compatible optic. The attached lens, which may have no macro function in its standard orientation, can now be used at very close focusing distances, enabling high magnification. 

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This method of capturing close-up images is a great entry point into macro photography. Better still, it also enables photographers who may usually have no use for a dedicated (and expensive) macro optic to capture frame-filling compositions of small subjects at very little extra expense. 

There are, however, some trade-offs that must be addressed when employing a reversing ring. Since the lens mount is no longer in contact with the camera body, the electrical contacts no longer communicate information back and forth.

This means that all autofocus and aperture control functionality is lost – and for this reason it is best to use a lens with a manual aperture ring, which enables exposure and depth-of-field control. This means that you can pick up cheap vintage lenses, which come with an aperture ring as standard.  

This situation requires the photographer to adapt their camera workflow in order to access the full range of composition and exposure possibilities, thereby getting the best images and greatest value out of their reversing ring.

01 Secure the lens

(Image credit: Peter Fenech)

Rather than attaching the ring to the camera body, screw it onto the lens filter thread first and then attach the full setup to the camera. This reduces the chance of an improperly secured lens being broken.

02 Choose shooting mode 

(Image credit: Peter Fenech)

Shoot in aperture priority, program or manual modes; shutter priority will not work, as the camera cannot control the aperture. A or P modes will enable you to set the f-stop and ISO values while the camera controls shutter speed.

03 Activate Live View

(Image credit: Peter Fenech)

If shooting with a DSLR, it is often best to switch to Live View on the back screen instead of using the optical viewfinder since it is more challenging to assess focus, due to the preview size and native image brightness. Mirrorless users have the luxury of using Live View through the electronic viewfinder.

04 Adjust camera position 

(Image credit: Peter Fenech)

Find the closest possible focussing distance by racking out the focus of the lens and moving the camera until focus is achieved. You can then be certain you can access the full range of usable magnifications.

05 Zoom in and focus

(Image credit: Peter Fenech)

Use the camera screen to zoom in on the preview image and slowly focus on the key areas of the subject using the focus ring. Use the lowest focal length for the greatest magnification and the highest to zoom out.   

06 Preset the aperture

(Image credit: Peter Fenech)

Once the composition is set, rotate the aperture ring to the desired setting. It is best to do this last to minimize darkening or noise on the preview image, and you can simply reshoot if an estimated depth of field in step 5 is inaccurate.

Read more:

The best macro lenses in 2020 (opens in new tab): get closer to your subjects than ever before!
Create amazing macro panoramas with your camera (opens in new tab)
Best ringflash (opens in new tab) for macro photography in 2020

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Peter Fenech
Peter Fenech

As the Editor for  Digital Photographer (opens in new tab) magazine, Peter is a specialist in camera tutorials and creative projects to help you get the most out of your camera, lens, tripod, filters, gimbal, lighting and other imaging equipment.


After cutting his teeth working in retail for camera specialists like Jessops, he has spent 11 years as a photography journalist and freelance writer – and he is a Getty Images-registered photographer, to boot.


No matter what you want to shoot, Peter can help you sharpen your skills and elevate your ability, whether it’s taking portraits, capturing landscapes, shooting architecture, creating macro and still life, photographing action… he can help you learn and improve.