Macro Flash Photography

“Shedding Some Light on Macro Flash Photography”

Why use macro flash photography? At close distances your camera can’t get much light. The built in flash is not much help at macro level. We’ll look at ways around this.

There are two ways to use macro flash; Fill flash to fill areas of shadow. Full flash freezes movement giving a higher shutter speed when hand holding the camera. Not to mention being useful under dark cover such as woodlands.

Why your built in flash is failing…

When photographing something like a dragonfly the lens is so close to the insect that it stops a lot of light reaching the camera sensor. If you scale perspectives down to macro level; Your lens is right up close against the subject yet your flash is all that way back on top of the camera body. This is just not a good position to try and get light over the end of the lens onto the insect.

An external flashgun will give more power than a built in flash but it still isn’t in a good position for macro

Macro ring flash

A macro flash ring attempts to overcome the problem of being back behind the lens. It is a ring that fits right on the end of a lens and fires flash from there. It is great for maximum detail. Not so great for creating depth which comes from side lighting. This can be slightly improved by firing only one side of the ring.

If you go down this route I wouldn’t recommend the cheap led flash rings. The circle of light is visible on this ladybird.

So we’ve solved the biggest problem of light not reaching the subject. We can improve this even further though by…

macro flash photography using an led ring light

Getting the flash off the camera

Natural light doesn’t always come full on from the front. Side lighting and back lighting give dramatic images. There’s no reason we can’t recreate this in our macro flash photography. Having an off-camera flashgun means we can move the flashgun wherever we want.

There are brackets to hold flashguns in place.

Manfrotto 330B Macro Bracket Flash Support for 2 Shoe Mount Flash Heads-Black

I use a budget solution; A wireless flash trigger and I simply hold the flashgun in position. This isn’t a problem for me because I’m usually using a tripod therefore have a hand free.

CowboyStudio NPT-04 4 Channel Wireless Trigger for External Speelights with 1 Trigger and 2 Receivers (NPT-04+extra receiver)

This Damselfly was photographed on a dull cloudy day. Sometimes mother nature doesn’t play ball with the light but you’re faced with some wildlife all the same.

macro flash photography using an off camera flashgun

I was pleasantly surprised with the effect when I loaded the image on my computer. It stands up well against some natural back lit shots I’ve took!

With macro flash photography is intense so use a diffuser to soften the flash output. They are cheap plastic covers placed over the flash beam. Anything will do though fabric or some paper.

Some photographers even use a second flash gun. This can be a lot of expense to justify. A great tip is to use a reflector to bounce the light back from the first flash. I use a plamp to hold the reflector in place. You can even make your own reflector with a piece of card covered in tin foil.


Fill or full?

This burnet moth has been filled in with flash. The flash has fired just enough to fill in shadows that the natural light is not illuminating. There is more detail on the underside and color saturation is boosted.

before after

This hawker dragonfly was under dark tree cover and so full flash was needed to provide the majority of light.

macro flash photography using an off camera flashgun

Try it out

Even a budget low power flashgun will work wonders if used off camera. Try placing a plant pot in different lighting situations. Try moving the flashgun into creative positions to mimic sidelight and even make silhouettes.

Use fill in flash to work with the ambient light and fill shadows. For a moving insect or situations with little light use full flash to provide the main light source.

There’s more to read on flash in wildlife photography;

Flashgun – Cut through all of the jargon and discover exactly what to look for when purchasing a flashgun.

Flash Photography Tips – The top flash photography tips that any wildlife photographer must know.