Lighting / Flash

Since most macro photography is done with small apertures to bring in as much depth of field as you can, your natural lighting levels are usually at a minimum. Using flash can become nearly essential to get a good exposure. On-board flash units are not usually of much help in macro photography since the lens is almost always in the way of the flash. Off camera flash, especially those with attached to a bracket can help. A lot of different home-made bracket set-ups are out there, one of the more useful looking ones depend on your lens having a tripod collar which you can invert and attach a flash bracket to, like this one. Other macro photographers tend to navigate to one of two types of flash units made specially for macro photography. The first type, ring flash is as its name suggest, a ring of light that attaches to the front filter threads of your lens. It can have either one or two flash tubes. Many photographer find this type of lighting to look a little flat and stale. This has given rise to the Macro Twin Lite. Both Canon and Nikon manufacture a Twin Lite designed to work with their macro lenses. As seen here with the Canon unit, the lights are placed close to the optical axis of the lens, and can be set independently in lighting ratios of up to 8:1. This can let the photographer adjust them to shape shadows and give the subject depth.  A Nikon unit controls the flash heads wirelessly to make the unit a little less cumbersome. Although very useful, these units can be rather expensive. That is why a number of DIY innovations have popped up. Some quite simple such as using a flash light or a cell phone to light your subject and some a bit strange-looking, but probably effective. One of the most common DIY set-ups I’ve seen involves making a diffuser out of paper towels as shown here, or a sturdier and less flammable set-up theme involves using translucent plastics items as simple as a plastic cup, as seen here. One of the most complex set-ups I’ve seen was made using laser, controllers and a lot of home-made brackets is intended to photograph insects in flight, but to me looks like a studio use only set-up. Nonetheless he has the photos to back it up, and the set-up is here.

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