There are numerous flash options
available for macro photography from a dedicated macro flash
to a standard flash with a diffuser. If you read the last
page you know that the
goal is to get the flash head as close to the subject as
possible. The reason being, the closer the flash the shorter the duration, the
shorter the duration the less chance of camera shake. There
is one other reason, which is soft light. Soft light comes
from apparent light size. So to a 1/2 inch insect a 3 X 4
or 5 X 7 diffuser is huge when placed a few inches away.
There is an excellent article on the STROBIST web site
here about apparent light size.
The key to it is the balance of how
soft, how harsh and how flat. For instance Macro Ring Flashes put out
light around the lens that is flat, and actually very nice
in many cases, however if the subject is reflective you can
end up with rings in your subject that are very unnatural.
To make it less flat you can add an additional flash. The
options are endless as far as lighting goes. There is one
fact about it though, no setup is perfect for all shots.
What you will find is one that works for you in most cases
and you will end up sticking with it for a while and then
you will try something new. Well that's how it worked for me
and when I look at other sites it seems to be common.
Shown below are some common macro flash
setups. I have used all of these and more. I have included
some of what I liked and didn't like about them.
Flashes -Twin Head
Not all but
many dedicated macro flashes will only work on
certain lenses or an adapter must be used. For
instance with Canon's dedicated macro flashes if you
want to use them with the 100 or 180mm L series you
need to purchase an additional adapter.
Shown here with a old
Manfrotto Flash Bracket
A Twin Head Marco Flash is
the king of all macro flashes, hand down there is no
comparison. These are dedicated flashes that allow
the user to control the output of both heads. The
heads are mounted at the end of the lens and they
can be removed. The Canon model shown here is the MT-24
which can also serve as a master flash that can control Canon slave
flashes. The only negative about this option is the price
They are in the $800 range new. If you can afford it
click on the Adorama link on the left of this page
and get one.
Show on the right are the
heads placed on an old (discontinued) Manfrotto
Flash Bracket. This allows more flexibility in the
flash head placement. I mounted this bracket
upside down on a tripod collar so there would be
more room for my hands on the camera itself.
camera manufacturers make similar twin head
models for their line of cameras.
Shown here is a Canon
MT-14 Ring Flash which naturally can be used
alone or as shown here with another flash.
In this example the additional flash is
mounted to a magic arm that is connected to
a lens tripod mount. What is nice
about this is that the little 270 EX II (the
additional flash) adds
a little depth to it so that the light is
not so flat, it increases the light output
for a shorter duration, and it is very
stable to carry out into the field. The only
real negatives about this setup are the cost of the
Ring Flash and the rings from the flash can
be reflected in some subjects. Click
on the image on the right to see a detailed
view of the reflected rings.
If you look closely you will notice that
there is no receiver or cable going to this
additional flash that is because Canon's
dedicated macro flashes are master flashes
that can control other Canon flashes
remotely. Naturally you have to check to see which
ones work together. (Nikon, Sony etc. have a
similar systems) The other thing to note
about this setup is the guide numbers they are 14 for the ring
flash and 27 for the add on.
Non Dedicated Macro
Build your own bracket
is the real world - Dedicated macro flashes are
expensive and they don't have many other uses. A
regular flash can work exceptionally well for macro
shots and it has many other uses. The key is getting
the flash moved towards the end of the lens and have
it remain stable when the camera is moved.
That may sound simple but it is more difficult than
most people realize. First a normal size flash
(4 battery model) that is adjustable is heavier than
most realize and it can be difficult to mount so
that it does not move.
key here is understanding the principle of a lever.
The flash really does not weigh that much but when
you put it at the end of a lever the force on the
mount is increased and increased dramatically.
Unfortunately that is what is usually happening with
most brackets and it is why when you see a dedicated macro
flash it has cables with small heads that connect to
a controller. The use of the cable removes the
weight of the batteries and controls leaving just
the light weight head which can easily be mounted.
important is understanding that not all dedicated
macro flash brackets are good. I know of one man who
sent three back before he got one he liked and these
brackets were all in the $150 plus range.
in mind that when you are walking out in the field
with a flash mounted each time your camera moves the
flash moves as well and it can easily loosen up
depending upon the mount. So what is needed is
something that limits the pressure from the lever
principle and is exceptionally strong.
way to relieve some of the pressure is to use a
smaller flash such as a two battery model instead of
four. Now you have less size, weight and pressure on
your mount. Canon has a model 270 EX II that works
great and I'm sure Nikon and Sony etc have something
next way is to move the mount itself more towards
the end of the lens. The closer the mount is
the less pressure from the lever effect.
The Most Common
DYI Macro Bracket Setup
The most common setup
is a standard E-TTL or manual flash mounted
to a standard off camera flash bracket with
a ball head or some other method of mounting
it at an angle towards the front of the
lens. A large diffuser is placed on the end
of it. In theory this is actually a very
good setup: however, what happens is the
ball head loosens up, many of the brackets
are flimsy so they twist as well making for
option you actually have two big negatives,
the stress placed on
the ball head and the tendency for the head
to swivel. Both of these are easy to
fix, just get a small bracket from the
hardware store and bend it to the angle you
want instead of using the ball head (plus it
will save money) and place Velcro strips on
the flash so once in place the head does not
swivel or spin.
One of the best
features of this setup is it has other uses as
the only thing specific to the macro
function is the ball head or hardware store
bracket. If you don't have a bracket
and cord already you can get both along with
a softbox from Adorama (you know click the
link on the left to help support this site). If you have them
you can head down to your hardware store
purchase a 90 degree angle bracket and a
couple of screws and for less than $5 you
are up and running.
As far as
saving money the least expensive
option is if you have a shoe mount flash,
get a can of Pringles, cut one end at an
angle and cover it with some kind of
diffuser (parchment paper works) slide the
other end of it over your flash head and
tape it on. You will end up with a long foil
coated tube for the light to travel through
that is aimed at the insect.
Another Inexpensive Option
Novoflex made a rather neat macro bracket
called the "X-Shoe". You can still find them
on ebay but everyone wants much more than
they are worth.
version is a very solid short lens shade that a ring fits
around. On the ring you have a flash
mount the tilts, so you can spin it in any
position and tilt it down. You can do
the same with a small ball head, a hose clamp
and a standard lens shade. Drill a hole
through the clamp, put a 1/4 by 20 screw
through the hole and attach the ball head.
Then put the clamp around the lens hood. It
is small, light weight durable etc.
Flash mounted to a Magic Arm
- one of the best options
Shown here is
a Canon 270 EX II mounted to a magic arm
that is connected to a lens tripod mount.
(top two photos) A magic arm is an excellent
way to get the flash close to the subject.
They are very strong and stable. However if
you don't have a lens tripod mount ring you
would need to find another method to use the
magic arm such as a Custom Bracket Mini RC.
(bottom two photos) The other advantage of
using the Custom Bracket Mini RC is that you
can easily change the lens as nothing is
connected to it.
This is one of
my favorite setups as it is lightweight,
strong, flexible and as mentioned it can be used with any
Old Jones Flash Bracket
Jones is a
company that makes flash brackets that
are/were mainly used for medium format
cameras. They come in a couple of different
styles and they are exceptionally well made,
plus they are not very expensive used. The
only negative things that I have ever read
about them are that they are overbuilt. So I
will be more specific, they are heavy to
carry out in the field for long periods.
However, they will not let you down.
Both styles of
Jones brackets move the flash mount about 4
inches closer to the end of the lens and
they raise it up.
allows you to put a ball head on the
bracket, then mount the flash to the ball
head and point it downwards. (buy a good
quality ball head not a cheap one such as
the ones you see designed for flashes).
Something similar to a Manfrotto 482 works
Standard Flash with Supplemental Flash on Magic Arm
Shown here is a Canon
580 EX II used with a Canon 270 EX II. The
580 can be used as a master to provide full
ETTL control for the 270. The magic arm
allows the 270 to be securely placed closer
to the bug.
downside here it that most of light provided
by the bigger flash is lost.
Photo Courtesy of Jeff
Simple Folding Diffuser
Not really a bracket
but there are simple folding diffusers on
the market that work very well at diffusing
the light for macro shots, they fold down
next to nothing and are very inexpensive. As
shown above it just fits over you lens and
is aimed downwards. The downside is that the
flash is still far away from the subject so
increased flash power is needed.
Manfrotto Flash Bracket - And Others
This Manfrotto Dedicated Macro Flash Bracket was
discontinued years ago but they still can be found
once in a while on ebay. They usually go in the
50-60 dollar range and they are excellent
brackets. Naturally you can mount two of any kind of
flash to them. They are strong and hold the flashes
firmly in place. There are other brackets out there
now but you need to make sure they are very strong.
Keep in mind the price as some go for hundreds of
dollars and they do nothing more.
Another Classic Design
I saw a
YouTube Video of something similar to this
being built. Now they sell them for
about $20; however, the ones you purchase
have some issues. Instead of one long plate
that goes to the circle they have two small
ones and the portion that mounts to the
camera is not very wide so it has a tendency
to move side to side.
Here one plate extends all the way out and
and it has a slot in it so that the heads
can be moved back and forth (closer or
further from the subject). Also, the
bottom camera plate has been made larger to
prevent the side to side movement.
Mounted on the bracket are two small ball
heads to position the flash. The heads shown
here are the ones sold for flashes which may
work inside on a stand but as far as using
them outdoors, forget it even if you tighten
them with pliers. To trigger the
flashes a wire could be used (depending upon
the flashes and camera) or a radio slave.
Shown here is a radio slave, about the
cheapest if not the cheapest on the market
as it only needs to broadcast less than a
Dual Head Magic Arm
Shown here are two
magic arms mounted to a piece of aluminum
that is then mounted to a lens tripod
collar. If you only want to use one head you
can skip the plate and mount the magic arm
directly to the tripod collar. This is an
extremely flexible, strong and compact
bracket setup. To top it off it is not
expensive, about $30 for parts. The downside
is that you need to have a tripod collar
that fits your lens. Off brand Tripod Mount
Rings are very inexpensive (about $15) .
Ones available from your lens manufacturer
are well over a $150.