One of the best ways to improve your macro images is by using flash. I never do any handheld macro photography without flash. When used properly flash can give you tons of great detail and really help make your images consistently sharp.
Here are some tips when using flash for macro photography:
- Use a diffuser over the flash to improve the quality of the light
- Move the flash off the camera and closer to the subject to soften the light
- Do not use the flash at full power, try manual mode or minus flash compensation for best results
- To avoid unrealistic dark backgrounds don’t overpower the ambient light
- When photographing in sunlight keep your shutter speed at least 1/200th to avoid ghosting
- Keep things simple, I use a single small flash at ½ to 1/60th power in manual mode
- Remember the closer the flash to the subject the softer the light
- Flash can help fill shadows in strong sunlight
- Properly set up the flash output will control the tone of the subject and the ambient will control the tone of the background
To avoid overpowering the ambient light I used a small SB-R200 flash in manual mode at 1/8th power. I metered the scene as I would normally would with the flash off. Then I turn the flash on and find a setting high enough to fill in the details and low enough to avoid overexposing the subject. This will keep the background looking natural. If the flash is allowed to overpower the ambient light the background will darken too much, in extreme cases it can turn completely black.
For a comparison I left the shutter speed, aperture and ISO alone but I turned the flash off. The image isn’t horrible but it lacks the details and sharpness of the flashed image.
With proper technique, macro flash should give you natural looking consistently sharp images. The flash can also help eliminate images lost to subject movement, camera shake and wind movement. Give macro flash a try; I wouldn’t think of handholding my macro lens without it.
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