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Thread: Macro Flash

  1. #1
    John C's Avatar
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    Macro Flash

    I am considering obtaining a flash to support my macro photography. By using a flash, I could take photos in less than ideal lighting and possibly have more options for composition. I will be mostly photographing flowers, insects, and similar targets outdoors. The choices seem to be a:
    • Ringlight (LED - not really a flash)
    • Ring flash (actual flash)
    • Twin flash

    Does anyone here have experience using these? Your comments are welcome. I would like to hear about pros and cons.

    From what I can tell, the ringlights have two variable brightness LEDs that surround the lens in a circle (2 semi-circles actually). I wonder if it has the necessary brightness. The ring flash is more or less the same setup with a pair of flashes. The twin flash has two independently mounted flashes that attach to the end of the lens and have the ability to be pointed and moved closer and farther. Of course, this setup is heavier and might look a little odd to any onlookers. The twin flashes are also about twice the price of the ring flash.

    Echinocereus triglochidiatus blossom.jpg

    This is a recent photo taken in Colorado of a cactus blossom. It was taken with a Sony 50mm macro lens.

    echinocereus-triglochidiatus-blossom.jpg
    Last edited by Dave Humphries; 12th August 2009 at 06:09 PM. Reason: add image inline

  2. #2

    Re: Macro Flash

    Hi John

    I'm no expert - only recently got into macro work myself - but I hope I can throw a few useful thoughts your way.

    Most of the macro shooters on a forum that I frequent (here ) use a diffused flashgun mounted off-camera by means of a bracket, rather than a specialist flash, so it's not necessary to have a ringflash. Handy if you already have a 'normal' flash, or may want to use flash for other types of photography without having to buy another unit.

    Many people say that the standard ringflash produces light that is "too flat" for nature macros, and I understand that the twin flash (assuming you're referring to something like Canon's MP-E65) not only has a learning curve, but still requires someexperimentation with diffusion to produce the best images. That being said, I will probably buy one of those myself eventually, if I decide to continue with macro

    Some of the homemade brackets and/or home made diffusers look very Heath Robinson, but there's no doubt that excellent results can be achieved with them.

    For some images, and tips, from a user of the twin-flash, take a look at work by Dalentech here and for a standard flash on bracket and home-made diffuser, check out Lord V's work here .

    I went for the 'standard flashgun on a bracket rig' to start with for the sake of cost and am perfectly happy with it - for now

    Here are some of the results:

    flower1
    leaf
    flower2
    flower 3

  3. #3

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    Re: Macro Flash

    I know that some macro wildlife photographers use the macro ring flash with good results and I have thought about getting one. But what worries me is, how strongly built are they? While scrabbling through the woods or stumbling along the cliffs I tend to be rather rough with my photo kit and don't want to have anything fragile with me.

    Much the same goes for the off the camera flash assemblies which may be fine to eventually set up correctly around your flower patch but I'm already carrying a backpack of gear which is far too heavy. And when chasing a bug through the woods I need to be ready for instant action. Just open the tripod legs and shoot.

    So I usually just use the standard pop up camera flash which mostly works OK. Providing I remember to remove the lens hood and keep my hands underneath the lens. And I always close up the flash before moving, just in case I fall over and smash it to pieces. The low power does mean a slightly higher ISO setting sometimes but this usually isn't a problem. And I just want to slightly illuminate those little critters - not fry them!

    A basic external flash unit may work OK but it's more to carry and set up; and far to easy to get tangled up with the undergrowth.

    So I think a lot will depend on exactly what type of macro work you are thinking about and the locations in which you will be working.

  4. #4
    Jim B.'s Avatar
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    Re: Macro Flash

    Geoff,
    I just bought a used MR-14EX ring light.It's pretty sturdy but for the situations you are dealing with I wouldn't bother.Take a look at this:
    http://www.appalachianjourney.com/pa...-and-Dance.pdf
    I have read about people using this technique with good results.It might be worth a try.
    Regards,
    Jim

  5. #5

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    Re: Macro Flash

    I've been contemplating the MR-14 ringlight or the MR-24 twin flash, but after looking at the LED flashlights in the appalachianjourney.com article, I might try them since the relative cost is so much less.

    Thanks for the hint.

  6. #6
    John C's Avatar
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    Re: Macro Flash

    Thanks for the thoughts on macro flash options. Now I have more to consider. I would never have guessed to use a flashlight.

    Gill,
    Your photos are great. I especially like the first flower photo.

    Jim,
    I am looking forward to seeing some macro shots with the new ring light.

  7. #7

    Re: Macro Flash

    Jim: thanks for posting that link - interesting reading (and I so enjoyed looking at the gallery on that site, really whetted my appetite to visit that part of the world). I very much like the idea of using a flashlight to illuminate the background when photographing flowers, not so sure how well it would work for insects when I find I have a lot less time to compose & get the shot. But I'm certainly going to give it a go.

    What do you think of the ringflash?

    Geoff: I don't use a tripod, so I guess that carrying the added bulk of bracket & flash is sort-of equivalent to you carrying your camera on a tripod.

    John: do let us know what you choose and how you get on with it!

  8. #8

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    Re: Macro Flash

    Sunlight may seem more natural but sometimes it just doesn't do what you want:-

    Macro Flash

    These mating Silver-studded Blue butterflies were blowing about in the breeze which made focusing difficult and I was worried about over exposure, plus sneaking up on them while trying to keep at 90 degrees to avoid depth of field loss.

    So I just didn't see that harsh shadow across the male's wings.

    I'm sure that a bit of flash would have avoided that problem. Never mind, a bit of careful dodging will help and I did have other photos which were better.

    I mentioned that flashlight idea on a UK wildlife site that I use and they were very interested. Some photographers there are wondering about making a bracket to attach to their tripod to take a flashlight. One lad suggested that holding the light was what wives were for. But personally, I think that a bit of simple engineering would work out a lot cheaper in the long run than getting a wife.

  9. #9

    Re: Macro Flash

    Quote Originally Posted by Geoff F View Post

    These mating Silver-studded Blue butterflies were blowing about in the breeze which made focusing difficult and I was worried about over exposure, plus sneaking up on them while trying to keep at 90 degrees to avoid depth of field loss.

    So I just didn't see that harsh shadow across the male's wings.
    .
    Shadow or not, that's a lovely shot Geoff!


    One lad suggested that holding the light was what wives were for. But personally, I think that a bit of simple engineering would work out a lot cheaper in the long run than getting a wife.
    I've used my husband as a "voice activated light stand" on occasions ... bless him, he's quite well trained really

  10. #10

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    Re: Macro Flash

    Quote Originally Posted by GillR View Post
    I've used my husband as a "voice activated light stand" on occasions ... bless him, he's quite well trained really
    Oh the humanity!

    Actually, you reminded me of a sign I saw somewhere around town the other day (can't remember where I saw it) ...

    ... "Husband being annoying and getting under your feet? Why not drop him off here at our Husband Creche while you go shopping? The creche is free - all you have to do is pay for his food and drinks"

    Ah - just remembered where I saw it ...

    ... it was outside a pub

  11. #11
    Jim B.'s Avatar
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    Re: Macro Flash

    I haven't had a chance to try out the ring flash yet.Hopefully in the next couple days.I'll post back with my impressions.

  12. #12
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    Re: Macro Flash

    One cheep option I have heard of on another forum (and seen some very nice results from) is to use the pop-up flash and a home-made light guide / diffuser.

    Basically take a standard tetra-pack 1l juice carton (washed) and cut a hole large enough for your pop-up flash in the top where the spout it (was).
    Then cut the bottom off and replace with a tissue paper diffuser.
    When fitted to the camera the end of the carton should be level with the end of the lens hood
    Attach to camera / lens with elastic bands.

  13. #13
    Moderator Dave Humphries's Avatar
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    Re: Macro Flash

    Interesting, if possibly sticky, idea!

    Is that working because the Tetra-pak's have a foil lining which guides the light to the tissue I wonder? If so, I further wonder if the tissue is really necessary, as it will reduce an already none to bright flash.

    Also reduces the chances of getting the 'zoom lens shadow' at the bottom of the shot!

    This idea is growing on me by the minute, I might give it a try.

    Cheers,

  14. #14

    Re: Macro Flash

    Here's a further option for you .... link

    I saw this on a macro forum elsewhere and it does, apparently, work

  15. #15
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    I agree - here's what I use

    Quote Originally Posted by GillR View Post
    Most of the macro shooters on a forum that I frequent (here ) use a diffused flashgun mounted off-camera by means of a bracket, rather than a specialist flash, so it's not necessary to have a ringflash. Handy if you already have a 'normal' flash, or may want to use flash for other types of photography without having to buy another unit.

    I went for the 'standard flashgun on a bracket rig' to start with for the sake of cost and am perfectly happy with it - for now
    I use a standard Canon 550EX flash on a Siegelite articulating bracket with a Lumiquest mini-softbox. This setup gives me very nice soft lighting but, it is not as flat as the lighting from a ringlight.

    The Siegelite articulating bracket is no longer distributed but, you can often obtain one from eBay (at least from eBay USA) at a rather low price. You just have to be patient to find one. When you do, it is usually selling for less than $20 (USD). Shipping to the U.K. should not be a major cost. Note: this is NOT the Siegelite Stratos bracket which is still available new..

    There are Chinese copies of the Lumiquest Mini-Softbox available on eBay. They are very inexpensive and do the job just as well as the OEM version.

    http://cgi.ebay.com/Flash-diffuser-s...d=p3286.c0.m14

    The advantages to my setup are good lighting, inexpensive price and that I use a standard flsh unit which is not dedicated to macro and can fill all my other flash needs.

    BTW: The Siegelite can also be used for off camera flash in normal shooting.

    90mm-tamron-macro-setup.jpg
    001-dragonfly-web.jpg
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by Dave Humphries; 12th August 2009 at 06:11 PM. Reason: fix quote tag and add images inline

  16. #16

    Re: Macro Flash

    I think it depends how close, and at what angle you need to get. I use a Sigma EM-140 ring flash, which is very good for getting as close to the lens as possible. It can lead to rather flat shots, although you can vary the output on each side to simulate side lighting. I also have an STE2 trigger for my Canon 430's and that can produce very interesting lighting, but not so good for macro if you want to get in really close.

  17. #17
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    Re: Macro Flash

    thanks..I will

  18. #18
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    Re: Macro Flash

    I agree with Gill. Many macro photographers avoid ring lights because they create flat lighting and instead use brackets (often home made) to hold a regular flash, with a lot of diffusion, near the end of the lens. My rig uses a bracket similar to this one, but I don't yet have a large diffuser. Instead, I built a diffuser out of a stofen, with foil around the sides, a few extra layers of diffusing material, and paper towel wrapped around the front. It works pretty well, although a larger diffuser would be better. I'll post a few here that I shot with this rig. The discoloration on the eye in the second one is a flash reflection that I darkened in post.

    Macro Flash

    Macro Flash

  19. #19
    Shadowman's Avatar
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    Re: Macro Flash

    I don't have experience with it yet but just purchased the Nikon macro flash set (R1C1) and expect it to arrive this weekend. The unit has two flash heads that can be used attached to the lens or detached and placed at optimal positions. The flash intensity can be adjusted so you have some control over the magnitude of the light. One flash unit costs about $400, the entire kit about $800.

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