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Macro photography with flash

Welcome, fellow Macroonians! If you're ready to take your close-up game to the next level, it's time to embrace the magic of flash photography. In this instructional post, we'll dive into the world of using flash to illuminate the tiniest of details and capture stunning macro shots that pop with vibrant colors and sharpness. So, let's shed some light on the subject and get started.

Why Flash for Macro Photography?

While natural light has its charm, using flash in macro photography can dramatically enhance your results. The close distance between your subject and the lens often leads to shadowy areas and reduced detail. Flash helps eliminate these challenges, providing even illumination, vivid colors, and enhanced sharpness. Plus, it opens up new creative avenues, allowing you to experiment with lighting angles and emphasizing intricate textures. Another added bonus is the ability to use lower shutter speeds since the flash will freeze your subject in place. You don't need to shoot at 1/250 to capture a moving insect, you can drop your shutter speed down to 1/100 or even 1/80 if you have a steady hand.

Setting Up Your Flash Gear

1. External Flash Unit: Invest in an external flash unit that can be mounted on your camera's hot shoe or used off-camera for more control. Look for models that offer TTL (Through-The-Lens) metering for automatic exposure adjustments.

2. Diffusers and Reflectors: Attach a diffuser to your flash to soften and diffuse the light. Reflectors can help bounce the light from different angles, reducing harsh shadows and creating a more natural look.

3. Off-Camera Setup: For advanced users, consider using an off-camera flash setup with triggers or remote control. This setup allows you to position the light precisely and experiment with various angles.

Mastering Flash Techniques

1. Avoid Direct Flash: Direct flash can lead to harsh lighting and washed-out subjects. Angle your flash slightly upwards, bounce it off a white surface, or use a diffuser to soften the light. A good diffuser goes a long way. Good doesn't necessarily mean expensive. There are plenty of DIY projects for diffusers. Experiment and try out what suits your style best.

2. Fill Flash: When shooting in bright daylight, use flash as a fill light to soften shadows and balance exposure. This is particularly useful for outdoor macro shots. You can expose for the background and then use fill flash to brighten up your subject giving you great exposure and details.

3. Backlighting: Position the flash behind the subject to create a stunning backlit effect. This highlights the subject's contours and creates a mesmerizing glow.

4. Experiment with Power: Adjust the flash power to control the intensity of the light. Start with a lower power setting and gradually increase it until you achieve the desired result. The ideal scenario is to use the lowest flash setting possible to give your subject the most natural look possible. Use different settings to enhance your use of flash. Start with something like 1/32 power and adjust from there. If you can get away with staying at that power you have the ability to do some nice focus stacking. As you increase your flash power, your focus stacks will get smaller or slower and have a higher chance of failing.

5. Stroboscopic Flash: Get creative by using stroboscopic flash to capture motion. This technique is fantastic for capturing water droplets, insects in flight, and more.

6. Flash Settings: Be sure to find the correct mode for your flash based upon your shooting preference. I had the hardest time figuring out that I had to set my Godox V350o to MULTI instead of MANUAL in order to get the Focus Stacking to work correctly with flash. I read everything I could find and asked the question in countless groups but I never got that key piece of information until I figured it out through trial and error. Experiment at home on stationary subjects so that when you have the chance to catch one in the field, you don't miss the opportunity.

Fine-Tuning and Practice

1. Manual Mode: As you become more comfortable, switch to manual mode to have complete control over flash power, shutter speed, and aperture settings.

2. Trial and Error: Macro photography with flash requires experimentation. Don't hesitate to take multiple shots with different settings to see what works best for your subject and lighting conditions. Don't forget that your meter will not be quite accurate when using flash. You will have to practice and become more familiar with your gear and your environment. After a while it becomes second nature. You'll just know if it's overcast and you are in a shaded area and you want to use f/7.1, you'll more than likely need flash power of 1/16 or better if you want to keep your shutter speed above 1/100.

3. Patience: Patience is key in macro photography. Take your time to compose your shots, adjust your settings, and refine your lighting setup. Only time in the field or practicing can help you move forward with your craft. Get out there and shoot as much as possible. It will help you in more ways than you can imagine.


By adding flash to your macro photography toolkit, you're unlocking a world of possibilities. With even, diffused lighting, enhanced details, and creative control, your macro shots will truly come to life. Remember, practice makes perfect, so don't be afraid to venture into the world of flash photography and watch your macro images transform from good to exceptional!

Happy hunting!

Sincerely, Travis Watson, Macro Photography Enthusiast

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