Detailed eyes macros on the budget

A while ago, the photographer Suren Manvelyan became famous thanks to its very innovative project about eye macros. I am not into macro photography at all, as it requires an exceptional amount of dedication and commitment, much more than landscape photography for several aspects. Therefore, I wouldn’t have the time for it, beside it’s not even interesting for me. However I was fascinated by this work and I wanted to find out how the photographer did it, as a normal macro lens is not enough to get to this level of magnification required to catch all these eye details.

I already own a Vivitar 105mm A series 1. This incredible lens was manufactured in the ‘7os and even today it’s one of the sharpest lens I have ever owned. I also know that one cheap way to increase the level of magnification of a lens is to use extension tubes. I didn’t want to spend much money for this experiment, so I just browsed on ebay for the cheapest automatic models. I needed an automatic model as at least I need the lens diaphragm to stay fully open during the focusing (which, in case was not clear, is manual). Turned out that the model I bought was broken, so I had to focus at f/16 which wasn’t easy, as almost no light pass through the lens. If I had to buy it again, I would buy a Vivitar AT-22 Automatic Extension Tube Set instead. Another thing I knew already is that at this level of magnification, it would have been VERY hard to keep the model and the camera steady enough for a good shot. a tripod is therefore essential. To help focusing, I also bought a 4 way macro focusing rail slider, which turned out to be very good even if so cheap.

I am sure that Suren built something for the model as well, I have still no clue how he was able to take photos of animals, but unless the model has an enormous amount of patience (like my wife did), it’s needed to find a way to let the model rest their face without moving at all! My setup was FAR from optimal, but I didn’t want to spend too much time on it, so I am sure that with the right amount of time invested, the result would be essentially the same of what Suren achieved.

Anyway, after the first shots, I actually realised that the extensions tubes alone were not enough to get the desired results. I was baffled. The most I could have achieved was this:

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At that point I was about to give up when I remembered that somewhere in my photo gear drawer there was buried a Vivitar MC Tele Converted 2X-22. A 2X teleconverter, as you may know, doubles the focal length of the lens it’s used on. Now my Vivitar 105 was looking like a bazooka! However I immediately realised, doing some random tests, that I would have got the desired final result!

So I quickly mounted the camera on the tripod with the rails and used an off camera flash with a snoot. Finding the right angle for the light was actually as hard as keep the eye on focus. That’s why I say that the original photographer must have created an immutable setup. A setup where camera, model eye and flash actually never need to change or move. Now let me repeat it again, my setup was far from optimal. I just wanted to see I could have got the same results, but I have no interests to copy the project of another photographer.

However now you know how you can get these results on the budget:

Last image is to show how incredible the Pentax K1 Dynamic Range actually is, the original image of one of the photo above is actually this one:

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