Macro photography – budget solutions for DSLRs.

In case you’re not considering spending at least 500 Euros for a proper macro lens, I’m going to present you with two cheap alternatives (and also the story of the latest “photo session”).

Since I had to spend the Easter holidays in the rural area, with my parents, I decided to prepare myself for some bug hunting on the hills and forest behind the house.

warning – here starts the boring technical part, skip it in case it doesn’t interest you

– Inversor ring ~ 10 Euros; this will allow you to mount the lens inverted – with the inner end pointed outside – and the normal outer end connected to the camera through the filter’s thread (in this manner, the focal point of the lens is a lot closer to the subject).
– A lens that has a wide aperture/small F number (for the pictures in this post, I used a 50mm lens with 1.8 aperture).
Also, it’s really useful for the lens to have a manual aperture override ring; I’m going to explain shortly the reason for this.

With the lens reversely mounted, it’s clear that the camera has no automatic control whatsoever. So, everything has to be shut on Manual model, PLUS manual control of the focus & aperture.
The focus point is fixed and it has to be achieved by moving the camera closer or farther from the subject.
The aperture gives the depth of field and it can be controlled with the fingers – with the help of the aperture pin indicated below:

If the lens has that aperture ring I was telling you about, then the aperture can be set at a fixed value and changed only occasionally.

The wider aperture opening, the more light is received by the sensor, but the shallower becomes the depth of field.
On the other hand, if the aperture opening is too small, the pictures will turn too black to be usable. So, there’s the need of a fine tuning depending on the illumination, shutter speed and ISO.
Taking into account the number of adjustments that need to be made simultaneously, any other variables like wind and subject movement – can be a “pain in the ema” to overcome.
It sounds complicated, but with a little practice you can get the hang of it and make adjustments from reflex.
To make things simpler, here’s the setting that can be used in bright sunny days: ISO – 400/640; Shutter speed – 200/300; Aperture depending on the results wanted.

Subjects – ordered by the easiness factor in capturing them with this equipment and technique:
1st. Plants and flowers (I can almost hear some of you saying “doh”).
Plants are great because they are not moving (except for the wind induced motion). Flowers are already pretty, so it’s hard not to get a nice macro picture out of them.
2nd. Bees. They are docile insects that don’t fly away as soon as you cast a shadow on them. Combined with flowers there’s a great setup for some really nice pictures.
3rd. Insects caught in spider webs. Here is the advantage of having a more unusual and dramatic scene.

Some general observations and suggestions that I discovered myself during the last getaway:
– Macro photography requires a lot of kneeling or laying on the ground, so chose your clothes carefully (I kind of trashed my favorite hoodie, so I wasn’t too happy with my choice). At the end of a session, the knees and shoes might look like this:

– If you’re alone, try not to head too far into the woods. I got far enough to see deer running scared by my presence. And where’s prey, there are usually predators as well.
Since I realized that, even my own shadow scared the life out of me in a couple of cases (when seen through the lens while leaning for a picture). Also a darn woodpecker managed to do the same when it started knocking hard a nearby tree, in a prior complete silence.
Some other elements gave me chills: too much silence, weird/unidentified noises, wind devils swirling dead leaves when there was almost no general wind situation.
In cases like this you can suddenly become a very religious person.
– How do you make a fast bug stop or slow down, so that you can take the picture? Well, I discovered that some bugs don’t do that good in tall grass; it slows them down considerably. Also, touching a bug (carefully!) can either make it take a defensive stance by stopping completely, or make it curl and play dead in some interesting pose.
– Mating animals don’t care that much about what happens around them. Not even when a too enthusiastic photographer kneels in the water pool and sticks the camera in their eyes.

– Don’t walk the beaten path ’cause you won’t find that many insects interested in being squashed on our roads. Instead, go through valleys, bushes, or even turn some boulders upside down.

Advantages and disadvantages for using this equipment.
Pro: cheap; a rather ok technique which is not too hard to manage after some exercising;
Cons: it might be too difficult for some, with so many things to balance in the same time; the inner side of the lens is being exposed – so you need to be very careful not to damage it; changing the lens in order to take a normal picture takes a lot more time; it takes twice as usual to get the lens connected, so dust is more prone to reach the mirror or the sensor.

Another good solution that I am considering is to buy one of those Point&Shoot cameras that have Super Macro mode, which allows focus in just millimeters away from the lens.
It’s more expensive than the previously described method, but still 5 to 10 times cheaper than buying a good macro lens for a DSLR.
Enjoy the rest of the pictures:


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