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Working with flash for macro photography

From: The Practicing Photographer

Video: Working with flash for macro photography

If you've spent any time doing any macro work of, really, any kind, but Let me show you what I'm talking about here.

Working with flash for macro photography

If you've spent any time doing any macro work of, really, any kind, but especially of flowers, you've probably run into an issue that I'm having right now. I've got this cool thistle here, and I want to get a close-up shot of it. But the problem is, there's all this stuff in the background. And it seems like that always happens with flowers. You never encounter just one. You always encounter bunches of them. And, so. Though macro shots have very shallow depth of field, very often they have very noisy backgrounds. Hi. I'm Ben Long and this week on The Practicing Photographer we're going to look how to take this close up shot, and dramatically dim the background, by using a flash, which may sound a little bit counterintuitive.

Let me show you what I'm talking about here. I'm going to just grab a quick shot of this. I'm shooting at about F4. I don't want super shallow depth of field. Because this thistle is further back than this thistle. If I can get all the way through this course and have all those esses correct, I'm, I'm, something's, well nothing's going to happen. But anyway, this one's farther back than that one. So, I've got a little bit of a deep depth of field situation here. So, I'm dialing out to F4. Here comes the wind. I'm at ISO 800. So, that I can keep my shutter speed up enough to freeze this motion, and, I get this.

So, the thistles are very isolated, thanks to depth of field. But there's still all that bright stuff in the background, and I find it a little bit distracting. So what I'm going to do is, use the flash, to dim the background, and here's how it works. In any flash picture, there are actually 2 exposures. There's the exposure that captures the ambient light in the scene and right now, all I've got is ambient light. It's falling equally all over the scene. The second exposure in a flash picture is the flash exposure, which governs the brightness of the area that's illuminated by the flash.

The flash has a range. So as long as the flash is only hitting the thistles, I can use my ambient exposure to control the brightness of the background. Here's what I'm talking about. I'm going to take the same shot. No flash. But I'm going to dial down, or rather, dial up my shutter speed. I'm going to turn my shutter speed up to reduce the ambient exposure. I'm going to take it up to a 200th of a second, which is as fast as this camera can do and still work with flash. And now I get this, an image that is plainly too dark.

But look at the background. If that was the brightness of the background, that would be great, if the foreground were lit up. So I've got this external flash. I've put a softbox on it, just a little one, to soften the light, diffuse it some. I've got it off the camera because I don't want it firing right from the front because then it's all going to just spill on onto my background. And also I want it to look more like sunlight. I want it coming from up here. I've got it off camera using radio transmitters. I could just as easily use a cord. Whichever technology you have at hand. I have, also, using flash exposure compensation, dialed the flash down a lot.

I'm actually at its lowest power setting right now. Because it's pretty dim out here, and because my aperture is open real wide, and again, at F4. So, you've seen the exposure with everything dialed down. Now I'm going to keep that same exposure. I'm at a shutter speed of a two hundredth of a second, which is not going to let in much ambient light. And I'm going to see where my flash is pointed here, and get my focus set which I'm doing of course by moving in and out, because with macro, it's the easiest way to focus, and, I get this.

I like this a lot better than my original shot. Here's the original again. Here's this. The background is dimmer. It's got some flash spill on it, so I'm going to try again. I think there's also a little too much flash. Now I cannot dial my flash down any further. But I can move it backwards, as long as I don't run out of arm. So, I'm going to come over here. I've still got some arm. I'm going to try again. and I get this. That's working better. So here's my original, where my background is just a little too prominent. And here, is my flash picture, where I have sped up the shutter speed, to reduce the ambient light, and then brought in the flashlight on my subject.

So, in addition to having it isolated from the background, it's also just got more definition. Because the light was hitting the side, I can see more roundness to the thistle and I've got these nice little highlights on it, also. So this is a great way to separate your foreground from your background when you're doing flash work, if you're finding that it's competing in a way that really bothers you. Nothing special that you need, other than an external flash. You don't necessarily have to have the soft box. There are lots of other kinds of diffusers. And if you can get far enough away, you may be able to get a soft enough light.

I find it makes it much easier. And then you just need some way of controlling your flash. Again, I'm using radios. You could use a flash cord. The last thing is the trick to saying thistle properly. It is to keep the tip of your tongue up against the back of your front teeth and that's where that t,h sound comes from. And you gotta just say it kind of slowly, at least that's the way I've been doing it.

Show transcript

This video is part of

Image for The Practicing Photographer
The Practicing Photographer

75 video lessons · 46280 viewers

Ben Long
Author

 
Expand all | Collapse all
  1. 6m 25s
    1. Getting your project out into the world
      6m 25s
  2. 1m 35s
    1. Introducing The Practicing Photographer
      1m 35s
  3. 7h 16m
    1. Choosing a camera
      5m 27s
    2. Looking at light as a subject
      2m 22s
    3. Using a small reflector to add fill light
      5m 45s
    4. Editing photo metadata with PhotosInfo Pro for iPad
      6m 30s
    5. Let your lens reshape you
      7m 26s
    6. Compositing street photography images with Photoshop
      7m 44s
    7. Expand your filter options with step-up and step-down rings
      3m 56s
    8. Shooting without a memory card
      3m 6s
    9. Give yourself a year-long assignment
      5m 28s
    10. Working with reflections
      1m 26s
    11. Exploring mirrorless cameras
      7m 25s
    12. Batch processing photos with the Adobe Image Processor
      7m 30s
    13. Limiting yourself to a fixed-focal-length lens
      2m 13s
    14. Creating tiny worlds: Shooting technique
      4m 15s
    15. Creating tiny worlds: Post-processing techniques
      11m 41s
    16. Shooting macro shots on an iPhone
      3m 18s
    17. Using a tripod
      3m 33s
    18. Wildlife and staying present
      5m 58s
    19. Batch exposure adjustments on raw files
      6m 52s
    20. Why Shoot Polaroid
      11m 12s
    21. Seizing an opportunity
      4m 4s
    22. Four photographers do a light-as-subject exercise
      12m 24s
    23. Shooting macro bug photos with a reversed lens
      4m 54s
    24. Varnishing a photo for a painterly effect
      13m 36s
    25. Shooting wildlife
      7m 24s
    26. Discussion on how to shoot architecture
      12m 27s
    27. Using a lens hood
      4m 48s
    28. Working with themes
      2m 48s
    29. Setting up an HDR time lapse
      7m 55s
    30. Processing an HDR time lapse
      7m 55s
    31. Two perspectives on travel photography
      12m 28s
    32. Scanning Photos
      5m 37s
    33. Photo assignment: shooting an egg
      3m 13s
    34. Reviewing the egg shot images
      6m 47s
    35. Shooting in your own backyard
      4m 38s
    36. Jpeg iPad import process
      3m 17s
    37. Shooting a product shot in open shade
      9m 34s
    38. Reviewing the product shot images
      4m 5s
    39. Warming up
      3m 26s
    40. Taking a panning action shot
      10m 17s
    41. Scanning polaroid negatives and processing in Photoshop
      8m 17s
    42. Shooting a silhouette
      3m 9s
    43. Going with an ultra-light gear configuration
      5m 29s
    44. Working with masks and calculations in Photoshop
      12m 38s
    45. Working with flash for macro photography
      4m 55s
    46. Colorizing a black and white photo in Photoshop
      5m 10s
    47. Using duct tape and zip ties in the field
      4m 14s
    48. When the on camera flash is casting a shadow
      3m 4s
    49. Using Lightroom on the road
      6m 28s
    50. Listening to your camera to get good exposure
      2m 20s
    51. Shooting a successful self portrait with a phone
      7m 18s
    52. Switching to Lightroom from another application
      9m 48s
    53. Photographing animals in wildlife refuges
      6m 41s
    54. Shooting level
      2m 42s
    55. Photoshop and Automator
      8m 54s
    56. Shooting when the light is flat
      3m 23s
    57. Discussing the business of stock photography
      9m 48s
    58. Shooting tethered to a monitor
      3m 21s
    59. Making a 360 degree panorama on the iPhone
      4m 45s
    60. Understanding the three flash setup
      3m 34s
    61. Shooting a three flash portrait
      4m 6s
    62. Understanding the differences with third party lenses
      4m 43s
    63. Understanding why files look different on depending on device
      5m 25s
    64. Working with a geotagging app on the iPhone
      4m 43s
    65. Using high speed flash sync to dim ambient light
      7m 29s
    66. Using your iPad as a second monitor
      5m 46s
    67. Understanding exposure with a leaf shutter camera
      3m 28s
    68. Photography practice through mimicry
      8m 8s
    69. Canon wireless flash with built in radio control
      5m 59s
    70. Posing and shooting pairs of people
      5m 35s
    71. Shooting with a shape in mind
      3m 15s
    72. Shooting tethered to a laptop
      4m 40s
    73. Softboxes vs. umbrellas
      2m 55s

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