My Not-So Secret Trick to Taking Swatch Photos

Besides for skincare related questions, the second most common questions I get on Instagram are about photography. I try my best to answer them but it's really hard to give general advice on the topic. Maybe one day I'll do a Q&A photography post because it's much easier to dole out answers to specific questions.

Today's post covers one of those specific questions: how do I take up-close swatch photos?

Answer: with a camera.

But seriously, I use these handy faux macro lenses that I bought for less than $15 off Amazon. That's the not-so-secret secret!

So in today's post, I'll be reviewing the lenses and sharing little tips and pointers on how to use them.

If you're not sure what up-close swatch photos I'm talking about, it's something like thisthis, this, or this.  I'm not sure if they gained popularity over the last year or if I'm just noticing them, but either way there's no doubt about it that swatch photos are hot on Instagram (although I'm not so sure the word hot is still hot.) My favorite accounts for swatch inspiration are @ritualofme and @shutthetouchup-- both of them have beautiful feeds devoted to swatches and textures and other cool shots.

The Basics

The set comes with 4 lenses-- 1x, 2x. 4x, and 10x and retails for $12.99 at the time of this post.

They work with any 52mm lens.

Personally, I use it with a 35mm Nikon lens. And you might be wondering wtf, how can that be, 52mm and 35mm are not the same thing?? That's because those two numbers are two different measurements. It's a little bit confusing but the best way to find out if your lens is compatible or not is to google to see what filter size would work with your lens. This chart covers a lot of common lenses by Nikon, Canon, Sigma, Sony, & more. If it's a 52mm lens, then it will be compatible with this set.

They also have the same set for other lens sizes including 58mm (will work with most of the Canon kit lenses) and 72mm (will work with most of the entry-level Nikon kit lenses.)

How Do They Work

I asked in my Instagram story if people were interested in reading all the physics mumbo jumbo background on how these lenses work and surprisingly the vast majority said yes! But as I started writing it I realized it was too long and overwhelming to include in this blog post (also it brought me horrible flashbacks to high school and college physics—literally my least favorite science classes ever.) I tried explaining it in a way that didn't include any math but that just made things even more confusing. To make a long story short, these lenses are basically screw-on magnifying glasses! So if you wanna know how they work, look up the science of magnifying glasses.

How to Use

The lenses cannot be used by themselves but are instead screwed on top of your normal lens. You can even stack them on top of each other to increase the magnification!

Like I said up above, these work as magnifying lenses. So, they won’t work for objects at a far distance. But they’re perfect for taking up close and personal shots! They work by altering the minimal focus distance.

For instance, have you ever held an object really close to your camera, or even your eye, and noticed that it’s impossible to focus on it? With these magnifier lenses, you can focus on an object even when it’s super close to the lens (aka closer than the near point in science-speak.)

Each magnifier has its corresponding distance range that it will focus on. To make things easier, let’s say my normal lens cannot focus on anything that’s less than 10 inches away from the camera. With the 1x magnifier I can focus on things that are between 8-15 inches away, the 2x magnifier could focus on things 6-10 inches away, the 4x magnifier could focus on things 4-8 inches away, and the 10x magnifier could focus on things 2-5 inches away. (Btw these numbers aren’t real, I’m just using them to explain a point.) So which lens you decide to reach for depends on how far away your subject is from the camera.

Here are some photos I took of a bottle I had on my desk. I didn’t move the subject or my camera when taking these photos. While the lens with the 1x magnifier was able to focus on the mist, it didn't make any difference. And the 10x lens was useless at this distance as it couldn't focus at all. To use the magnifying analogy, it's like using a magnifying glass to look across the room. Everything would look blurry AF.

The next round of photos I took by keeping the subject in the same place, but moving the camera closer and closer each time. The aperture and shutter speed are the same in all the shots. As you can see, I was able to capture more and more detail with each progressive photo and lens.

Manual or Autofocus?

When I initially scanned the reviews of the lenses it said you had to manually focus the lenses, which I found to be false. Of course, you could choose to manually focus, but I’m lazy and prefer autofocus. My autofocus worked seamlessly with all these lenses. If you have no idea wtf I'm talking about, you're probably using autofocus and don't have to worry about this section cause the lenses will work for you 😉


I was honestly shocked at the quality of the lenses when I first received the package. If you’ve ever bought cheap electronics accessories from Amazon and eBay, then you’re probably familiar with the usual level of quality. They’ve got some weight to them and after a few months of semi-regular use they’re still holding up nicely. They were individually wrapped in plastic and then put into a carrying case with a Velcro closure.

Do they feel like the most expensive camera equipment in the world? No, but I can also freely use them without worry of breaking or scratching them. And if I do happen to break or damage one somewhere down the line, it won’t cost an exorbitant amount of money to replace it. I bought mine at the beginning of October so they're on their 4th month of use at this time and I've had 0 issues so far.

Other Uses

I'm boring and have only used these for swatch type shots, but you could shoot all sorts of macro photos with these. Close-ups of flowers, a cake that you baked, your new fuzzy pillow, whatever tickles your fancy. The thing to remember is they're only good for shooting things up close.

So why would anyone ever spend big money on a macro lens?

Quality purposes! While these lenses do perform incredibly well, there's still some distortion around the edges of the photos. Even if I shoot with a f/7.1+ I still have parts of the photo along the edges of the photo that aren't fully crisp and in focus. Of course for my purposes, that's not an issue. I can easily crop it out! I'm only using these photos for digital purposes and usually resize my photos smaller before sharing them anyways. But let's say you're a professional photographer and plan on printing out large photos, at that point, it's probably time to invest in a proper lens. Different macro lenses also offer a variety of magnification factors.

Is it worth it? 

I low key hate this question because everyone has different budgets and buying decisions but yes, to me, it’s worth it! Hazy, out of focus photos is one of my photography pet peeves. These lenses allow me to get crisp and clear textured shots. The quality is solid and the price point is very reasonable.

You could, of course, crop the photo you took with a base lens to get the same frame but all the details won't be there. And depending on your camera quality, the resolution, the ISO etc, the crop might also be really grainy. Here's a comparison: on the left I cropped the photo I took without any sort of magnifying lens and on the right is a photo I took with the 10x magnifying lens on. The results pretty much speak for themselves!

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