Macro photography with reverse lens


Photo taken by Martin Carlsson using a Canon 5D Mark2

Me and my friend Martin Carlsson had one of our nerdy meetings yesterday. We didn’t have a real plan, more then go out for a session but weather was really as dull as it gets and none of us felt really happy about it so Martin came up with this truly excellent idea to try out some extreme macro using the reversed lens technique.

I thought the idea was brilliant, especially in mind that I had my trusty 70mm macro that probably would become like a microscope and what if I turned my 120-300 bigma around? Would that make me see atoms for real? I was pretty sure I would so we made a setup with my Quadra, a bunch of lenses and a VISA card. Mostly because people know what it looks like.

Now, here’s a shot with the Sigma 70mm Macro NOT reversed. You get pretty close by doing nothing, just using it as it’s supposed to be used. This is as close as you get. (and don’t you dare try using those numbers!!!)


Now I reversed it but to my surprise nothing much happened. I didn’t get any closer. hmm. I ran out getting myself a bigger gun. My 70-200mm 2.8 lens. I swong it around and it gave me less then the 70mm, at least at 200m. 70mm looked closer. So I figured that my assumption of more mm was wrong. So I got myself my 17-70. At least I could try and see if wider meant closer.


Sure enough, soon I was traveling over the VISA cards surface and maan was it a beauty. I never thought a piece of plastic could look this beautiful. Close to the same feeling looking at Avatar in 3D for the first time. :D

So if 17mm meant closer what was my next step? The 12-24 (which Martin now tried in the background) was a bit tricky because of the round frontal lens. But I did have something even wider – my 10-20!

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Now, the 17mm was difficult enough to control. Every breath and dare I say heart beat effected my steadiness greatly and things didn’t get easier with the 10-20 at 10mm. It was really tricky, to give you a feeling for how shallow depth of field is I tried to catch the top of one of those small letters on the card.. See how background fades away! Nice bokeh too! :D

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It was EASY to miss, either you got the top, bottom or just a big blur. All depending on who touched the table or walked the floor or if a big bird flew outside my window.

Now, what’s next? All above shots has been taken wide open. I had no idea how to change aperture on a lens that wasn’t mounted but Martin had an idea. By changing the Aperture while mounted he then pressed the “aperture test button” and while holding the button he gently released the lens and oala – aperture was still at wanted f-stop! Now things got even more interesting!

How about Linns face at f8 – f32?

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Or why not some fine salt? (not sea salt or anything huge like that)


Or the landscape of a swedish 20kr bill? And yes, the black part of the image was me not holding the reversed lens perfectly aligned. It wasn’t that easy!

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And finally Martin started staring into a good old light bulb – as if the quadras flashes and strong LED wasn’t enough disturbing. I’m pretty sure Martin took some better shots with his 5D but here’s my only sharp one. Or at least, a bit sharp. Lamp never stood really still and it was terribly hard to take a decent shot.


But I got pretty close! :)

Alright, if you have your own shots to share, then please do! (it’s easy to do when you post a comment).

About Carl Rytterfalk

Welcome to my blog! I'm Carl Rytterfalk, a swedish photographer who loves everything that is interesting in the world of photography. In 2002 I fell in love with the three layered Foveon sensor and has since then been an addicted user of Sigma cameras. Though I use Canon and Nikon as well. :)
This entry was posted in 10-20, 70mm, Canon, Flash, Full size, How to, Sigma Photo Pro, Sigma SD14. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Macro photography with reverse lens

  1. Bob van Ooik says:

    Damn, I see a few lost hours coming up here… Cool stuff!

  2. Here at the office we raced towards the SD14 and SD10 to be first!!
    Awsome shots Carl, that ain’t so easy. So as Bob said… lost hours!

  3. And ofcourse, one of our results. It’s a 2 Euro coin, and in de sharp zone you can spot England on the left, Denmark and the bottom of Sweden! (Coincidence) Apperture 2.8 maybe to tight?

  4. Gary says:

    These are great! You can almost see the epithelial cells on Linn’s face ;)

  5. francisco says:

    Great stuff Carl, in particular your iris picture blew me away!
    I tried a couple of years ago the reverse lens technique with my nikon d70s and an old 50mm nikkor.
    This is what I could get:

    That lens produced extremely soft photos, I suppose I only shot wide open..

  6. Ellen says:

    Hej! Jag hittade din guide i’s forum. Bra grejer du skrev.
    Jag fotar för nuvarande mkt krogvimmel med en D80, det jag gillar med den är att folk får perfekt hud –
    Jag ska nu köpa en D300 med active d lightning och bra ljusförstärkning, vet inte om du har koll på Nikons modeller. Jag har tidigare provat D300, men det jag har problem med är färgerna. Det blir inte bra helt enkelt, färgåtergivningen blir inte riktigt kanon. Något som jag också märkt med lite “nyare” kameramodeller är att det blir mer kontrastrikt, vilket också är något som oroar mig. Vad tror du? Svårt för dig att veta förstås, men tyckte det var värt att fråga ett proffs. Tacksam för svar :)

  7. Ricky says:

    wow… oh… wow…

  8. Hej Ellen,

    Ja, att få rätt färger är ju roligt. :) Och jag har använt D300 lite då och då när jag har behov av högre ISO – du kan få rätt fina färger om du använder dig av RAW – och det är klart, det blir ju lätt lite omständligt om du ska hem och göra om alla bilder i Lightroom eller liknande – men det var faktiskt så jag gjorde när jag var ute i vimlet. Då var det bara RAW som gällde. Jag försökte med JPEG men gav upp. :)

    Kanske D300s skulle kunna vara ett bättre alternativ då du kan filma också. Det skulle jag nog uppskatta. Kanske lite dyr.

    Lycka till!

  9. r4 sdhc says:

    Wow those are awesome photographs and I like all photographs very much.I like macro photography very much.Thank you very much for showing us these beautiful pictures.

  10. VOL_del_MAR says:

    Cool stuff!I make it is with a Helios 44 M 2/58 and Helios 44-2 2/58.
    Weary nice!Only on film..

  11. Amna says:

    This is awesome. But i’m having problem with it – if anyone could help me with it. When I take the lens off the body and hold it in reverse position, my camera does not take any picture with the error ‘lens not attached’ – how are you guys dealing with it? Thanks.
    P.s. I have nikon d5000 with 18-55mm kit lens.

    • Krishanu says:

      @Amna, that is a real possibility. Some cameras do not let you take the photograph if it does not “sense” lens mounted in front of it. I guess you are holding the lens in front of the camera by your hand. Instead of that you might think of buying a reverse lens mounting adapter. I do not know which country you are in, and whether you have access to AMAZON or not. But if you have then please search for a reverse lens mounting adapter. You would like to buy the adapter which has the same thread size as your 18-55 kit lens which is probably either 52mm or 55mm (may be 58mm, I do not know, I am a canon shooter)…..

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