Reverse Lens Macro Photography




About: A Northern Ireland based maker with a propensity to cause trouble and freshly constructed family.

After making the teeny tiny rocket engine I figured I should do this - all the photos were reverse lens macros...

For anybody new to photography, or for the odd macro this is an awesome thing to try, it's tricky to master and very time consuming, or at least I seem to end up really in to it. You get some interesting images and results. 

If you're a person with shaky hands or clumsy you can buy adapters that'll mount the lens on backwards on the bayonet plate, which makes this significantly easier. Same goes for those with little hands. If you plan to do it a lot then get them, though experiment with lens tilt is quite fun too. 

You can read more of my stuff at - my newly renovated website. 

Step 1: You'll Need

Very little to get started. 

A pair of hands 
SLR (I've not had the chance to do this with a mirrorless but I can't see it not working.) 

Your choice of lens is the big thing here, thankfully your kit lens is probably a great starting point. They tend to have a max aperture of no wider than 3.5 on most. That's a good thing here - your aperture will be wide open at all times as the electronics aren't in touch. 

I'm making use of an old canon 28-70 F3.5-4.5  The standard kit lens does well, I just broke mine some time ago, not that I used it much. I say old, the lens is only two months older than me... 

You can use a nifty fifty to good effect with this, but it takes a little practice as the depth of field is so tiny. Using old manual aperture lenses with this is great, sadly I've misplaced the minolta 50mm I'd been playing with... 

Step 2: Camera Settings?

Unless you're using a flash you'll want at least a 1/90th of a second as it can be very hard to keep still, not the scene changing but your focus changing. 

In general I tend to point the lens at the thing up close, while it's on to get a meter of it, your settings should sit about one stop over exposed before turning the lens around. 

You have no control of aperture, leave it wide open while metering. 

Your ISO and your shutter speed are your main controls, if you want you could use flash in a softbox or if you have an external flash handy, off the ceiling or wall/piece of paper are viable options, the entire thing will be in the shadow of the lens if you're using it going straight forward. (Note - a tall flash like a 420EZ with the zoom at its widest will work pointing forward, however newer flashes often don't have manual zoom control) 

Step 3: Focusing and Zooming

You move around to focus, you'll need to be able to get really close to the object. 

Your magnification level is now backwards. 

The higher the focal length the weaker the magnification. 

At first it'll probably be tricky, you'll constantly be surprised by just how close to an object you can (have) to get. 

Below is the broken tip of a drum stick - 22mm reversed at F4.0 - barely intelligible... 

Step 4: Results

Experimenting is key here, I find myself just creeping about my desk with the camera taking pictures some times...

The eye one was both lucky and unlucky - I was going for focus on my eye and got the reflection instead

The bokeh below is far away streetlights with the lens reversed - I wanted a background for something, now used for my desktop

The tines of this fork look surprisingly beat up up close...

Pills just look like pills really... 

The drum stick... 

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    14 Discussions


    4 years ago on Introduction

    I got a 52mm Reverse Macro Ring kit from amazon for my 18-55mm kit lens for Nikon D5100. Firstly it was very hard to capture images, as nothing works automatically, as your camera will become full manual. Switch to manual M mode, check the aperture level, open it to the amount you want to focus, by sticking a small paper, use manual focus and go as much close to your subject. Make sure you have a good external light source. Check few of the pics I took:


    6 years ago on Introduction

    This type of macro is fun, makes you look at everything around you differently. Although you'll pretty much have to buy an adapter or coupler if you want to get good quality pictures from a setup like this.

    Personally I use a lens on the body with a lens reversed at the end of that. You still have all camera controls and metering in-tact. That makes things a little easier...although nearly impossible to hand hold due to long shutter times. I have an instructable about this if you're interested.

    1 reply

    Much as I love doing macros, it's not a large part of my work apart from the odd creative bit so I've just kept to handheld stuff...

    I had a look at your instructable, nice job and great results...


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Did I miss something? How is the lens attached to the camera? I don't see it mentioned anywhere.

    2 replies

    I mentioned adapter rings more than once and explained that I was holding it - against the bayonet plate, the little locking pin makes a great reference point for setting the edge of reversed lens against...

    Daniel ZfQuizicat

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    It's not, you've got to grab the lens and focus it by hand. Photojojo sells some adapt rings for this as a lens ring that makes any lens a telefoto and a macro


    6 years ago on Introduction

    I first did this with an old film Canon rebel and kit lens. Since the aperture was electronic control only, I set it to what I wanted, then took out the battery and removed the lens... I think this generally works. Since then I moved onto digital, because reverse lens is great, but involves a lot of trial and error.

    There are lots of lenses with mechanical aperture control levers. Since you'll be reverse mounting, consider buying a cheap, older lens that could be totally incompatible with your camera, just for reverse lens experimenting. I try to pick up old lenses for $10-$30 on craigslist. Sometimes I have to open them up to clean fungus and copious amounts of internal dust (much easier for fixed focal length lenses), but it is really fun to do that, and a great learning experience.

    Another thing--previously, I only shot indoor with a tripod and custom bright spotlighting on my subjects, or outdoors tripod-free but only on the brightest of summer days. I've seen people get great results with their own handmade flash diffuser rigs, and so I'm trying to build one myself.

    Also--since a lot of my salvaged lens custom reverse-mount housings/adapters are made of hot glue and tape--I like to put plain glass filter between the reverse mounted lens and the camera body, to keep stuff from getting into the camera body.

    1 reply

    I forgot to edit the instructable, I was doing some more stuff yesterday and remembered an important point, you can set the aperture by choosing it and taking the lens off while holding the aperture preview button down.

    I love old lenses, some of the coatings seem to degrade in the coolest ways, always worth trying them without a good cleaning.

    I've done early morning (pre-dawn) dewdrops handheld reverse lens and it was very difficult, I'll admit. The moving subject stuff require's a mount ring really.

    Good tip there - I started with no fear on sensor cleaning and haven't had an incident yet... Though the viewfinder lens is awful to get some dirt off so I'll maybe chop a body cap in to a cover and mount...


    Cool! My Brother did the same, but used two lenses, a telephoto and a macro, taped the end that isn't attached to the camera together, attached the telephoto on to his camera, and did it that way. Never thought of just using one lens though, and just flipping it around... Good job though!

    1 reply
    Phil B

    6 years ago on Introduction

    Somewhere I learned a lens, especially a short focal length lens, can be used to magnify. I used a 35mm wide angle for a film camera as a magnifier to remove splinters from the fingers of family members. I did this for years. In the end it was much less painful than just digging repeatedly in the general area.

    1 reply
    killerjackalopePhil B

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Wow, I thought I was the only one - I get a lot of scalfs and splinters in work and these are my closest magnifiers most of the time.