OK, it is no secret that I have used some sort of flash in almost every macro photography image I have ever taken. Why? I love maximum depth of field and while I love natural light photography, the 3 days of the year it is calm enough to photograph outside just weren’t enough! All kidding aside, most “natural light” macro photography with maximum depth of field is done inside where everything is controlled and you have to be on a tripod. I am guilty of resorting to this technique often myself but I do love being out in the field. The wind is generally too strong on most day and many locations do not allow you to bring a tripod. That is why I embraced the power of flash. I have used many varieties of flash for my macro work including a Speedlights, twin lights, and old ring lights so I jumped at the chance to try out my Sigma EM-140 DG Macro Flash to see how it stacked up to those flashes. The image at top is one of the first I took and you can see just how close to the flower I got and the macro flash illuminated the bloom very nicely at that close range.
In my last post, I left you with an image of a flower from my own garden that I was desperately trying to photograph against the beautiful spring sky. I was lying on the ground trying for a good angle when Darrell Gulin’s lesson came to mind. Why struggle out in the field? He often photographs butterflies in his own kitchen and uses printed natural looking backgrounds behind his subjects. Why was I crawling in the grass, struggling to get a good angle? It was my flower so I simply clipped it and brought it inside. I went back outside and took a picture of the beautiful sky. Back inside, I printed it on some cheap 13×19 matte paper, mounted it on some stiff backboard, placed it behind the bloom, and voila! The image at top is very similar as I used a printed natural green background, but done outdoors. My question to you is; could you tell that it was a printed background? It was an actual “real sky” (in the last post) and some “real” foliage, in this image. Does it really matter? How is that different than the manipulation in the field with the bark or the snow? That is a choice for you to ultimately make but now, I could easily have any background I wanted behind the subject and the sky literally was the limit! Below is my low-tech indoor setup that I can use, any day of the year, and have any background I want even if there is a foot of snow outside! Just remember to close the window too.
When photographing flowers, people often make the common mistake of trying to capture the entire flower even when there are distracting or unwanted elements in the frame. In many cases an arboretum or flower show do not allow tripods either…so what is the solution? The simple answer is to get closer! You don’t need to see the entire bloom and foliage to get your point across and macro lenses are especially well suited for this task. The image above of the Gerber Daisy is a great example of this philosophy.
With the lights this close to the bottle the focal length of the lens is critical to the success of the image. Normal or slightly wide lenses place the camera so close to the subject that controlling the reflection of the camera and studio stand in the bottle becomes an issue. For this set up I used the 150mm f/2.8 APO EX DG OS HSM macro lens made by Sigma. This focal length is perfect. The camera is well back from the set allowing room for working around the set both for adjusting the lighting and for adding to the scene. This lens is incredibly sharp and lens elements are multi-coated- it helps reduce flare from the lights and their reflections in the bottle.