The Secret to Good Macro Lighting
Macro photographers need superb lighting, there's no getting around it. Good diffused lighting is essential for highly reflective subjects. The bigger the face of the diffuser and the closer to the subject, the more lovely the light. If the flash head is too close to the diffuser surface you will get hot spots and uneven lighting. Line your diffusers with foil to help bounce the light around in there and even it out. Some like to pack tissue or other similar material inside but I don't like to lose too much light and leave mine empty. Most importantly: Experiment! The best macro lighting is the one that gives you results you're happy with.
A Pictorial History of Deb Yarrow's Photographic Equipment & DIY Macro Lighting
Macronuts loooooove DIY lighting hacks and I'm no exception. Here is a lovely history of my macro journey from the very basic to the very latest.
NOVEMBER 7 2017
My Macro Gear
I get requests all the time asking about the gear I use but I really believe it makes very little difference to the quality of a macro photo. Camera bodies and lenses are just a tool one can utilise to capture the type of image you want to produce. Quality of light is by far the most important aspect of photography no matter the style you choose to pursue.
However, for the gear heads, here is an outline: I use a dedicated macro setup consisting of a Sony a7r mark I with a Canon MP-E 65mm macro lens attached via adapter and a Sony twin head flash.
Camera Body: I chose the Sony a7r for the full frame sensor, the price (it was a lot cheaper back then), the electronic viewfinder (Instant capture feedback right in the eyeball!), the compact mirrorless size and because it's a leader in modern camera technology. I'm going to mention the EVF again (electronic viewfinder) because it's one of the best tools a field macro shooter can have. It allows for an instant review of each shot which is really handy when you have finally got your bug in position and the slightest movement can ruin a setup. In other words you don't have to break your pose to look at the back of the camera to make sure you've got a shot that works. Couple the EVF with focus peaking and your job becomes that much easier.
Lens: I chose the Canon MP-E 65mm macro lens because all I want to shoot is the magical world of insects in the zoom range of 1-5x magnification. I am usually in the mid range at 3x mag or full mag and very seldom at the 1x end of the scale. If an insect is too large (dragonfly, butterfly, stick insect etc) too bad, I'm not interested. I have no interest in auto focus or infinity. Ever. Just give me tiny things right in my face. Canon is the only maker of a lens like this too and while I can make a setup that gives awesome magnification with tubes or diopters, I wouldn't have the zoom ability of this lens.
Lens Adapter: I am using a Metabones adapter at the moment but I've also used a Viltrox adapter quite successfully. The reason I changed adapters was because of a connection issue I was having with the lens. The camera would lose the f-number reading and show me an f stop of F-- and the shutter would not fire. This would happen frequently while I was shooting and became extremely annoying and I lost many opportunities because of it. Both adapters had this issue and it wasn't until I removed the tripod ring from the lens that it went away. I am speculating that the tripod mount ring was putting pressure on a critical part of the lens electronics and that's why I was getting an error. Issue resolved. For my purposes I think any adapter that works with the camera's electronics is adequate - it's that EVF exposure review I've come to depend upon!
Flash: I chose the Sony twin flash because it has two flash heads for lighting angle diversity and it was cheaper than the Canon twin flash. It doesn't fit the a7r without an adapter which is it's only con for me. When it dies I will find a flash that fits, brand doesn't matter, it just has to be reliable and good quality, like the Sony flash.
Hopefully this answers all your questions and if you scroll down through my DIY macro lighting posts, you will see some photos of my gear including the latest setup (before I removed the tripod mount ring).
FEBRUARY 08, 2016
Mini Softbox Diffusers
I've decided to go back to flat diffusers for the time being since the concave diffusers were just a little too cumbersome for my liking - too big to fit comfortably in my bag and the mount was not refined enough to put up with my rough handling and kept coming apart. I also found I was getting some unexplained flare in the corners of my images even with my ginormous home-made lens hood (also pictured below). These problems are worth addressing because the concave diffusers were extremely nice for lighting extra reflective subjects. So for now this is the latest incarnation of my mini softbox diffusers and it's been the most hardy and compact build I've tried so far. You can download a pdf plan here that's split into two A4 pages with rego marks for easy printing and assembly if you're keen on making your own.
JULY 20, 2015
A Slight Modification to the Sony Macro Twin Flash Concave Diffusers
After a short excursion into the wilderness (the furthest section of the Brisbane Botanic Gardens at Mt Coot-tha) I've discovered a couple of shortcomings of my wonderful new concave diffusers. I was fighting my way into a terribly spiky hibiscus to shoot the colourful Harlequin Bug when I discovered my bulky diffusers were being pushed back into my lens causing the subject to be primarily backlit. Adding to the drama, the way my flash heads are mounted inside the boxes, most of the flash was now pointing the behinds of my bugs. For the time being, rather than redesigning my softboxes I've gone for a quick fix utilising the extension arms that came with the flash. I've thrown the whole thing into reverse. They have more spine which should make shrub diving easier but I may yet have to ditch this design.
JULY 18, 2015
Sony Macro Twin Flash - Concave Diffusers
I've wanted to use concave diffusers for a while but I had in mind a dome shape in order to get light right in there between the subject and the lens. I've seen it happen a lot where the front of the subject lacks light and it's usually because high mag macro work means the subject is right in front of the lens. I was recently inspired by a fellow macronut to make this version and so far I'm deleriously happy with the results. I've posted a pdf with the plans here for anybody to print (the plan is split over two A4 pages with handy rego marks to line them up). As you can see from the images below, I've made a simple and very flexible mount from tie wire (2mm dia) which is super lightweight and unobtrusive. This version of the wire mount utilises the attachments that came with the front of lens mount for the twin flash. I cut it up and taped it onto the ends of the wire. I try to destroy gear with a view to restoring it at a later date if needs be. Below you will also find pics of one made from a butter dish, a good option as well but a bit too bulky and heavy for my liking.
JULY 13, 2015
Mini Softbox DIY Diffusers
The Sony twin flash (HVL-MT24AM) came with a foldable plastic diffuser for each flash head. This was a great little piece of kit but they attached via a plastic fitting that lost it's grip after a while and the plastic used was quite flimsy. Luckily I work in the sign industry and had easy access to a much better material for lightbox construction - a print media used in lightbox illuminated signs. Thanks to a pattern made by another macronut I was able to utilise this material to make a really hardy version of the sony softboxes.