Zooming In

April 22, 2007 | 29 Comments

Macro lens – US $400.
Macro shots by reversing a lens – US $7.95.
Leading others to believe a mustard seed is an avocado – Priceless.

Macro photography refers to taking close up pictures (really close up pictures!). The classical definition according to wikipedia is:

..that the image projected on the “film plane” (i.e film or a digital sensor) is the same size as the subject. On 35 mm film (for example), the lens must have the ability to focus on an area at least as small as 24×36 mm, as this is the size of the image on the film. This is known as “life-size magnification” or simply 1:1.

The other day, totally out the blue, B said “Can we buy a macro lens?”. I had shown her some excellent macro pix from here and here, but still I pinched myself, because that’s the last thing I’d have expected from her. The time that I spend capturing the picture in any situation is a much debated (hotly if I may add) topic in our household.

In comes food blogging into our life, and all of a sudden I see a window of opportunity ;-) , fussing over every picture, finding the best lighting conditions, altering the staging ever so slightly, changing the myriad settings in the camera (at least I haven’t started taking pix in RAW…yet) all in the pursuit of the elusive good one. No complaints from B… as she also wants to have the best possible pix for the blog. More importantly, she is the de facto artistic director. Then B started taking more and more of these food pix, and realized that one doesn’t have to spend a long time to take a good pic! I needed something new.

I had read somewhere that prior to macro lenses, photographers (as early as a century ago!) used to tape their lenses in reverse to get very close to a subject. Many links had references to reversing lenses, but I had not paid much attention to it before. So I did what any self-respecting netizen would do and found a very practical and excellent exposition of the technique here.

There are several ways to creating a macro by reversing a lens, such as using an adapter ring or using two lenses back to back, or using a bellows arrangement. The common denominator is that the lens used as the macro should have high aperture (low f-stop) and the mounting assembly should have a male thread to screw the lens. Since I already have two lenses, I assembled them back to back using a macro coupler that I bought from here for $7.95.

These are some of the pix that I have taken in the past few weeks. At the beginning of the post is the solution to last week’s quiz – BROWN MUSTARD. Below are Kalonji and Ajwain. I also posted watercress sprouts here.


Kalonji (Nigella Seed)


Ajwain (Bishop’s Weed)

These pictures were taken with a 18-55 mm on the camera body (set at 55mm) reversed with a 50mm f/1.4 (focus set at infinity). The DOF is very shallow and to mitigate that I used a f/36 and increased the exposure time accordingly.

I might consider buying a bellows and macro rail arrangement to give better control over the focus. Additionally, it is possible to take multiple exposures at varying focal planes and make a composite image. Haven’t experimented with that yet.

Considerations such as lighting, working distance, subject nature, and budget (as these things can be quite pricey!) among other things, weigh into the choice of the lens. There are dedicated macro lenses at different focal lengths available. Since the subject is very close, getting enough light into the lens is always tricky, consequently 100-200 mm focal lengths are becoming popular.

Some claim that it is hard to make a poor macro lens, probably because typically they are fixed focus single element lenses. I’ll keep that in mind when I shop for a dedicated lens. But in the mean time I am going to continue my experimentation with lens-reversal. Will post pics, trials and travails with my experiments. Stay tuned.

- Jai

Additional reading

Macros for Beginners

Making your own macro lens for a buck!


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  1. Sig says:


    BTW, do you have a macro blade too? How did you cut the mustard seed? :)

    with great difficulty!–Jai

  2. musical says:

    Bee n’ Jai:


    its quite belated 1st April fun :) but welcome nevertheless.

    he he, liked the way you cut the avocado, errr……the mustard seeds :)

    if you had posted kalonji, people would have atleast guessed badi elaichi…..both being masalas, it would have given them some solace :-D

    and the take on Citi ad: Priceless :-D

    Have a fantastic weekend.

  3. Dee says:

    Mind blowing and very informative bee and Jai.. looking forward to more interesting pictures

  4. sra says:

    You wicked, wicked people! I’d have said it was a big fat wasp if you’d put up the ajwain for the quiz. I thought the ‘fruit’ you put up was reetha (soap nut, kunkudukai), used to wash the hair, but since this is mostly a food blog, shied away from guessing.

  5. Anonymous says:

    This is superb. Jai you gave some info must say I’ll stay ontrack.

  6. Sreelu says:

    oh my god, never in a million years I would have guessed a mustard seed, great job you guys. next time leave a clue at least to which category a pic belongs too. Now you have raised the bar can’t wait to see whats coming next

    truly priceless !!!

  7. Coffee says:

    hahaha…… that was a good one. :)

  8. Reena says:


  9. sia says:

    amazing picture… i am more amazed to see how u managed to cut that mustard ;) never in my wildest dreams i would have guess it right :)

  10. Cynthia says:

    Jai & Bee,

    Thanks for the info on the lens. I’ll definitely look into some options when I head up North this summer.

  11. jai bee says:

    Glad that ya’ll enjoyed the quiz…it’s going to be hard for me to top that one, the discerning crowd that you are – LOL.

    My goal through this summer with the lens reversal is to be able to take some insect pix in the garden. Will see how that goes. Maybe I’ll throw that into the quiz !

    – Jai

  12. Kanchana says:

    Very cool. I wanna try that.

  13. Pauaprincess says:

    I’ve heard of this, I’ve not seen the results before though. It’s truely mind blowing. I HAVE to try this! Off to the camera shop I go.

  14. Ranjani says:

    jai , please dont mix insects pics & food in the same blog ;) just kidding..cant wait to see them.

  15. Sharmi says:

    that lens has surely done wonders. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was amazed by the pic of Ajwain.

  16. Mythili says:

    You evil minds !!!! May all your dreams fill with Mustard seeds wonly !!! Hmmpphhhh…

    On a serious note – much toooo much. And thanks for sharing the way you took the photo..great info.. I LOVE this site !!!


  17. [...] tsp. baking soda ¼ cup chopped cilantro/spring onion greens 1 tsp salt 2 tsps. lemon juice 1/4 tsp ajwain (bishop’s weed) 1/4 tsp cayenne powder 1/4 tsp cumin [...]

  18. [...] 15 green cardamoms 4 cloves 1/2 tea spoon fennel seeds 1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns 1/4 teaspoon ajwain (bishop’s weed) 1 teaspoon dried ginger powder small (1 inch) piece of cinnamon 1/4 tsp [...]

  19. Chirleia says:

    please somebody tell me where I can buy jack fruit, I have been craving this fruit for many years.
    pleeeeeease tell me,
    God Bless You,
    chirleia :cry:

    the thai store. – b.

  20. [...] A macro shot without a macro lens. Explained here [...]

  21. rajesh says:

    Great macro tips Jai & Bee. Awesome pics too.
    Cant wait to get started, and I dont have the patience to order a coupler, so I am going to glue 2 old filters to make one :) .

    Chirleia, try the asian supermarkets like Ranch 99, SF supermarket or if you are in the Bay area you can even look for them at Albertsons (I have bought it from the Milpitas store)

  22. Pelicano says:

    That is amazing!

  23. [...] Tarla Dalal’s dumpling recipes usually have bishop’s weed / carom (ajwain) in them. They impart a great smoky flavour and aid digestion. Lightly toasted, crushed cumin seeds [...]

  24. [...] is what 21 megapixels (taken in jpg) gets you. Jai used the lens reversal technique with a 90mm tilt shift and a 50mm [...]

  25. [...] you haven’t figured out by now (or from a previous post on camera remotes and another on lens reversal), I like it a bit on the el cheapo side. Some times my ideas are …let’s just say ideas [...]

  26. [...] Macro shot of a Brown Mustard Seed [...]

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