How to Photograph Up Close – VIII: Alternative Lighting Techniques 2Posted: July 16, 2009
Hope you had a nice week practicing with your camera flash (off the camera).
Just to let you know, I didn’t have time to show you techniques using umbrellas and tents today, that will have to wait for another post, but I would like to talk about some other alternative lighting techniques that work well with macro photography. Before I start, I wanted to let you know that I will be on a well needed vacation for a couple of weeks. I may have a guest article next week, I’m working on that now… hopefully, you will have that post up next Thursday, July 23. I’m hoping to have my next article ready for you on Thursday, August 6. I could talk about more lighting techniques, for example, photographing shiny objects in macro using a tent and umbrellas? Or I can talk about processing files using Lightroom and Photoshop? How about you all letting me know what you would like the next post to be about… I’m happy to discuss any of them. Just send me an email or a comment on this post and I’ll go with the majority. Thanks!
So let’s get started…
One of my favorite tools is the flashlight. There are so many fun flashlights out there for you to choose from. I personally use Streamlights but if they are too expensive try Maglites, see below: the mini is wonderful for macro work, click on the photo for a better look.
Remember, if you’re photographing in RAW format you can manipulate the white balance and change the color of your picture. If you want to have your photog true to life then so be it, or if your looking for a more dramatic look then play with your white balance. For more technical info on color temperature click here. I found this wonderful article discussing light & color in photography on Photography.com that you can also read. I highly recommend that you do read these articles because it will help you understand the tech side of lighting.
The photographs below were shot with a small Streamlight, I adjusted the white balance to my liking.
With the photograph above I am holding the flashlight above and to the right of my camera. Look at your camera’s exposure level the first time you use your flashlight and adjust the f-stop & shutter speed to achieve the correct exposure, read my previous post IV if you don’t know what an f-stop or shutter speed is. You may need to play with the exposure levels a bit depending on how close/intense the light is to the subject. On the picture below I focused the light high above the flower to give it a softer look and to have the stem pop right were it meets the flower, my focal point.
One of the fun things to do is to stop motion macro style. I found a wonderful article for you to read up on before you start your macro mode on water drops, just click here to read. You will need your flash and either continuous lights or strobes for this. My photographer friend said that you can try this outside with a reflector under your glass tank and a white cardboard behind the tank to achieve a good exposure, but I was in my studio so I used my flash and two hot lights, at least that’s what the lights used to be called before fluorescent light bulbs were around. First let’s talk about continuous lighting. Shortcourses.com has information on this style of lighting, they have some interesting reading on continuous lighting. What I like about this type of lighting is that what you see is what you get. You shoot the photograph and look at it on your LCD from the camera or your computer (if you have it synced) and make changes instantly. The kit below is an awesome set! It’s small for macro and all ready for you to work on. The Plexiglas can add some creativity to your shots, you have an instant backdrop and you can also set your lights under table to diffuse the light for more fun creative shots. You can purchase this kit at B & H or you can purchase the equipment individually, if you don’t have the money now for a kit.
To make the picture below, I used my continuous lights on each side of the water shot and used my flash above the drop with a ratio of 3:1. Chuck McKern has a great article, “Understanding Lighting Ratios” if you want more detailed info on ratios. I also suggest you read your manual that you received when you purchased your flash so you can play with the various ratios. Tooooo much fun playing with water!!
Water shot: F3.5 @ 1/250
Another way to photograph macro is using strobe lights. I don’t expect you to have these lights, they are very expensive but I want you to see what I use on a lot of my product shots. If your subjects do not like continuous lighting… then this is the way to go. I like the quality of Speedotron, for more details on this brand you can click here.
Because we are shooting macro I like using honeycomb grids and snoots. If you want more directional lighting this is the equipment you should use for macro. The degree of the grid will determine the amount of light you want on your subject. If you would like to research grid information check out B&H and other companies like Adorama.
Some of my photographer friends have used Calumet and have been happy with this company…check out this snoot from Calumet:
The photograph below was shot with the Speedotron equiment I just discussed. I placed the snoot behind and a bit to the left to hit the lid of the can and I had my grid 20 on the lower right of my camera to really bring out the bubbles against the mirror.
I would like you to read this article by Urs Recher, posted on Digital Photo Pro on Light Lessons, focus on Image 6. Just remember the more research you do on lighting techniques, the better you will understand how to light your subject. Another excellent book on lighting is by Robert Morrissey, “Master Lighting Guide”, check it out at Amazon. I would like you to focus on his lighting basics.
Today, I talked about my favorite tool, the flashlight. I would like you to play with various flashlights to see what you can create. I also discussed continuous lighting (see what you get lighting) and strobe lights for the subjects that can’t handle continuous lighting. I showed you some really cool toys for directional lighting that work well with Macro & Close-up photography. When playing with lights remember to always move them around to get a feel for your equipment, it’s like putting a puzzle together…at first it can be difficult but if you put it together more than once you’ll know where to put the pieces to complete your project.
I would like to leave you with another shot I did using the Speedotron equipment I discussed today. You can photograph anything macro…this is my husband’s hair gel, lol!
Just have fun and be creative…