Yanik's Photo School

Introduction to Macro Photography – Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of this Introduction to Macro Photography. In Part 1, we looked at what is macro photography as well as the basic lenses and extension tubes available for macro shooting. We also went through various options for keeping your camera steady while shooting macro photos. If you missed part 1, I encourage you to check it out before you continue reading.

In Part 2, I’ll be going through:

  • 6 Indoor lighting setups
  • 4 Outdoor lighting setups

And finally, in Part 3 I’ll cover:

  • Popular macro shooting themes
  • Macro Composition


Indoor Lighting Setups

The advantages of indoor lighting setups is that you control every detail of your lighting. The disadvantage might be that you currently don’t have all the lighting equipment to get the results you want. So, what I’ll be doing is showing you some basic lighting setups using mostly 1 or 2 light sources and still getting great results. You’ll see that the KISS principal (keep it simple stupid) is often your best solution in getting good shots.

Lets start with the simplest of lighting. This shot of a live fly was taken with just one light source. Can you guess what is is? Guess again…. 😉 A simple skylight from the ceiling. It was a bright sunny day and the sun was beaming through right on the floor. I took a sheet of white paper, put it on the floor then captured an unsuspecting fly groggy from the sun’s heat. It was shot with my Nikon Coolpix 4500 in macro mode. So just using natural window light can be all you need for some macro shots.

This food setup is pretty simple as well and doesn’t require any artificial lights. I basically set up a small table in front of a window with the bright sun shining through. For the fill light, I simply used a gold reflector. Reflectors are cheap to make or even to buy and are a valuable tool for the macro shooter. Here’s the setup:

The next 2 setups involve only 1 artificial light source. This teardrop shot, which is probably my most downloaded and copied image on the Net, was shot with my D70 and Sigma 105mm macro lens. I didn’t own any flashes back then so I used a 500w continuous light.

This water drop photo was taken with just one SB-800 on camera left. The SB-800 had a blue gel on it and was aimed at the white cardboard background. *Note, a rule of thumb when shooting glass, never shoot it straight on to avoid reflections.* The rest was just a question of timing. 🙂

The next indoor setup that I want to share with you involves 2 SB-800s. This is a classic stock photo of a fresh apple isolated on a white background. This was also shot on the same white cardboard background as the water drop shot but this time I placed one SB-800 behind the apple aiming it at the background. The second SB-800 was on camera left with a shoot-through umbrella to get the light to wrap around the apple as much as possible and to reduce the hot spot on the fruit.

This last setup consists of using a light tent. Light tents are basically hollow cubes of white fabric. You shoot your light through the cube panels to diffuse the light. DIYPhotography.net has a cool tutorial on how to create one on the cheap for macro photography. Light tents are very popular for isolated product shots like on Ebay. Here’s a shot I did using my light tent. I use 2 bare studio strobes outside the tent.

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Outdoor Lighting Setups

With outdoor setups, what you want to do is use the natural light as much as possible. But sometimes to need artificial lighting to create depth or just to add light to an otherwise dark scene.

Let’s start  by looking a 2 different setups using only natural light. The first one of the flies doing the “vertical mambo” is using the sun as your main light thus illuminating your subject. You can see by the shadow that the sun is high up (not the best light) and slightly behind me. Pretty straight forward and yields good results on bright or slightly overcast days.

Another way to use natural light is as a backlight. Backlighting means illuminating your subject from behind. In this example, the sun was just setting in back of the subject on camera right. The even background is a concrete wall in the shadows.  Of course, I added the blue tint in post processing. 🙂

Your next lighting option would be to use natural light as a backlight with an artificial fill light. The simplest way to do that is to use you camera’s built-in flash. You’ll use the fill flash in situations where you’d like to bring out details in your subject. For example, in this butterfly shot, I wanted to bring out details of the flower and the wings so I just used my D70’s built-in flash in TTL and voilà!

The next step would be to take a portable flash and use it off camera. If you’re not sure how to do this, check this article out. On this dark and cloudy day, I saw these ants on branches with eggs and baby ants… I think. I thought it was so cool and I had to shoot them (before sending them to ant heaven due to an epidemic). But the light was crap practically non existent in the shadows. So I got an SB-800 speedlight, put it on Remote mode and set up my built-in flash on Commander mode firing TTL for fill light. These suckers were moving fast so I set my camera on “shutter priority” at 1/500 sec. My SB-800 was also TTL. I held my camera in my right hand and the flash in my left. I’m so glad that the Sigma 105mm macro’s auto focus is fast! 🙂

You can also purchase specific macro flash kits if you really want to get serious about macro photography. If you’ve watched CSI you’ve probably seen them use this Nikon macro contraption:

It’s called the Nikon R1C1. You can actually add up to 8 SB-R200 flashes around the ring! The objective of this setup is to have flat lighting and details (great if you’re Gil Grissom). 🙂

So there you have it! 10 different lighting setups that you can try while taking your macro photos. Stay tuned for the final part of this 3-part tutorial on “introduction to macro photography”.

Here are some great books from the YPS bookshelf.
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13 responses on "Introduction to Macro Photography - Part 2"

  1. I’m really inspired together with your writing skills as neatly as with the layout in your weblog. Is that this a paid topic or did you customize it yourself? Either way stay up the nice quality writing, it’s
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  2. Yanik…great tutorial and great photos. I just purchased a sigma macro 105 lens and am find it very exciting but very challenging. Thanks for all the tips.

  3. just discovered your web site and i love it

  4. Profile photo of Yanik

    @ Alison

    Aphids! Right! I need to brush up on my biology! 🙂

  5. Those aren’t baby ants with the large ant, they are aphids 🙂

  6. I am very much glad to watch the macro photography.Really I want to learn but I don`t how.What is the cost of Nikon camera and different type of Lenses?

  7. Great tutorial. I will be sure to try these ideas.

  8. Sorry, I meant the eyelash image LOL
    Debbi

  9. Profile photo of Yanik

    @ Debbi

    Good question! 🙂 I secured a turkey baster thingy to a light stand above the glass so that my focus would always be at the same spot.

    After that, I just froze time and took the shot. 😉

  10. Very nice tutorial!

    My question is, how did you get those ‘drips/drops to stay in the position you wanted?
    Thanks,
    Debbi

  11. great post on macro photography, one of my favorite types of photography. I just did a snowflake shot on my blog a few days… nice post

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