Macro Flash vs Tripod
Macro,  Photo Gear

Why I use Flash for Outdoor Macro Photography

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:

Olympus STF-8 Twin Macro Flash
Olympus STF-8 Twin Macro Flash on a Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III

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.

Topaz Labs

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.

Specular Highlights
Specular Highlights

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

Related Posts

A Comparison of Flash and Diffuser Options for Macro Photography
Is the Olympus STF-8 Twin Macro Flash Worth the Price?
How to Create Clean, Non Distracting Backgrounds for your Macro Photographs

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