Macro Flash

By George D. Lepp With Kathryn Vincent Lepp, Photography By George D. Lepp A small bee fly gathering pollen in a field of California poppies was captured with the Canon MP-E 65mm Macro lens and Canon MT-24EX twin flash system. The insects don’t stay in a flower very long, but a high-magnification lens and versatile macro lighting make it possible to get the image in a flash, so to speak. Placing the two flashes very close to the lens concentrated the light on the interior of the flower.
If you’re seeking to heat up the WOW factor in your images, macro photography may become your favorite pursuit. Viewers are captivated by larger-than-life images of very small things, especially when the photographs reveal fascinating details in commonplace subjects. I think of macro as one of the last frontiers of nature photography that involves equipment and techniques generally available to anyone with the curiosity and the will to undertake it.

This Julia butterfly was photographed using a Canon EF 180mm macro lens and Canon MT-24EX flash bracket system. A third wireless Canon flash was held by an assistant to light the butterfly from the side. The combination of telephoto macro lens and two flashes on a bracket allowed me to move freely and to keep some distance between the camera and the very shy subject.Macro photography requires a set of tools that can be as basic as a standard lens with a simple accessory, such as an extension tube, or as specialized as a dedicated macro lens. All of the lens manufacturers offer macro lenses that can achieve a magnification factor of at least 1:1 (life-size). By far, the biggest challenge to macro photography in the field is getting enough light on the subject. You want to get close to get the highest magnification possible, but the higher the magnification, the more light is lost. Extension tubes and telephoto macro lenses can maximize working distance and solve the problem in many situations; still, for maximum detail, depth, clarity and color, you have to turn the lights on.

In the early years of SLR photography, photographers attempting macro images in natural settings were limited by the need to maximize both light and magnification. Since the light falls off as magnification is increased, those early photographers were engaged in a delicate balance that, in effect, limited the closeness and the depth of field they could achieve in their images. As electronic flash units became more sophisticated, nature photographers began to use them to gain enough light to increase magnification and enable smaller apertures, with resulting added depth of field; that is, more light makes it possible to get more of the subject in focus.

But it’s not just about more light. It’s also about the direction of the light. My earliest recollection of a flash bracket for macro photography was a single flash positioned just above the lens. It was promoted by John Shaw and Larry West in their workshops and books and marked the beginning of my fascination with flash brackets and macro photography, and also my search for a better light system. I found the results of a single flash to be too contrasty, with heavy shadows behind the subject suggesting that the photograph was taken at night rather than, as was usually the case, in a sunlit field of flowers.

A Canon EOS 5D Mark II with an EF 180mm

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