Monday, September 10, 2018

Should We Teach the "Rules" of Photography to Beginners?

The other day my friend, Bill, sent me this article - 5 Rules in Macro Photography and When to Break Them. I have been doing a bit of macro work lately, so he decided to share the article. He sent it to me via Facebook Messenger and, after I read thru it, we had a brief discussion about it. The article, and discussion, lead me to writing this blog post. I have seen countless articles with the same message - "here are the rules, you should always follow them unless you should break them." There is always an exception to the rule and, in photography, there seem to be more exceptions than rules.
To consult the rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the law of gravitation before going for a walk. – Edward Weston
This is one of my favorite quotes and I think it is appropriate here. I'm not saying that the "rules" aren't important - they are, to an extent - but I am wondering about when they should be taught. I have seen many photographs that were technically spectacular and, yet, dull and lifeless. When I say "technically spectacular" I mean they followed the rules. I know, part of the rule is knowing when to break it but do most photographers learn this second part? When do you start to teach them to break the rules? Should we call them something other than "rules"?
The photographs that excite me are photographs that say something in a new manner; not for the sake of being different, but ones that are different because the individual is different and the individual expresses himself. - Harry Callahan
Bill and I came to an agreement that the rules should be taught but later in a photographers development cycle and maybe not be called rules at all. I think if we teach how someone looks at a photograph, how the eyes scan and are drawn to certain things, how the relationship between light and dark works; then the student will simultaneously learn the rules and the exceptions. They will know the "why" which is far more important than the "what", in my opinion anyway. Photography, after all, is art - right? Art is a means of self-expression and who is to tell us how to express ourselves?
I don’t think there’s any such thing as teaching people photography, other than influencing them a little. People have to be their own learners. They have to have a certain talent. – Imogen Cunningham
It's all about capturing a moment in time as witnessed by the photographer. We all see things differently and every scene means something different to us. I have met some photographers who are very much into following rules and the "technical" aspect of photography; their work is nice but can be a bit boring. I had one lament about how lazy and stupid some people were because they didn't know how to read a histogram! I told him that I didn't always consult the histogram when I was out shooting and he became insulting. I ended the conversation when I asked him about consulting the histogram when you shoot film.... So, am I saying that we should throw caution to the wind and not learn the "rules" of composition? No, not really. I just think that maybe we should de-emphasize them or teach them a different way. The word "rule" implies rigidity and we should be emphasizing creativity. I know, there are times when the rules much absolutely be followed, without exception. Sure, there are disciplines within photography where certain rules must be followed but I am talking about those learning the craft; there is plenty of time for specializing.
You don't make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved. - Ansel Adams
I think this is a good place to end. What do you think about teaching the rules to beginner photographers? Are you a teacher? What is your approach? I would love to hear your thoughts - leave me a comment below.

Until next time, get out, enjoy nature and break a few rules!

Monday, August 27, 2018

Equipment Review: Vello Macrofier for Canon EOS (UPDATED!)

Vello Macrofier

This review is not sponsored, nor is it commissioned by the manufacturer. I requested, and received, the equipment for the purpose of producing a review on my YouTube channel - you can check out the review here.

What is it?

The Macrofier is a third-party lens accessory made by Vello ( for use with the Canon EF/EF-S lens systems. It can be be used as a set of automatic extension tubes or a lens reverse-mount system; both are a means of achieving macro photography with non-macro lenses or to achieve greater magnification with macro lenses1.

When you reverse-mount the lens you can get incredibly close, as you can see in the first image. This is a Canon 18-135mm EF-S lens reverse-mounted. The inscription on the lens states the closest focusing distance is 1.5 feet (.45 meters) but with the lens reversed I am just an inch or so away. Extension tubes work in the same way - by moving the lens away from the camera body you can achieve closer focus.

First Impression

When I opened the box I wasn't quite sure what to expect - I had seen the product photos on B&H and the Vello website but, often, the product doesn't necessary live up to it's "image." I was pleasantly surprised to find it was exactly what I saw in the pictures. It appeared to be well-made and sturdy. It comes with seven (7) adapter rings (52 mm, 58 mm, 62 mm, 67 mm, 72 mm, 77 mm, 82mm) to fit just about any lens you may have. The Macrofier, itself, is packaged in a bubble-wrap bag inside the box. The one thing I noticed was that there were now caps for the device - this isn't a big deal but I was a little surprised. I just ordered a body cap and lens cap to put on it when it is stored in my bag. The rings are solid and flat - I mention that because I have purchased other adapter rings in the past that were not quite flat and were difficult to use.

In The Field

Extension Tubes

I looked in the owner guide and website but could not find a definitive answer to the question - How much extension do you get? I was able to find a review on the B&H website where a reviewer reported that, by his calculations, it is about 35mm. Using the Macrofier as a set of extension tubes couldn't be easier - using the threaded ends, you just screw the two halves together, mount one end on the camera body and the lens on the other end. You can also mount the Macrofier on the lens, then mount the assembly on the camera - doesn't really matter. When using extension tubes, you can (probably) get away with hand-holding but I would suggest using a tripod whenever possible. Macro photography produces notoriously shallow depth of field and trying to hold steady is difficult, at best. That said, I have successfully hand-held with the extension tubes.


For me, this is where the fun really begins and you will definitely want to use a tripod. To use the Macrofier to reverse-mount your lens, the two parts have to be separated. Mount the one end on the camera body, screw the appropriate adapter ring onto the half attached to the camera, screw the lens onto the adapter and, finally, attached the second half of the Macrofier to the back end of the lens. This will allow you to work incredibly close to your subject - depending upon the lens. You can see in the initial image that I am about an inch (or less) from the mushroom which will give you more of an "abstract" image, as shown in the image to the left. Working outside at this magnification can be more than a bit tricky because you are battling the elements. Your depth of field is virtually non-existent and so even the slightest movement will kill the image; it took a while for this mushroom to stop moving despite a nearly imperceivable breeze.

I set up a light tent in my studio to do some macro work. You can read more about this session here - Equipment Review: Vello Macrofier for Canon EOS. Working under studio conditions is much easier because you have full control over everything and can take a long as you need to set up and execute a shot.

Final Thoughts

If you have been wanting to get into macro photography and couldn't justify the cost of the macro lens, spend $99.95 and buy a Macrofier. I promise that you will be happy with your decision. I am very happy with the Macrofier and have a lot of work planned for it. The auto-focus works, though it can be difficult at times which is a function of the lens, and the auto-exposure is good, too. It is well-made, solid and ridiculously easy to use. The only "negative" thing I can say is that I am upset that I didn't get one years ago! Yes, I mean that. I have been wanting a true macro lens for quite a while but the price made them a low-priority. I would, still, like to have a true macro lens (or two) some day but for the foreseeable future the Macrofier is all that I need.

I have also used some of my older Canon FD lenses - everything is manual but works just as well. I am able to do this because I bought a lens attachment a few years ago that allows me to mount my FD lenses on my EOS Rebel T3i.

If you own a Nikon, or other brand, you cannot use the Macrofier as-is; it is only available for Canon EOS line of cameras. If you do own a different brand, you may want to buy a Canon-to-brand X adapter which should allow you to use the Macrofier as a reverse-mount device - you would need two (2) adapters to use it as an extension tube. If you do this, you do so at your own risk - I have not tested this, nor have I found evidence of anyone else doing it. I have no idea if it will work but, in theory, it should.

For More Information & Where To Buy

So, there you have it. If you would like more information on the Vello Macrofier, you can check out their website - click here. While you are there, check out the other accessories that Vello makes, including their "lens adapters" that may allow you to use the Macrofier with your other brand, as described above.

You can also check it out, and purchase it, at B&H Photo - click here.


After I wrote this review I recorded a YouTube review, at one point demonstrating the Macrofier. I experienced a bit of trouble mounting and removing the device from the camera. I later discovered that a screw was loose and the head was slightly above the service of the mounting plate. I was able to secure it and it seems to be okay. I reported this to the manufacturer and asked if this was a common complaint - the response was that this was the first instance they had heard of. They offered to replace the device with a new one - since I was able to tighten the screw myself I declined, in part because I want to see if it happens again.

I believe this to be an isolated incident and it in no way changes my overall opinion or recommendation of the Macrofier. The YouTube review can be seen here -

All photos are copyright Joseph S. Valencia All Rights Reserved They may not be used in any way without express written permission of the photographer. If you wish to use any of the photos you may contact the photographer at

End Notes

  1. I have not tested this equipment with "macro" lenses and have no first-hand knowledge of their performance with this accessory.