Introduction: Lighting for Macrophotography

If you're insterested in Macrophotography you'll soon notice that one of the most important thing when working with high magnification and/or high depht of field is LIGHTING!.

There are two main characteristics that considerably affect the light::

Magnification: To obtain high magnifications you will have to apply lens set or configurations that will decrease the ammount of lighting received by the camera's sensor.

Depht of field: This characteristic means how far can you focus a subject. It is the camera's aperture, or the "f" factor. Think about a tiny spider facing you: in a shallow depht of field (smaller "f", i.e. f8) you would be able to focus only its eyes. In a good depht of field (i.e. f16) you would be able to focus from its eyes to the background. More aperture also means less light.

The combination of these two characteristics brings extreme difficulty to macrophotography without the use of artificial light or flash.

I'll try to show here some resources you can build to bring more light to your Macro shots:

Using the built-in flash, or "pop-up"

Artificial lighting

External Flash

Hope you enjoy it!

Good luck!

Fred Nava

Step 1: Using the Built-in Flash, or "pop-up"

The built-in flash or "pop-up" of digital cameras is not very suitable for macrophotography because it does not uniformly illuminate and it is usually obstructed by the lens.

But you can built a simple device that allows to drive this flash light to the front of the lens, as you can see in the pictures.

The PVC pipe is externally spray painted with black paint and the inside is painted with some reflexive ink (chrome).

At the edge there is a tab built by PET bottle fitted in angle to reflect the flash into the subject. It’s also painted in chrome. I also made a section in the tube so that the light falls on the subject.

In the example, the device was placed in a DSLR camera (Canon EOS REBEL T3i 600D) attached to the camera's hotshoe with another piece of PET bottle. But it works the same way for compact cameras, simply adjust the fitting and tube according to the body and / or position of the flash on your camera.

In some cases the flash light can be very "hard" (strong light above the subject brighting the real colors and causing shadows). To smooth it, simply place a sheet of toilet paper or napkin around the pipe section and the tab.

Step 2: Artificial Lighting

When the sunlight is not enought to illuminate the subject you can use a ring light to help.

Years ago when it was very difficult to find a cheap ring light here (Brazil) I built mine using high brightness LED attached to my Macro lens.

Today you can easily find a very cheap ring light at e-bay or any Internet store, like the Amaran model on the second picture. These cheap lights allow you to control the intensity and the direction of the LED set you want to turn on (left/right/top/bottom). It comes with a great variety of adapters to fit any camera lens. It also has a flash mode, just for show because it is a VERY WEAK flash light. :)

Important: as I mentioned this ring light just adds a little more light to the subject when using togheter with sunlight. In a darker environment and/or high aperture (> f11), this solution is worthless!. I have also tried those ultra-super-duper small lanterns with thousands of watts… worthless...

Go for a flash! Our next step.

Step 3: An the Winner Is... External Flash !

OK, now we're talking!

Today there are more affordable external flashes (US$ 80.00) that operate both in manual mode (connected directly to the camera or cable) and secondary infrared (shooting together with the camera built-in flash).

This pictures show the setup I built. In this case there are a Canon EOS REBEL T3i 600D camera + YONGNUO YN460 Flash + Extension Cable + Mini softbox as a diffuser (US$ 10 bucks on Ebay).

I drilled a cheap aluminium "L" bracket and screwed to the camera. It works like a charm!. This support is called bracket and you can find specific ones for purchasing on the Internet.

The flash not only iluminates the subject perfectly but also helps to freeze it. If you are trying to shoot an ant, it would never pose still for you... :)

If you can spend something like US$ 700.00 you can purchase a Macro Twin Flash. Awsome!.

Thanks for reading! I hope it helped you a little bit.


Fred Nava