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Using Flash For Macro; Up Close And Personal:
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The only problem with a ring flash is that the reflection in the eye shows the actual ring of light, and this is obviously undesirable (#7). The reason why you don’t see it in (#6) is because I cloned it out. That’s exactly what you have to do because a single dot of light from a flash is acceptable and sometimes desirable, but two semicircles just don’t look good at all. Of course, in a subject like (#8), a bizarre and beautiful caterpillar I found in the Costa Rican jungle, there is no reflectivity in the creature at all so this unwanted reflection was not a factor.

#7

#8

Another issue that comes up with this type of lighting is that it is so diffused that there is no dimension or depth. To overcome that you can get a ringlight flash system that allows you to set up a lighting ratio. The two small lights inside the ring can be adjusted to provide 2:1, 3:1 and, 4:1 light ratios. This means that one side of the image will receive more light than the other. The differences are subtle, and they can only be seen if the camera and flash are placed within a few inches of the subject. As you move back, the lighting ratio you’ve chosen is pretty much irrelevant because the flash acts as a single ring of light.

A third option for shooting close-ups of small subjects with flash is to use a twin light macro setup such as the MT-24EX Macro Twin Lite Ringlite flash (#9), the Nikon R1C1 Wireless Close-Up Speedlight Flash System or similar. Third party manufacturers also make twin flash setups for both Canon and Nikon. The two small flash units are positioned on either side of the lens, and this gives you the ability to create side lighting as well as a light ratio that is more pronounced than what a ring flash can do. The photo of a moth (#10) is an example. Notice how much texture on the insect is revealed because of the cross light.

#9

#10

Background Considerations
A background is virtually as important as the subject in making a picture successful. This is true of any aspect of photography, and it’s certainly true in macro work. There are two main problems: bad shadows and black backgrounds. If the exposure and the shooting angle don’t solve the problem, then the only other solution is to use Photoshop to replace the background entirely. Obviously, the best-case scenario is to get it right in the first place, but too many times you don’t have as much control over a situation as you would like in order to produce a perfect in-camera picture.

When I photographed a panther chameleon, (#11) I wasn’t happy with the black background because they are not nocturnal. Therefore, I cut and pasted an out of focus foliage background behind it (#12), and this made the image more natural as well as more attractive, in my opinion. I did the same thing behind an owl butterfly I photographed in a butterfly house in Florida, (#13 and #14). The butterfly was hanging on a leaf and the background elements were at least 20 feet away. The flash didn’t reach that far, so I used Photoshop to make this look more biologically correct.

#11
#12

Exposure
Assuming you want maximum depth of field, the best approach is to use the camera on Manual mode. Set the flash to ETTL for Canon (I-TTL for Nikon) or an Auto TTL mode on whatever flash you use and use a low ISO and a small lens aperture like f/22 or f/32. The automatic metering system will give you correct exposures even if you use extension tubes (which cause a loss of light). If your subject happens to be very dark or very light, you may have to tweak the flash exposure compensation to adjust the exposure to taste.

#13
#14

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