A Comparison of Flash and Diffuser Options for Macro Photography
There are quite a few options for using flash for macro photography. Over the past several years, I’ve tried several different flash and diffuser combinations for using flash for macro photography.
So, which option is the best? Well, it depends. It depends on what you are trying to accomplish, how much you want to spend, and how heavy and bulky you want your macro kit to be.
Below I discuss each flash / diffuser option and the Pros / Cons from my experience.
On Camera Speedlight with Over the Lens Barrel Type Diffuser
Using an existing speedlight (if you have one) and an over the barrel type diffuser is an inexpensive and quick way to begin using flash for macro photography. Make sure to check that the diameter of you lens will work with the diffuser. This Angler Diffuser fits well with my Olympus 60mm macro lens.
- Portable. The diffuser can be rolled up and put in your pocket
- Moderate amount of specular highlights
- Diffuser can interfere with focusing since it fits over the lens
- No flexibility on positioning the light on the subject
On Camera Speedlight with a Softbox
Another quick and an inexpensive way to introduce flash to your macro photography. This method involves added a small softbox (@9” x 7”) to your speedlight.
- Less specular highlights
- Can interfere with focusing if you use too big of a softbox as it will tend to rest on the lens No flexibility on positioning the light on the subject
- May not provide enough downward angle to light the entire frame evenly
Off Camera Speedlight with a Softbox
This set up provides great flexibility on positioning the light on your macro subject. However, it takes both hands to shoot and hold the flash.
To use an off camera flash, you will also need either another flash on the hot shoe as a trigger for infrared communication or a wireless controller for wireless radiowave communications to the off the camera flash.
- A lot of flexibility positioning the light on the subject
- Ability to use larger softboxes
- Reduced / softened specular highlights
- Need to shoot with one hand or mount on a tripod. Difficult for techniques such as focus bracketing / focus stacking unless you are really steady shooting with one hand.
- Bulkier macro kit
- Need to add a flash controller or trigger to control the remote flash
- A little more expensive kit as you will need to add a second flash or controller as a trigger for the remote flash
Macro Twin Flash
- Light / portable kit
- Flexibility positioning the lighting on multiple sides of the subject
- Easily switch between portrait and landscape orientation
- Can get closer to the subject without spooking it
- Easily change flash power settings using the controller mounted on the hot shoe
- Smaller diffuser causes more specular highlights. I add some packing material under the plastic diffusers of my Olympus STF-8 Twin Macro Flash which helps to soften the specular highlights but doesn’t eliminate them
- Price. Some of these Twin Flash units can get pricey. My Olympus STF-8 Twin Macro flash is priced at $479 USD. Meike also makes a Twin Lite Flash for several camera models for $339
On Camera Flash with a Macro Flash Bracket
Good quality macro flash brackets that firmly hold your equipment can be pricey. I’m using the Wimberley F-2 Macro Flash Bracket that is priced at $169 USD. You also need an Arca Swiss tripod plate to attach to the tripod socket on your camera or lens, a ¼ inch cold shoe flash stand adapter to attach the flash to the bracket, and an off-camera Flash Sync Cord or wireless controller.
The Wimberley F-2 Macro Flash Bracket is quite adaptable allowing you to position your flash in many positions. It also is a solid piece of equipment and holds your flash and diffuser firmly in place.
- Flexibility in positioning the light on the subject
- Can position the flash above the camera so it doesn’t interfere with focus
- You can use a larger softbox that gives softened / reduced specular highlights
- Price vs. Quality. Good quality macro brackets that hold your flash / diffuser in place can be expensive.
- Heavier / bulkier macro kit
As you can see there are many options when considering how to add flash to your macro photography. If you are new to using flash for macro photography, I would recommend using one of the less expensive options described above and see how you like your results. If you really get into using flash for macro photography, you can always upgrade to one of the more expensive options.
Written by Martin Belan
Winter Stay at Home Photography Project – Try Black and White Macro Photography
Is the Olympus STF-8 Twin Macro Flash Worth the Price?
How to Create Clean, Non Distracting Backgrounds for your Macro Photographs