I made this photo in my friend Ozark Bill‘s backyard. I’m not much of a gardener but I sure enjoyed photographing all the great subjects he had. We were experimenting with an inexpensive method to light macro photos. I really like the way this photo turned out. Today, I’m going to explain how it’s done. I said this was an inexpensive technique, but that comes after your camera, macro lens, external flash unit, tripod, ballhead, etc… I was using a Canon DSLR with a 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens, and a 430EX flash for this shot. Mount the flash in the hot shoe and point the flash head up as if you were going to bounce the light off the ceiling. Here comes the inexpensive part… Take an empty Pringles can and cut a rectangular hole near the bottom so that it snugly fits over the flash head. Note: if you send an unopened Pringles can to me, I can return it to you empty. Adjust the flash so that the open end of the Pringles can points a few inches in front of your lens. Set up as you normally would on your subject and fire the flash when you take the shot. You may need to play with the flash exposure compensation in order to get the exposure dialed in. Just check your histogram and experiment until you find the right setting. The reflective interior of the Pringles can will direct and focus the light onto your subject. I think it’s a great technique. The only problem is finding room in my camera bag for my modified Pringles can.
A few days ago I wrote about shooting with a macro lens in my blog about insect photography. Today I wanted to write about another favorite macro subject of mine, flowers.
I should clarify that I am shooting photos like this one with a macro lens but not always at true macro magnification. The term macro specifically means that the image projected on the camera’s sensor is at least life size (1:1) or larger. While macro magnification can result in some amazing shots, I don’t limit myself to only shooting at those magnifications with my Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro lens. This lens is a joy to shoot with. It’s fast, it’s sharp, and it produces dreamy blurred backgrounds. In the case of the Spiderwort flowers in the image above, I preferred a holistic composition rather than a macro one. Either way, this lens will do a great job.
As I’ve indicated before, my process begins with a tripod. I prefer the kind with legs that can be adjusted for angle as well as length. This allows you to position the tripod low and close to your subject. I usually experiment with different angles and different distances from the subject. I’ve heard that the first composition you choose is rarely the best and I tend to follow that advice.
I will sometimes try to improve the light with a small reflector, diffuser, or an external flash. Usually I prefer to shoot in the early morning while the light is still nice. There are several other benefits of shooting in the morning. Some flowers are only open in the morning. Often, there is no wind to contend with in the morning. Sometimes morning dew on the flowers can add a nice effect to your images.
Know that your depth of field can be very thin as you approach macro magnification. You may need to select a smaller aperture to ensure that you get everything you want in focus. You can see in my photo that the pollen on the left flower goes out of focus towards the back of the image. This was OK with me because the lack of depth of field allowed me to render a simple green background out of neighboring plants. Everything in photography is a compromise!
You have plenty of time usually to get the best exposure. Because aperture is so important, I usually adjust my shutter speed to get the right exposure. Use a cable release or the self timer to trip the shutter. Slow shutter speeds are not a problem unless it’s windy. If you need more speed, you can get it by increasing the ISO or adding light via flash. One thing to watch out for is colorful flowers, especially red ones. Use your RGB histogram if you have one to check for blown highlights on the red channel. It’s easy to blow out the reds even though the overall exposure looks good.
The main thing is always to enjoy yourself. Don’t let your equipment dictate the kinds of images you make. Know your equipment but also experiment and think outside the box. Thanks for reading and if you learned something or have questions, leave a comment for me.
Insects are a fun, challenging, and abundant photographic subject.
Click here to see a short slideshow of some of my favorite insect photos.
Although not mandatory, a good macro lens can help the photographer enter the miniature world of insects easier. A longer telephoto lens with the ability to close focus can also be a useful tool in capturing these small subjects. As illustrated by the image above, I often approach insect photography as a portrait photographer might approach their human subjects. Look for interesting details and fill the frame with them. Flashes, diffusers, reflectors, and other tools can help you manipulate the light in these small places. Some insects are more tolerant of the presence of your camera equipment than others though. It helps to learn as much as you can about each of your subjects. With 900,000 known species, the opportunities in insect photography are nearly unlimited.