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Steadyhands
15-01-2009, 8:15am
When you start into Macro Photography you quickly find that light is very important. A lot of your shooting will be done at small apertures like F8-F11 and you'll need some additional lighting. This is when you turn to flash. The type of flash you use and how you balance you flash output with the other camera settings like Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO will affect the look of your Macro shot. There are many types of flashes that can be used in Macro Photography and we will look at each of these briefly here.

What to buy?
So you are going to buy a flash to help with your Macro work - what are you going to buy? I recommend you don't buy a specialised Macro Flash at first. You are more likely to get better use out of a regular flash. You can use the normal flash in other areas of your photography ie Portraiture and also make good use of it for Macro work also. If you then get more serious about your Macro Photography you could then look into the more specialised flash heads such as the Twin Lite and the Ring Lite. Of these two I would be recommending the Twin Lite.

Terms
FEF - Flash Exposure Compensation is a means of altering the output of the flash. It is expressed in positive and negative values. FEC can be used to balance the flash with the natural light to produce a more natural looking shot. Flash Exposure Compensation only affects the flash output and in the Canon system can be set in either the Camera or the Flash. In the automated flash modes the camera will calculate the necessary flash power required and the FEC value is added or subtracted to the calculated value and this new value is then used as the final flash output power.

Pop-up Flash
There is a good chance that your DSLR camera comes with a pop-up flash. This flash can be used in Macro Photography. You will want to look into your manual and check out how to change the FEC. A good place to start is about -2/3 FEC. Take a shot and see how this looks on the screen and on the histogram then adjust as necessary. If your subject is very close to the front of the lens the lens will shade the flash, you will see this in the resulting shot as a arc shaped shadow across the shot. People have used tissues, ping pong balls and many other things to affect the light output of the pop-up flash. There is also the commercially available Gary Fong Puffer Diffuser.

Regular Flash
This is the flash that I would recommend you get first. Why - because you be able to use this with so many other areas of your photography. Again you will need a little -ve FEC to tone down the flash output. There are a very wide range of diffusers available for flashes and a lot of these can be used in Macro Photography. The diffusers soften the light output from the flash and prevent harsh shadows. Some examples are the Stofen Diffusers and the Lumquest Diffusers.

Many of the flash heads available have tilt and swivel features and these can be used to alter the direction and angle of the light. It is not usually possible to use bounce flash in macro work as a lot of the time you will be outdoors. Tabletop work would be the exception to this.

Examples
Canon 580EX II, 430EX II, Nikon SB-400, SB-600, SB-800, SB-900, Sigma EF 530 DG ST, EF 530 DG Super

Off-Camera Flash Connection
This cord attaches to the Camera Hotshoe and the bottom of the Flash. With this you can hold the camera in your right hand and the flash head in your left hand to provide directional lighting. This can be a little hard on the arms after a short while, which leads us to the next item.

Flash Bracket
With a longer macro lens and extension tube setup up it is possible that the subject will be close enough to the from element of the lens that the flash will not light it fully. In this situation you can get a shadow from the lens ruining your shot. This is when a flash bracket can be very useful. The flash bracket will normally mount onto the bottom of the camera and raise the flash up and closer to the front of the lens. The tilt and swivel features are a big help here also. This can make a dramatic difference to your shots are you now have total control over the angle and direction which the light is coming from.

When using a flash bracket with the Canon system you will need an off camera cord to connect the flash to the camera. Alternatively you could use two flashes in Master Slave and the inbuilt trigger system but this become slightly unreliable in full sun light.

Ring Lite
These are often associated with Macro Photography. They consist of a control unit that mounts to the camera hotshoe and the ring lite portion connected via a lead. Some lenses (Canon 180L) require an adapter ring that screws to the front of the lens before the Ring Lite can be clipped on. The Ring Lite has two flash tubes and these are independent. ie you can change the output power of each of them individually. Usually the easiest way to do this is with the Ratio setting. Typically you could set a 4:1 ratio, providing a difference in the output power so some shadows are present.

Ring Lites can product a very flat lighting and setting a ratio can help to prevent this. The Ring Lite is very hard to add an additional diffuser to. There is some diffusion built in but this is often not sufficient. The light from the Ring Lite will always hit the subject very square on and this causes very few shadows, something that can work either for or against you.

Examples
Canon MR-14 EX, Sigma EM-140

Twin Lite
This is an other dedicated Macro flash head. Again you have a control unit on top of the hotshoe and leads to connect to the two independent flash heads. The flash heads on the twin lite can be adjusted in many different ways making it more versatile than the Ring Lite. You can adjust the heads in almost any direction to provide the exact lighting that you require.

In addition there are Stofen diffusers available for the Canon MT-24 Twin Lite or you can also build your own using a variety of materials. I use two Gary Fong Puffer Diffusers held onto the heads with small Velcro tabs. The Puffer Diffusers are designed to mount onto the pop-up flash to provide some diffusion.

Both the Twin Lite and the Ring Lite have Modelling Lights built into them. With the Twin Lite, a Custom Function in the flash can be set to trigger the Modelling Light with a quick double tap of the shutter button. This Modelling Light is then used to assist manual focus.

The Canon MT-24 can fit directly to the Canon 60mm Macro, Canon 100mm Macro, Canon MPE-65mm Macro but does require and adapter to the Canon 180mm L Macro.

It is worth while pointing out that using either a Ring Lite or Twin Lite precludes the use of a lens hood.

Examples
Canon MT-24 EX, Nikon R1 and R1C1

Multi-Flash Setups
It is possible to use multiple flashes in Macro Photography. Your success will depend on the location and subject as these systems can take a little time to setup and get adjusted correctly. In these setups you might have a Twin Lite on the camera and a separate flash head on a stand or even positioned on the ground. The second flash could be used to light the background while the Twin Lite is lighting up the subject. Multi-Flash is easier for Table Top Macro work than outdoor Macro work usually because your outdoor subject is more likely to be mobile.

The Ring Lites and the Twin Lites along with the 580EX can act as Masters in a multi-flash setup. Canon also produce a ST-E2 that acts as the flash controller but has no flash tube. With Nikon cameras this can be done from the camera itself without the need for a flash attached to the hotshoe. This provides wireless off camera flash. The Canon 430EX can only act as a Slave.

Examples
Canon ST-E2

Diffusers
It is easy to get blown out areas from the flash refecting off of a shiny insect body, in some conditions is it almost impossible to remove these. Many insects are very reflective and a Diffuser can be used to reduce or soften the light output from the flash. A larger, diffuse light source is less likely to produce harsh shaddows. The Stofen and Lumiquest Diffusers are commonly available and useful in other areas of photography.

Small Round collapsible Diffusers can also be used to change the natural light hitting the subject. You can you a small white Diffuser to block out the bright midday sun, or reflect more light onto your subject. In a pinch I've often used my hat to shade my subject, but you quickly run out of arms to hold everything.

DIY
Many people make their own diffusers and flash brackets, milk bottles tissues and Aluminium foil are commonly used in home made diffusers. This is one area where you could save a little money. A search on Google will show a wide variety of home made setups.

Conclusion
Mastering the use of flash in Macro Photography will make a huge difference to your shots. A side benefit is that much of what you learn can be applied to other areas of photography ie. Portraiture.

Further Reading
Flash Photography with Canon EOS Cameras (http://photonotes.org/articles/eos-flash/index.html)

saratoga
15-01-2009, 10:28am
Thanks for posting this Greg...very informative.

I'm very new to macro but have been using my SB800 on a bracket off to one side of the camera and hand holding my SB600 off to the other....but yes it's pretty tiring to hold this pose. Think I need to look at getting a bracket that will take both flashes. I use the built in flash solely as a commander for the others.

I have been finding blown highlights a real problem even though the flashes have Stofen diffusers on them. I did some experiments with a little cardboard and tracing paper light box but only suitable for a studio really.

I might post some images of my setup a little later......would be interested to see other peoples setups as well.

cheers

mcdesign
15-01-2009, 10:30am
Many thanks for this Greg, it is just what I needed, I am going to print this out. :th3: Margaret

Steadyhands
15-01-2009, 10:42am
Thanks for posting this Greg...very informative.

I'm very new to macro but have been using my SB800 on a bracket off to one side of the camera and hand holding my SB600 off to the other....but yes it's pretty tiring to hold this pose. Think I need to look at getting a bracket that will take both flashes. I use the built in flash solely as a commander for the others.

I have been finding blown highlights a real problem even though the flashes have Stofen diffusers on them. I did some experiments with a little cardboard and tracing paper light box but only suitable for a studio really.

I might post some images of my setup a little later......would be interested to see other peoples setups as well.

cheers
Happy to help Greg.

That Nikon off camera flash system is far better than Canon's. I've done a few pics also, but haven't uploaded them yet.

The search for the perfect diffuser!


Many thanks for this Greg, it is just what I needed, I am going to print this out. :th3: Margaret
No problems Margaret.

It's a little slanted towards the Canon gear I use and am accustomed too.

B D H
15-01-2009, 3:04pm
Thanks for posting this SH

It's very timely for me as I'm currently trying different things with my 430 EX & DIY diffusers, in pursuit of the perfect macro shot, I may add a ringlite to the toolkit quite soon

I promise, no more questions about your flash techniques LOL

Cheers
Bryan

Steadyhands
15-01-2009, 3:07pm
Thanks for posting this SH

It's very timely for me as I'm currently trying different things with my 430 EX & DIY diffusers, in pursuit of the perfect macro shot, I may add a ringlite to the toolkit quite soon

I promise, no more questions about your flash techniques LOL

Cheers
Bryan
No probs, as away when you have any questions.

Seesee
16-01-2009, 10:42am
From the typing hands of a brilliant macro photographer....great tips Greg, cheers and beers for going to tha tmuch trouble :th3: :food04:

Angel
25-01-2009, 1:59pm
wow, i was going to post a question about macro flashes and this covers everything.
Thank you so much for taking the time to post this up.
Has been very helpful

ccrnkovic
17-09-2010, 9:53pm
Great post - just what i needed to know, thanks

silkdiver
04-11-2010, 6:15pm
This site is brilliant, I keep finding bits about things I am trying to learn ! TYVM for the flash info.

Greeny
13-11-2010, 8:21pm
Many thanks Greg ... great info .. much appreciated :th3:

Batesy
13-02-2011, 9:26pm
thanks time to practice :) very helpful

Batesy

CAP
29-09-2011, 7:12am
Ring Flash versus Ring Lights
Has anyone had experience with the "el-cheapo" LED ring lights?
Appreciate these units may not provide ideal results but any additional lighting when up close and personal in the macro world must be some advantage.
Another reason for asking is that the ring lights are constant output so my thinking is that this may help with focussing and exposure settings etc.
Are these units in anyway worthwhile or simply a gimmick and a waste of money?

Bennymiata
29-09-2011, 1:00pm
I don't have an LED ring light, but I do have an LED video light which I use for chasing insects at night, and I mount it on a metal bracket which is screwed to the tripod mount of the camera.
It does a very good job, but obviously, is only good in my case as a side light.
I've seen some ring lights for reasonable money out there and have been tempted to buy one.
I also have a ring flash which works very well, and it only cost me around $120 from Dino Direct.
I also got the video light from Dino, and I thik it cost me around $50.
THis site has all sorts of cheap photographic goodies, so much so, that you could literally spend hours trolling through all the stuff.

Nicalum
16-01-2012, 11:47am
The How To that I'm after. Thanks a lot Greg!