Macro photography lighting tips

Macro photography lighting presents an unique set of challenges to the photographer. When gotten rid of however, it’s possible to create intriguing pictures of things that might be neglected or unseen by the naked eye. The trouble lies in the close subject-to-sensor distance, which amplifies the subject and leads to a very shallow depth of field.
Macro lighting
For fast shutter speeds to avoid blur triggered by subject or cam movement, you require a lot of light. Opening up the aperture will let more light in and diffuse the background, making the subject stand out.
Macro lighting stop down aperture
Stop down the aperture to get as much of your topic in focus as possible. Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 100mm, 1/40sec at f/9, ISO 200. Credit: Colleen Slater

Just how much light do you need for macro photography?

You can shoot in daylight utilizing the ambient light readily available, present flash on or off the electronic camera or use constant light from torches, LED lights, mirrors and reflectors. The quality and position of the light are necessary.

Harsh light produces too much contrast, with over-bright highlights and shadows doing not have detail, specifically when shooting subjects with glossy surface areas. Bringing well-diffused flash heads closer to the topic will likewise help soften the light.
Macro lighting shallow depth of field
Make use of shallow depth of field and selective focus for imaginative outcomes. Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 100mm, 1/400sec at f/3.2, ISO 200. Credit: Colleen Slater

Using flash

Flash enables a smaller sized aperture to be utilized, providing greater depth of field. The built-in flash on some video cameras is best prevented as the light is severe and doesn’t allow sufficient control over the power of the flash or its direction.

The flash might be obscured by the lens owing to the brief working distance. The flash heads of the Canon Macro Twin Lite MT-24EX flash system I utilize are attached to the end of the lens, which assists to prevent this issue. You can adjust the flash ratio and angle of each flash head or fire just one of them. This uses a great deal of control and more modelled light than that from using a ring flash.

Fill light

Flash can be used as fill light to highlight the information, colours and textures of your topic, particularly in the shadows. The technique to achieving a natural appearance is to stabilize the ambient light with the flash, and if done well, its use needs to be almost undetectable.

Initially, conjecture to correctly expose the background, then present flash to expose the topic and modify the settings till it looks right. I usually use minus 1 or 2 stops of flash direct exposure payment and set the video camera to underexpose the background a little. I find this provides the very best outcomes, making the subject stick out from the background.
Macro lighting use a diffuser
Utilize a diffuser to filter extreme light and even out tones and colours. Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 24-105mm, 1/250sec at f/9, ISO 250. Credit: Colleen Slater

Think about the background

Having a flash as the only light source can be particularly helpful when shooting handheld. The short period of the flash freezes subject movement, enabling a smaller sized aperture to be used with the maximum ISO setting for image quality. The drawback is that the flash will properly expose the subject, however the background will be underexposed and may look dark and artificial.

Avoid this by keeping the background very near the subject. I generally set a shutter speed of 1/160sec and an aperture in between f/8-f/16, at ISO 100. Manual exposure must also be used otherwise, the video camera will attempt to properly expose the background utilizing a shutter speed that’s much too slow. Mastering lighting methods is key to producing great macro shots. Experiment and you’ll quickly find out which strategies and pieces of kit work best.

Colleen’s top suggestions for lighting macro topics

Macro insect photography. Credit: Colleen Slater
Macro lighting use natural light
1. Use natural light

Outdoors, the very best light for macro photography is an intense, overcast sky where the thin cloud diffuses sunlight and functions as a giant softbox. This offers an even, gentle light that highlights texture and information and renders colour beautifully. This caterpillar was drying out after a shower.
Macro lighting diffuse the flash

Credit: Colleen Slater

2. Diffuse the flash

The plastic diffusers offered to go over flash heads will not work, since they do not increase the size of the light. Lots of professional photographers make their own utilizing styrofoam, tissue paper and tape, and so on. A quick web search will raise a wealth of information on how you can make these.

Credit: Colleen Slater

3. Avoid a black background

To accomplish a natural look when using flash as the only light, angle a leaf upwards, behind the subject or the petals of a flower to create a natural-looking background. Or soar towards a bright sky, which will render as blue, use water as a background, or try using a board/fabric near to the topic.
Macro lighting avoid black backgrounds

Credit: Colleen Slater

4. Diffuse the sunshine

A white translucent umbrella can be easier to use in the field than flat diffusers, specifically if there is a breeze. Connect this to a tripod or lighting stand; I utilize a Manfrotto Lite-Tite Swivel Aluminium Umbrella adapter. Angle the umbrella and location it to filter the sunshine falling on to the subject.
Macro lighting diffuse sunlight

Credit: Colleen Slater

5. Usage reflectors and mirrors

Use a reflector to inject light into dark areas of the topic. Silver shows more light than white, and gold can inject warmth when the light is cool. A mirror can be positioned in sunlight, angled towards the based on reflect much stronger light; this is particularly helpful when the subject remains in shade.
Macro lighting use reflectors and mirrors

Credit: Colleen Slater

6. Change the light position

Backlight your topic using a mirror, an effective torch, sunshine or off-camera flash to offer a significant rim-light around your topic. Attempt side lighting to bring out all the texture on the surface of the subject and stress the details in the topic by keeping the background simple.

Macro lighting change light position


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