Thursday 3 November 2011

Wideangle Macro

[Updated April 2017]

Although the majority of my macro images deliberately show the subject in isolation, often against a clean background, an alternative style of photography that I am also very keen on is wideangle macro. Images taken in this style are able to show the subject in its natural environment and, as such, can be more interesting than other macro styles, in my opinion at least.

Producing wideangle macro images is far from easy. Fisheye or wideangle macro lenses work best as they will often allow very close focusing. The lenses I currently use for this style of photography are the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye and the Tokina 35mm macro lens. Although the maximum magnification of the fisheye lens is not great (approx 0.4x) this is fairly typical of fisheye lenses. The 35mm macro on the other hand is capable of lifesize (1x) reproduction although the field of view is obviously less than the fisheye. A newer lens that became available in 2015 is the Laowa 15mm macro lens. This isn't the easiest lens to use but can produce excellent results. This post provides a review of the lens while this post provides some additional images taken with the lens.

A problem that all of these lenses suffer from, but particularly the fisheye and the Laowa 15mm, is that at maximum magnification the subject will almost be touching the front of the lens, and that's no exaggeration. This also presents a challenge for lighting as the lens will often cast a shadow on the subject, given its close proximity. It is therefore necessary to use a very carefully positioned reflector or an even more carefully positioned flashgun. Finally, because of the ultra wideangle nature of fisheyes you need a very attractive backdrop and one without telegraph poles, benches or other artificial elements, all of which have a habit of creeping into fisheye images.

So, after much experimentation, I've realised that meeting the following conditions will considerably increase the likelihood of taking a successful wideangle macro shot;

1. You need a relatively large insect (because of the lack of magnification), such as a dragonfly or large butterfly if using a fisheye. Smaller insects are possible if using the 35mm of 15mm macro lenses.

2. The insect also needs to be very docile and not likely to fly off when a lens is placed within a centimetre or two of it.

3. You need an attractive setting to form the backdrop of the image. Again, this is particularly true of the fisheye and the Laowa 15mm lens.

4. and you ideally need a deep blue sky because white sky will always tend to overexpose as well as look somewhat insipid. It is very difficult to keep the sky out of wideangle macro images altogether although it can sometimes be done.

So here are a few of my examples, in each case I have indicated the lens that I used;


Blue-Tailed Damselfly (Laowa 15mm macro)

A Marbled White Butterfly (Tokina 35mm macro)

A Brown Hawker Dragonfly (fisheye @ 17mm)

A Brown Lipped Snail (Laowa 15mm)

Blue-Tailed Damselfly (Laowa 15mm macro)

Newly Emerged Four Spotted Chaser Dragonfly (Tokina 35mm macro)

A Common Blue Butterfly (Tokina 35mm macro)

A Fly Agaric in woodland (fisheye @ 10mm)

A Meadow Brown Butterfly (fisheye @ 17mm)

Sulphur Tuft Fungi (fisheye @10mm)

Nomada Bee (Tokina 35mm macro)

Common Darter (Laowa 15mm macro)

Finally, it's worth pointing out that Paul Harcourt Davies and Clay Bolt have published an excellent guide to wideangle macro photography which is available to buy here.


  1. Love that dragonfly shot Matt. Have you ever tried a wide angle prime such as a 20mm with a small extension ring to get the added magnification? I was thinking of trying this kind of setup.

  2. thanks Alex. The problem is that the thinnest extension tube you can get for Canon is 12mm which will tend to move the closest focus point behind the front lens element for many lenses. Nikon may do a thinner tube, I can't recall. I think the Sigma 24mm prime may take a 12mm tube and this is a combination I've thought about buying. Another possibility is the Tokina 35mm macro, which isn't as wideangle but does have a maximum magnification of 1x. So many lenses, so little time :-)

  3. Love these images that show subjects in the context of their environments. Great shooting, Matt!

  4. I'm glad you like them Jeremy, thank you.

  5. Nice images Matt but you have just cost me yet more money. I've had to buy the Pentax 35mm macro (which I'm told the Tokina is a clone of) now :p

  6. sorry about that Neil :-) I'll be interested to see how you get on with that lens as it's one I've also thought of buying.

  7. Hi Matt, great images. I have the tokina 11-16 but the closest focus distance is 30cm unless I stop it right down. Is there a way of adapting this lens to get closer to the subject? Thanks Paul

  8. Hi Paul, The only thing you could try would be to add a thin extension tube. If you're a Canon user I think the thinest you can get is 12mm. However, there is a strong possibility that the minimum focus point will actually be behind the front of the lens. Worth a try though.

  9. Hello Matt,

    I'd like to experiment with this technique in my own photography and was curious as to what you would recommend for herp (reptile and amphibian) field photography.

    I'm somewhat of a beginner in photography, but you can see what I've done here:

    As you can see, most of my shots are limited to the classic "field guide" shot, but I've tried in-habitat shots occasionally. The only problem is that to get the amount of habitat in that I would like, I need to use the standard 18-55mm lens over my 40mm micro, but this minimizes my subjects to much in the photo than what would be ideal in my opinion.

    Would the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye help with this "problem"? What recommendations do you have for me? I have a Nikon D3100, the standard 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 AF-S DX VR Nikkor Zoom Lens, and the Nikon 40mm f/2.8G AF-S DX Micro NIKKOR Lens if that helps at all.


  10. Hi Tristan, in order to prevent the subject becoming too small you need to use a lens with a reasonable degree of magnification. Sometimes adding a thin extension tube can work well by reducing the minimum focus distance, however, I've no way of knowing whether this would work on your 18-55 as I'm not familiar with this lens. The Nikon 40mm should work fairly well on its own as it is capable of 1:1 reproduction (which is presumably more than you would need for herps) and should also show a fairly wide view, similar to my favourite 'wideangle macro' lens, my Tokina 35mm macro lens. The Tokina 10-17mm obviously provides a much wider field of view but lower magnification, although for larger insects and herps it should be ideal. I've only really struggled with this lens when photographing smaller insects. For anything dragonfly size or above it works well, as long as you can get very close to them (a few inches). So, if you're finding that the Nikon 40mm isn't providing enough 'wideangle' then the Tokina 10-17 could work well for you. Hope that helps.

  11. Thanks for the quick reply, Matt! I've also tried this technique with my Nikon 40mm micro, but normally I have to move rather far away from my subject to get everything I want in the shot (especially for the larger native snakes that can be over 5 feet in length) or the background ends up being too out of focus to matter. I'd really just like to take shots like this ( or and better fill the space with my subject while maintaining the background, but it sounds like the Tokina 10-17 would do the trick. Thanks again for your advice/help.

  12. Hi Matt. I own a dx camera and i' ve bumped into your website because I always encounter the same problem when trying to get small animal in their habitat because its the type of photography I do and never been able to achieve what I wanted with my tokina 11- 16, nikon 17-55, nikon 35 mm or nikon 105 mm , so if I understand well I need to get something wide with a vlise focusing distance
    .. Perfect ... I know nikon makes a 40 mm dx macro ... Or the tokina wide angle you recommended .... But lately i' ve been thinking of switching to full frame do you have any lens recommendation in this format ( macro and fisheye ) thanks !

    1. sorry for the slow reply. As a Canon user I'm not really familiar with Nikon lenses, but in terms of other brands you could try the Sigma 15mm fisheye or the new Venus Laowa 15mm wideangle macro...