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How to Use Lens Reversing Rings for Macro Photography

Last updated: November 12, 2023 - 9 min read
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Do you want a macro lens but can’t afford it? What if I told you that you can get an attachment to convert your old lens into a macro lens? Yes, it’s called a reversing ring and you can have one for less than 10 US dollars.
We’ll show you how to use it so you can start enjoying macro photography without breaking the bank.

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Which Type of Reversing Ring Is for You

A camera lens beside a reversing ring on white background
There are two main types of reversing rings available for macro photography. The first one is the regular reversing ring which attaches to your camera’s lens mount. And the second option is the coupler ring which connects to another lens instead of the camera itself.
If you want a simple set up, go with the traditional reversing ring. All you have to do is screw it on to the lens mount, and attach the lens backward. Since you reverse the glass, it ends up magnifying the image instead of making it smaller.
To increase your magnification, consider using a coupler ring. It lets you “couple” two lenses together to allow you to zoom in closer to your subject. You start with a lens attached to the camera the usual way. Then you screw on the ring to the lens’ filter thread and attach another lens in reverse.
Before you buy a reversing ring, look at the diameter of the lens you want to use for close-up photography. You can find it somewhere on the lens body next to an O symbol with a line across it.
Some of the most common include 49mm, 52mm, 58mm, and so on. The size of the ring you get has to match that of your lens. Otherwise, it won’t fit.

How to Match a Reversing Ring to the Right Lens

A Nikon dslr camera fitted with reversing rings for macro photography
A reversing ring doesn’t dictate the amount of magnification you get for your pictures. Instead, it all depends on the focal length you use. For instance, an 85mm lens allows you to get closer to your subject as opposed to a 50mm option.
In most situations, a 35 or 50mm is enough for close-up photography. But if you need that extra magnification, then try 85mm or even 100mm. Just keep in mind that the longer the focal length, the lesser amount of light it lets in. So if you decide to use a long lens, make sure that you have plenty of light available.
Also remember that when you install your lens backward, you disable its auto functions. So the only way to adjust the focus and the exposure is by changing the lens itself. So it’s best to use a lens with aperture and focus rings. If your new lens doesn’t have any of those features, try using ones from old film cameras.

Stick to Narrow Apertures for Sharp Focus

A yellow flower with arrows pointing out depth of field for macro photography
Focusing can be tricky when it comes to macro photography. So to lessen your chances of getting blurry results, use a narrow aperture all the time.
You can start with f/5.6 and even go up to f/16 or more. Doing so will increase your depth of field and make it easy for you to keep everything sharp. But beware that even a narrow aperture is not going to remove background blur.
Since you’re so close to your subject, everything behind it is going to be fuzzy no matter which settings you use. So all it really does is help you focus better.
Another factor you need to consider is the amount of light that goes through your lens. A narrow aperture lets in less light than a wide aperture. So you’ll need to either use a slower shutter speed or a higher ISO to compensate for the exposure.
Make sure you don’t go any slower than 1/60th for shutter speed to avoid motion blur. And as for ISO, don’t go any higher than 800 or you’ll end up with a grainy image.

Zoom With Your Feet Since Your Lens Can’t Focus Automatically

A photographer using reversing rin gs for macro photography of flowers
As we mentioned earlier, you can’t rely on your camera to focus the lens automatically for you when using a reversing ring. Since its electronic functions are disabled, you’d have to do it yourself.
Because of your macro lens’ narrow depth of field, you’d have to be a few inches away from your subject to get a sharp photo. Even tiny movements could easily throw it off. And that can be challenging when you have to focus manually.
To lessen your chances of ending up with blurry photos, figure out the focusing distance of your lens. Start by moving your body closer or farther from the subject until it becomes sharp. Now take note of that distance, so you know how far away you need to be next time you take photos.
You also don’t have to move the focus ring every time you take a photo. Twist it all the way to the infinity symbol and inch your way closer to the subject until it’s sharp. Once you reach the correct distance, there’s no need to adjust your lens, anymore.

Bring a Tripod or Monopod for Image Stabilization

A macro shot oof a green plant using reversing rings
Dedicated macro lenses often have image stabilization and autofocus built in. That means, you can handhold your camera and not worry about throwing off the focus even when you’re moving.
But since you’re using a reversing ring, you don’t get to experience those high-tech features. So you’ll have to deal with non-stabilized shots and unreliable focusing. But don’t worry because we have a simple solution.
You can always keep your camera steady by using a tripod. It has all the stability you’ll need to make sure your shots are crisp.
If you want stability but want to move freely, try using a monopod instead. Since it only has one leg instead of three, you get to tilt it in any direction.
You’ll find it useful especially if you need to get closer or farther from the subject to get sharp photos. But at the same time, it offers enough support to prevent camera shake caused by your hands.

Use Burst Mode to Achieve Better Focus

A macro photo of a green leaf shot using burst mode
Another downside of using a reversing ring is that it’s hard to tell whether your subject is in focus. Unlike a DSLR macro lens, it doesn’t turn green or beep to signify that your main point of interest is sharp.
You have to rely on your eyesight alone to ensure you get the shot you want.
Even the tiniest movements can alter the distance between your lens and the subject. As a result, it can throw off your focus and produce blurry results. So to increase your chances of nailing the shot, turn on your Burst Mode.
This feature allows you to keep taking photos as long as your finger is on the shutter button. That way, you know that you can at least get one image that’s not out of focus.
Of course, using Burst Mode is not a foolproof solution to help you achieve sharp images. But since you’re using a reversing ring that doesn’t have auto functions, this technique is going to be your best bet.
You’ll find it especially useful if you’re photographing tiny insects that move a lot or flowers blowing in the wind.

Look for Well Lit Areas to Get the Right Exposure

A macro photo of a wristwatch shot using lens reversing rings
When you shoot at close distances, there’s a danger your lens could cast a shadow on your subject. This can be a problem especially if you’re taking photos with the light source in front or behind you.
So whenever possible, take macro photos with the light source at an angle. That way you can get rid of unappealing shadows and achieve proper exposure. It will also help a lot if you bring extra lights (e.g., flash) to fill in the dark areas in your photo.
Apart from the direction, you should also make sure that your light source is bright enough. The backside of your lens has a smaller glass element than the one in front.
That means it doesn’t let in as much light. So always look for well-lit areas to make sure you get the proper exposure every time.

Use It Indoors First to Get Used to the Limitations of a Reversing Ring

A macro photo of a green car shot using lens reversing rings
A reversing ring is easy to install, but you’ll need some practice to feel comfortable using it. So take some test shots at home before you take it outside. It would help a lot if you learn how to use it with confidence.
The most crucial step is to learn how to focus the lens. At first, you might think it’s broken because everything is blurry even when you think you’re close enough. But take your time and learn to shift your weight until everything’s sharp.
Also feel free to practice using the tripod. Move around while it’s attached to your camera. That way you know how it feels like once you try the technique in real life.
Apart from learning how to focus your lens, you shouldn’t have any issues using it. Once you know how it works, it almost feels like using any other lens. So don’t be intimidated to get your hands on it.


There are many options available to convert your regular lens for macro photography. You can even get extension tubes and bellows if you want. But as far as usability, the reversing ring is still king. It’s small, it’s cheap, and it works well.
Most of all, it doesn’t add weight and length to your lens. And that alone should be enough to convince you to buy it over other attachments out there.

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