Or ‘The poor woman’s guide to higher magnification’

macro spider.jpg

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.

Macro 1b Marmite lid

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.


macro caterpillar
Many photos in the book were taken with my ‘Marmite lid lens’, like this one. This cost me much good-natured teasing at my local camera club.


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. Macro 2b Canon innardsThis 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.

macro lenses

The equipment: (left) magnifying glass set in Marmite lid; (middle) the innards of a Canon tele-zoom lens; (right) a Canon 100mm macro lens.

Macro 6a detail
The results… can you tell which ‘lens’ took which photo? (And no, they are not in the same order.) Well, can you?

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!

Macro eggs
Caterpillar eggs taken (a) with the 100mm macro lens only, (b) plus the ‘canon innards’, (c) plus the ‘Marmite lid lens’ on top of that!

macro inverter ringI 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.

macro reverse lensNow 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.


Macro thrips
Thrips are tiny insects that suck plant juice. These are thrip babies! They leave behind black spots (their excreta seen here as brown droplets) and they cause a ‘silvering’ on leaves, where the waxy cuticle has separated from the green epidermis. They can also spread plant diseases.

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.

macro flashSolution: 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.

macro flash beam

That’s it for today, folks! Happy shooting!