Several articles about taking macro shots with an iPhone have been circling the web lately. The first seen here, instructs people to destroy a DVD player and extract the laser’s focusing lens. A second article posed on Make Magazine’s Blog uses the front lens from a disposable camera to achieve a similar result. The results from both methods are impressive. However, I will show you a few much simpler methods which are easier, faster, cheaper, and produce better results!
Don’t ruin that DVD player! The simplest way to shoot macro on your iPhone is with a humble magnifying glass! The penny seen on the left (click it to see the full rez) was taken using this method. Simply hold any magnifying glass (this one would work just fine) over your camera lens and shoot away, no need to take anything apart! The magnification provides a real boost to the 3GS, which has an autofocus lens that allows you to get relatively close to the subject, and older fixed focus models benefit even more. I’ve used this method since the original iPhone to shoot things like boring barcodes, closeups of parts I need and even dangerous wildlife. See the examples below:
Credit Card Magnifier:
If carrying around a full magnifying glass doesn’t suit you, consider getting a credit card sized magnifying reader. You can pick one up at pharmacies and most book stores. I bought mine at Barnes and Noble for less than five dollars. The quality won’t be as high as what you can get from a magnifying glass, but you can’t beat the convenience. Slip it into your wallet or purse and use it any time you want to snap a barcode or get some small text in focus. Amazon sells the one below, an Itoya PL-A Pocketlens for $3.99:
The pictures below were taken using this method. On the left is a dollar bill taken without the lens. The iPhone 3GS simply cannot focus close enough to capture the detail. With the credit card lens (picture taken at the same distance) everything is in (relatively) good focus. It’s the difference between a fuzzy “Huh?” and readable text, and it certainly has it’s uses.
A Drop of Water:
That’s right folks, get huge magnification from just one drop of water! In this case, we are letting the curved surface of a drop of water suspended on the iPhone lens distort the image. The effect can be seen in the images above: strong enlargement and very close focus. The optical quality of a drop of water is not nearly the same as that of manufactured glass, but it does allow you to get much closer and best of all, it;s free. The round bezel that covers the actual camera inside the iPhone (seen below on the left) makes a perfect place to suspend a droplet.
The picture on the right shows the drop from the side. As you can see, it doesn’t need to be very big. A drop that is big enough to provide a roundish curve is all that is needed. Interestingly, the size of the drop controls both the amount of magnification and the minimum focusing distance. A tiny drop, just enough to wet the lens, will not magnify much but it will allow you to get closer to the subject. A huge, ready to drip off drop, on the other hand, will magnify intensely and require you to hold your iPhone steady just a few millimeters above your subject. It will also exaggerate distortion around the edges, providing sharp focus only at the center of the drop. A nice, “medium” sized drop, like the one pictured above on the right, will allow you to take pictures less than an inch away from the lens with out distorting too heavily around the edges.
The result is similar to photographs from a Holga, sharp in the middle and increasingly soft at the edges, as can be observed in the photograph at the beginning of this post. Like any technique, practice makes perfect. The wobbling water over the lens will exaggerate any shaking movements you make while taking a picture. It helps to take the picture in bright daylight so a high shutter speed minimizes this problem. Also, the center of focus will be in the tip of the drop, so be sure to hold the iPhone at an angle such that the drop is well centered on the lens. For those concerned about getting their iPhone wet, use caution and only apply a tiny drop to the lens. I’ve been doing this for quite some time, to no ill effect.
This may not be the most practical method of macro photography, but anyone with a cellphone and a spare drop of water can give it a try! Have a look below for a few more images produced using this method, and don’t forget to click to see the full resolution.