Reverse Macro

Through various blogs and social media sources, there have been some spectacular photos of snowflakes circulating the interwebs lately taken with relatively primitive photo equipment by Russian photographer Alexey Kljatov. Check out more of them here:

Three things came to mind when I saw these photographs:

  1. These are absolutely spectacular!
  2. I seriously need to try this — thankfully Edmonton gets a lot of snow.
  3. I know exactly what technique he’s using!

So, the first two points are just anecdotes, but I figured I’d share my knowledge of the third with you here today. The photography technique is called a reverse macro which essentially involves shooting through a camera lens backwards. Here’s the basics of how it’s done:

Step one: take a regular photo

That's a nice looking penny!

That’s a nice looking penny!


When you do a reverse macro, you won’t have any control over the aperture of the lens (because it will be detached from the camera and most modern lenses don’t have manual aperture control on them) so you’ll need to take a couple sample photos of whatever you’re shooting at the smallest possible aperture to ensure your ISO and shutter speed are set correctly. Ensure you have a lot of light on the subject either by using daylight, flash, or even something simple like a desk lamp. For this tutorial, I’m using a penny as the subject.



Step two: hold the lens backward on the camera

But lenses are supposed to work the other way ...

But lenses are supposed to work the other way …

Yup I know what you’re thinking — why does he use an Olympus camera? Answer: because I like them. Let’s get past that.

Eventually I’m going to need to build some sort of rig to mount a backwards lens on my camera body (I’m thinking a modified body cap and a screw mount from a filter or maybe somesort of clamp system) but for now you have to hold it in place. The important things to note are to get it centered on the sensor and to not allow any light in from the sides, so a tight fit is essential. When you look through the eyepiece, make sure you can see light at the end of the tunnel. Another thing to note is because the optics are backwards, so is the lens size. Your wide-angles become ultra-close up telephotos and vice versa. I’m using my standard 12–60 mm in this case and it works quite well.



Step three: shoot the photo


Inanimate objects are probably more comfortable with you getting this close than people are

You’re going to need to get really close to your subject for it to look right. I tried this once taking a photo of an ex-girlfriend’s eyes and nearly stabbed her in the face (note: this is not  the reason we broke up). The key to remember here is that the focus on the lens is essentially usesless so your focus will become physically moving back and forth until you see the image resolve. This is frustrating but the reward is worth it!


And that’s it! Here’s some samples of the penny:

penny1 penny2 penny3