Is a Macro Lens needed for Macro Photography?

You want to do some macro photography (taking photos of very little things up-close) but you don’t have a bunch of money to spend on a macro lens. Not to worry. There are a few different ways to achieve excellent macro photography with your standard kit lens with an inexpensive adapter you can buy online for around $20 or there is a trick where you can do it for free!

What is a macro lens?

A macro lens just means that your lens can focus on things that are very close to the front of the lens so it will look bigger in your photo. Most lenses have a minimum focus distance of 10 inches or more, and you can’t focus on anything that is closer than that…and if you can’t get closer to your subject, it won’t look bigger in your photo.
*the minimum distance on a Canon 18-55mm kit lens is 11 inches. The Canon 50mm f/1.8 it’s 18 inches.

How do make my regular kit lens a macro lens?

If you can extend the distance between your lens and your camera sensor it will turn any lens into a macro lens.  Yup, you heard me right…all you have to do is put some distance between your lens and your camera.  You can do this with an adapter called a “extension tube”. It’s basically just a hollow tube with a camera mount on one side and the lens mount on the other side allowing you to extend the distance between your lens and the sensor inside your camera. It only needs to be extended about 1 inch or so.  You can buy them on Amazon for as little as $12.50.  Fotodiox makes a very basic version that works.

Once you extend the distance between your lens and your camera, you will notice that you can get things into focus that are only 1-2 inches away from the front of your lens!  This means they will be larger and more clear in your photo. Set your camera to “aperture priority”, find something cool to photograph and start clicking away. Remember you won’t have auto focus, so just move your camera back and fourth until your subject comes in focus.

Is there a way to do this without an extension tube?

There is another way you can take up-close macro photos with your standard kit lens.  All you have to do is take your lens off your camera body, flip it around and hold the front of the lens tight against the body of the camera.

You obviously have to use both hands as the lens won’t attach to your camera backwards…but if you do this and look through your view finder, you will notice that things will come in focus about 2-4 inches away from your lens, and they will look HUGE.  If you can hold your lens tight enough to the front of your camera, you can take macro photos right now!  Just a FYI, if you put the lens to 18mm you will get a larger image then if you set the lens to 55mm.  They also sell a “Macro Reverse Ring Camera Mount Adapter” for $7.50 that screws into the front threads of your lens, and then mounts your lens backwards onto your camera body.  Remember to buy the right size for your lens.  A Canon 18-55mm kit lens requires a 58mm filter, where as the Canon 50mm has a 52mm front thread.

It works!! Do you have any other tips for shooting macro photos?

Tips and hints (as a rule of thumb):

  • you will need more light when shooting macro photography.
  • you will have a very shallow depth of field when shooting macro photography.
  • it’s easiest to focus on the subject by moving the camera back and fourth until your subject comes in focus. “Live Mode” or viewing the camera image on the screen is great for doing this.
  • when you disconnect your camera and lens, they can no longer “talk” to each other so you’ll lose the ability to auto-focus, and control your aperture. Your camera will default to it’s most open aperture setting. There is a way to “trick” your lens into keeping a tighter aperture, but more about that later.

You will find several photos like the one above that I have taken using these methods at

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