Lately, I’ve written several blogs on gear and setups for macro flash photography. I thought I’d take a step back and write about the reason why I use flash for macro photography and why you should consider doing so as well.
There are two basic ways that photographers shoot outdoor macro photography: using a tripod with natural light or using flash or some other type of man-made lighting.
Visit my blog on Comparing Different Flash and Diffuser Combinations for more information on Flash setups for Macro Photography.
Here are the reasons that I prefer to use flash for Macro Photography:
Lighter Macro Kit
Using flash provides a Lighter Macro kit without a tripod and remote shutter release. I often go on long macro photography hikes and a lighter, less bulky kit is sure helpful on long hikes. For most of my macro photography hikes, I don’t even bring a backpack – only a vest for extra batteries, SD cards, etc.
Quicker Set Up
I can set up my composition faster than using a tripod, and I don’t miss the shot while trying to set up the tripod for the right composition. I can also cover a lot more ground with a handheld flash setup.
Photograph the Subject from Multiple Angles
While photographing macro subjects handheld with a flash, I can more easily photograph the subject from different angles / compositions that are more difficult and time consuming to set up with a tripod.
Shoot Handheld with Smaller Apertures and on Cloudy Days
You can also photograph with smaller apertures and on cloudy days with a tripod as well. The only problem is that your exposures will be really long which increases the chances of motion blur from the wind or the subject moving.
While photographing macro using a flash, I usually shoot at around 1/60 of a second at an aperture of f/9 to f/13.
Photograph at lower ISOs
Since flash adds a lot of light to your subject, you can shoot a lower ISOs and reduce the amount of noise in your image. I keep my ISO at 200 when shooting flash. Without a flash you will need to increase the ISO to shoot at faster shutter speeds and smaller apertures.
Disadvantage of Shooting with Flash for Macro Photography
The main downside of shooting macro with flash is an increase in specular highlights in your photograph. Specular highlights are bright spots of light of the reflective parts of your image.
You will need to use a diffuser with a flash to soften / lessen the specular highlights in your image. These can also be removed in post processing but it can be time consuming to clean them up.
Written by Martin Belan