Simulating Macro with a Normal Lens

Without investing in a macro lens, you can attempt to shoot a macro shot with a normal lens. This can prove to be difficult because of the physical shortcomings of normal lenses, but it can be done.

Step 1 - Find Minimum Focus

Normal lenses cannot focus as close as a macro lens. This is because the elements in a normal lens are all fixed in relation to each other. So when you adjust the focus, all of the glass in the lens moves together either away from or closer to the film plane. In macro lenses, the elements move independently of each other, allowing for a greater focus range. Since your normal lens has its limits, find the closest position where it can still focus the object you want to photograph. Though you may want to get a tighter shot, this is the limit.

Step 2 - Lighting

You may attempt to shoot your subject with natural light. However, this may cause you to open your aperture to a point where the depth of field will not be satisfactory. This is less of a likelihood with normal lenses since you are so far away from the object that you are focusing, but the need for light may still be an issue When shooting with a macro lens, lighting can be difficult due to the minimal space between the camera and the subject. With a normal lens, your minimum focus forces you to keep a good deal of distance. So your options as far as lighting are more available to you. It is still important to use a diffuser to keep the light quality soft. Dramatic shadows and hot spots need to be avoided in such a tight shot.

Step 3 - Exposure

Perhaps you have now lit your scene to an F22. This gives you plenty of depth of field but has led to another problem. When focused all the way in, the barrel of the lens is fully extended. On top of that, the aperture you currently have is a mere pinhole. A normal lens is not designed to handle these settings and some unfortunate side effects begin to take effect.  Diffraction starts to play a part in hazing the image as the extra light starts to bounce around inside the lens. And more importantly, you start to lose exposure. The meter inside your camera will be telling you one thing, but not accounting for the amount of light that you are losing. So you will need to compensate manually. The information on exactly how much to compensate in any given situation can be found in Kodak's Photo Guide. Do not merely guess, the difference could be as great as 2 stops.

Step 4 - Cropping

As was the problem in step 1, you may not be able to get as close to the object as you would like to with your normal lens.  Consider cropping the image later in Photoshop. You will lose some resolution, but at least you get the right frame size.

Simulating a macro effect with a normal lens will never be perfect. There are plently of difficulties you will face in the process, but they can be overcome.

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