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Macro Flash Brackets


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.

Dedicated Macro 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.

Dual head Macro Flash with standard mounting

Standard Mount

Dual head Canon MR-24 macro head with Manfrotto flash bracket

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 and weight. 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.

Other camera manufacturers make similar twin head models for their line of cameras.


Dedicated Macro Flashes - Ring Flash
 

Canon Macro Ring Flash with additional flash

 

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 Flashes - Build your own bracket

Here 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. 

The 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.

Most 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.

Keep 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.

One 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 similar.

The 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

Most popular Macro Flash Bracket - view one

Most popular Macro Flash Bracket - view two

 

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 more movement.

With this 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

Easy cheap macro flash bracket photo 1

Easy cheap macro flash bracket photo 2

 

Years ago 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.

Novoflex's 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

Magic Arm with flash for macro Photography - front view Tripod Collar

Magic Arm with flash for macro Photography - side view Tripod Collar

CB Mini RC with Magic Arm for Macro Shots view 1

CB Mini RC with Magic Arm for Macro Shots view 2

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 lens.

 

 

Old Jones Flash Bracket

 

Jones J-35 Flash Bracket setup for Macro photo 1 Jones J-35 Flash Bracket setup for Macro photo 2
Jones J-120 Flash Bracket setup for Macro photo 1 Jones J-120 Flash Bracket setup for Macro photo 2
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.

 This 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 well.

 

 

 

Standard Flash with Supplemental Flash on Magic Arm

 

Macro setup with Canon 580 and 270

 

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.

The downside here it that most of light provided by the bigger flash is lost.

Photo Courtesy of Jeff Carsten

 

Simple Folding Diffuser

Fold up diffuser used for Macro Photography - unfoldedFold up diffuser used for Macro Photography - folded

 

 

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.

 

Dual Head Manfrotto Flash Bracket - And Others

Manfrotto Macro Flash Bracket - dual head

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

C Bracket for Macro Photography - unmounted

C Bracket for Macro Photography - mounted to view

 

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 foot.

Dual Head Magic Arm

Dual Magic Arms bracket for Macro Photography

Dual Magic Arms for Macro Photography - mounted on camera

 

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.

 

 

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