Or ‘The poor woman’s guide to higher magnification’
One day I saw this crab spider on a flower. Then I saw my grandfather’s old magnifying glass lying there, looking at me. “Hmm… I wonder…”
I got my camera, held the magnifying glass in front of the lens and took a picture. The one you see above. Thus began my love for macro photography.
Around that time I also got serious about my insect book. But living on one salary, with three kids, this stay-at-home mom could not afford to invest in expensive camera equipment. So I had to make do with my standard 18-55mm kit lens and… several hacks.
To ensure the magnifying glass sat dead straight over the lens, I mounted it in a Marmite lid (with the centre cut out). Usually I simply held it by hand, like so. When I needed my left hand for something else, I attached it to the kit lens with a wide elastic band. The auto-focus works just fine through this extra monocle.
At some point I ‘upgraded’ my equipment. An old Canon tele-lens, which I had bought secondhand in Singapore ten years before, had turned irreparably moldy. I took it apart brutally, extracted the thick double-lens from its belly, and washed off the offending fungus. This felt more legitimate: at least I was now using bits of photographic equipment!
Eventually I found (for ZAR100 at an SPCA shop!) a working Canon 100mm macro lens. I felt very grown-up now, like a serious photographer… but was it worth the expense? Judge for yourselves.
The equipment: (left) magnifying glass set in Marmite lid; (middle) the innards of a Canon tele-zoom lens; (right) a Canon 100mm macro lens.
The exciting thing was, now I could get even higher magnification by holding one ‘hand-held’ lens in front of the macro lens – or even both together!
I also tried the reverse lens method, another cheap route to macro photography. You can buy a reversing ring, but there are DIY websites that show you how to hack one. I happened to have a spare lens foot (from the butchered tele-lens) and I had an old screw-on UV filter. Epoxy them together, and there you have it.
Now the kit lens can be mounted onto the camera backward, giving it extreme magnifying powers, but also extremely low depth of field. It kind of works, but you can see that even these thrips nymphs below – minute as they are – are only partially in focus.
Insect macro photography (especially of active creatures in shady locations) usually requires a flash. The on-board flash usually works fine. But sometimes, when you get really close to the subject, the rim of the lens gets in the way and casts a shadow. An external flash however overshoots the subject, since you cannot point it down.
Solution: a DIY reflector. Take external flash and find a box-like object that fits snugly over it (I cut up a kids’ juice bottle). Cut a slot into the box at an angle and a hole for the light to shine through, then slide a pocket mirror into the slot and secure it somehow (I used cable ties).
The mirror reflects the beam of light down onto the subject which can be extremely close to the lens.
That’s it for today, folks! Happy shooting!