Flash and Macro: A marriage made in heaven

Whenever I photograph anything now, I’m thinking about how I can control the light. There are ways to manipulate natural light that I will happily use, but I normally reach for my flashes.

I was at my parents the other day and there were bees happily buzzing around the garden. My mum was showing me some picture she had taken at the Chelsea flower show, and was talking about getting close. With the kit lens, this can be somewhat difficult to do, but we got on to talking about how to use a macro lens.

My macro lens is the 30mm f/2.8 which I really like for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s pretty small and light, which makes it one of my favourite lenses for street photography. The fast aperture (not as fast as the 35mm f/1.8, but still good enough) is great, and on an APS-C sensor, it’s very close to “normal” focal length i.e. that of the eye. It’s not an expensive lens either so I would definitely recommend it to anyone with a Sony D-SLR.

So, how do I approach macro photography: ideally I would have preferred to do this on a tripod, but flash can be useful to avoid it. As I wasn’t going to get too close, I wasn’t too worried about camera blur. Flash freezes movement anyway, so all I had to do was keep my shutter speed quick, which in the end was 1/160s which is the sync speed for the camera with a wireless trigger.

I wanted the flash to provide soft light, which meant shooting at the wide end with the diffuser on and also getting the flash close (within inches). Having it so close is great because you can ease off the power. I set the power originally to 1/16 and that was too powerful, it ended up being 1/64.

So on an overcast day, ISO-100, 1/160s, the aperture for a decent exposure was f/8. I wanted f/16, so that’s what I did. The ambient light would therefore be underexposed by two stops: f/8 to f/11 is one stop, f/11 to f/16 makes two stops. Not a problem. I’m happy with anything not in the flash range falling in the shadows.

So we set up on a flower and waited, but got impatient and started following them around, I got two frames, one of which is below.


For editing, I cropped to a square, chopping the ends of the flowers off. I briefly brushed the background areas and darkened by one stop. I also desaturated and darkened the greens. Usual sharpening and vignetting applied and job done.

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