Extend yourself…

OK. So you’ve had to stay at home for a while, or at least change your routine behaviour patterns. Me too.
I thought I’d take a moment to describe an occasional photographic style I use for fun. Super duper close-ups. NOTE: These may or may not be ‘macro’ shots. Macro technically means your subject appears at life-size (1:1) on your camera’s sensor.
I don’t like to spend heaps of money so I don’t use an expensive macro lens or bellows (hundreds of dollars). Instead, I bought a set of extension tubes for about $10. If you get inspired and choose to do this, I have given some caveats near the end of the article – things to be aware of before and after you buy. I also bought a lens reverse mount so I can attach my lens to the camera back to front (remember when you used to look through binoculars the wrong way? – OK, maybe not everyone does that…)
I’ve used images below with annotations on them so you can see what I use and how it works.
You will need:
a) a camera with the ability to change lenses and preferably with a screen to view your subject (as opposed to an optical or digital viewfinder)
b) a lens (the one on your camera or a different focal length lens)
c) a set of extension tubes
d) a tripod
e) a ‘subject’
f) patience
I used a Canon 60D Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera for this exercise. I have a ‘Standard’ 50mm fixed focal length (not a zoom) f1.8 lens.
The basics of the set-up for this process are to:
  1. detach the lens from the camera
  2. Attach the mounting component of the extension tubes to the camera
  3. Select which length of extension tube/s you want to use and screw them on (best to start with as few as possible)
  4. Attach the extension tube section to the lens
  5. Attach the extension tube section (with the lens attached) to the camera mount (usually a screw mount)
See the pictures below. The weird-looking thing on the front of the lens is another little extra, nothing to do with shooting super duper close-ups. It’s a step-up ring that allows me to add filters (72mm) to the front of my lens without having to buy a full set of filters for all the different lenses I may use – each with a different filter thread size.
There are 3 extension tube sections but one of them (#1) is part of the lens mount section.
Camera mount is specific to the camera.
Screw the lens mount (or other sections of extension tubes) to the camera mount.
The more extension tubes you use, the larger the image becomes.
Shot taken using the middle section of the extension tubes as well. Toothpicks aren’t so sharp after all!

A few tips and hints:

Do your first shoot indoors with natural light. Flashguns make exposure calculations tricky and wind will make your subject move. You could use a constant light source such as an LED bar or a torch or a lamp. You may need to adjust your white balance if you want correct colours with artificial light.

Prepare for shots with almost NO depth of field (not much in focus). Any small movements will change the part in focus.

Often it’s easier to move the SUBJECT than it is to move the tripod or use the focus ring.

It’s easier to shoot from ABOVE than from the side because you can adjust the height of the tripod (one sliding pole) more easily than its sideways movement (3 rubber feet).

Prepare for the shoot by practising getting the exposure right. This will depend on whether you’re using Speed priority (S or Tv setting) or Aperture priority (A or Av setting).

You’ll find the exposure times are often longer because the extension tubes reduce the amount of light reaching the sensor. Practice by putting the camera flat on a table and adjusting the speed and aperture values whilst watching the internal light meter change up and down.

Be aware that if clouds or sun reduce or increase your natural light, your camera will not automatically adjust for this. The settings you choose are ‘fixed’ until you change them manually.

When using your tripod, any slight movement will affect the clarity of the image (especially THIS close!) so you don’t want to press the shutter button to instantly take the picture. Instead, use the setting that gives you a delay between pressing the shutter and taking the picture. 2 seconds is usually enough. Most recent cameras have this feature. Press the shutter release and take hands away.

Here’s a trick worth exploring (I have done it many times with no ill-effect but I take no responsibility for your equipment if it gets damaged): In order to get the greatest depth of field (most in focus), you need to close the aperture on your lens to its furthest extent. To do this, put the lens on the camera and choose Aperture priority on the dial. Set your aperture to the lens’s smallest hole (e.g. f22). Set your shutter speed to the longest time (e.g. 30 seconds) or just keep the lens cap on. IN THE MIDDLE OF taking a picture, detach the lens from the camera. Its shutter will be closed to a small hole. Now you can use the lens on your extension tubes with the smallest aperture.


  • Be aware that the cheapest extension tubes are fully MANUAL – i.e. they require MANUAL focusing and manual exposure. Some ultra-cheap ones are apparently way too stiff when attached and can’t be removed!
  • Make sure you can manually focus your lens. Surprisingly, some lenses can’t be focused manually! e.g. my Panasonic 12-32mm f3.5 zoom.
  • You’ll need to learn how to change your exposure manually or at least how to adjust either the shutter speed (S) or Aperture (A) to get the correct exposure.
  • If you go ahead with buying some tubes, make sure you buy the ones that suit your camera and lens.
  • Get as solid a tripod as you can.
  • When you’ve finished your shoot, don’t forget to dismantle the extension tubes or you’ll go out for the next shoot with the tubes on and wonder why everything’s blurry!
  • The process WILL frustrate you! Give yourself time to experiment and learn. The slightest movements in any direction can make a mess of your set-up, composition and focus

Go forth and enjoy! Online extension tube sellers will love you.

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