Photo Essay

Photographing the Small


Carlos Bohorquez Nassar called this technique "the poor man's macro." I first came across one of his photographs (ant's behind) using this technique a while back. I tried it, and liked the results. It would be months later when I would pick up my two 50mm lenses again to explore it further.

You need two 50mm f/1.8 lenses. (Other lenses might work. You just need to make sure that they both have the same front opening: 52mm, 67mm, etc.) One lens attached to your camera and the other in front of it, reversed. For most of the shots I used an aperture of f/4.5, except for "Tres" and "Daffodil" where I used a f/1.8 aperture, while the lens that was reversed was always wide open at f/1.8. This was the combination that I liked the most. One thing to note is that the area in focus is extremely narrow, perhaps a few millimeters. Setting different apertures on either lens does not seem to change the area in focus. Rather, what it does is change how much coverage you will get: Notice the dark edges on most of the photographs. That effect was the result of the aperture combination. The only adjustment I made was to light levels. No other adjustments were made.

Follow these simple guidelines:

1.Shoot manually. You are only photographing at one particular distance – about 1-2 centimeters from the end of the reversed lens to your subject. I have an older AF 50mm lens, and the barrel moves as it tries to focus. AF definitely gets in the way.

2.Hold your breath. Having such narrow depth of field makes photographing anything very difficult. You also have to make small movements because your subject quickly moves out of focus even with the slightest movement.

3. Shooting mode. I have used the burst mode a few times, especially when I'm having difficulty achieving focus. Just press the shutter and hold while you move in and out of focus. You might end with a lucky shot.

4. Leave your tripod at home. Setting up these shots with a tripod is almost impossible. It's very difficult to get the right angle, and a tripod will get in the way as you will be making very small adjustments.

5.Be patient. Take breaks as you put a lot of strain on your eyes. I can only do a few minutes at a time. Maintaining focus at only one distance can be exhausting for your eyes, so take lots of breaks..

6.Look for things that are small. You can be limited to what you can photograph. Very small things make for great subjects, though shooting parts of bigger things also works. Patterns and textures are perfect for this technique.

7.Try different angles. What's in focus is determined by the angle you're using. Again, a small adjustment to the angle you're shooting will have a great effect on what is in focus and out of focus. You can almost achieve a fisheye lens effect when shooting at about a 20° degree angle.

Have fun.

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15 responses

  • jen bellefleur

    jen bellefleur gave props (25 Apr 2010):

    this is so creative, and the results are inspired, like the most beautiful wrapping papers....

  • Karen Menyhart

    Karen Menyhart gave props (26 Apr 2010):

    cool idea! thanks for sharing, I might try it when I find another 50 mm

  • Lori D'Ambrosio

    Lori D'Ambrosio said (17 May 2010):

    Hello Marco. This is very cool and very creative. Voted.

  • Lon Casler Bixby

    Lon Casler Bixby   said (31 May 2010):

    Very very niiice photos... This technique is sooooo very kewl... I have to try it... thanks for sharing - Voted ;o)

  • Jason Pierce

    Jason Pierce gave props (1 Jun 2010):

    Marco, you have a real talent for macro. These are all incredible.

  • Cristina Pascu

    Cristina Pascu gave props (6 Jul 2010):


  • riverS

    riverS (Deleted) gave props (22 Oct 2010):

    The entire universe. I love this series of photos.

  • Melissa Thorburn

    Melissa Thorburn gave props (27 Oct 2010):

    Hi Marco, loving your works and this informative essay, Well done and keep it up. I too have played a little with this technique, see my images:

  • Rey mos

    Rey mos gave props (27 Oct 2010):

    Congrats for being the Story of the Week #43. Thanks for the tips!

  • nick edell

    nick edell gave props (27 Oct 2010):


  • Debbie Smartt

    Debbie Smartt   gave props (27 Oct 2010):


  • Becky Heeley

    Becky Heeley said (27 Oct 2010):

    Oooh, I'm actually very excited to try this myself now, How fantastic. I think your shots are really interesting. I love stuff like this.Thanks so much for sharing this with us all. Cheers.

  • Penny Nannini

    Penny Nannini   gave props (28 Oct 2010):

    Congratulations Marco!!! This is a great story and the photos are truly amazing! Well done.

  • Anne Olson-Reiners

    Anne Olson-Reiners gave props (29 Oct 2010):

    gracias maestro!

  • Gary Benefield

    Gary Benefield gave props (30 Oct 2010):

    great work ,,definetly want to experiment with this..

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