Shooting Macro? Try Flash!

Try this dual-flash setup for complete control over the illumination in your image

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Most nature photographers spend the majority of their time shooting the very large in the natural world—big mountains, big animals. We become obsessed with the grandeur of outdoor photography. For a select group, however, the world of the very small holds their primary interest. You can recognize these photographers by the way in which they seem to ignore a big vista, but stare at a wolf spider with rapt attention.

Macro photography is a challenging endeavor for a nature photographer, but it can be incredibly rewarding, as well. One of the most important qualities in a successful macro shooter is patience. Foliage might seem like an easy subject, but when you try to capture an insect or even a flower that’s waving in a slight breeze, you’ll discover that the perfect image doesn’t necessarily present itself when you’re ready to shoot.

Xotopro QMM1 and TUMAX twin flash units

In addition to patience, macro work does have some particular gear requirements. You’ve probably seen a number of lenses that have “macro” in their name. While these lenses can do a fine job and might be a good choice, to be a true macro, the lens should have a magnification ratio of at least 1:1. This means that the subject can be recorded at life size (or greater if it’s more than 1:1) on the image sensor or film. A good macro lens will be tack-sharp across the image, and it will exhibit minimal curvature, if any.

Beyond the lens, you should consider lighting. Many nature photographers think of lighting as something that only studio photographers do, but the use of reflectors and flash for outdoor photography, in general, and macro photography, in particular, can be extremely helpful. When using flash, however, you must be careful to avoid making one part of the photograph too blown out. When you’re shooting macro, the close distances of flash to subject that you’re likely to have can result in an objectionable amount of falloff in intensity. The effect can produce some dramatic results, but also can get away from you and result in a disappointing image.

Top-level pros who shoot macro will tell you that they often employ a multiflash system when they’re in the field. Different photographers have their own favorite systems. The Xotopro QMM1 macro twin flash mount, combined with the TUMAX macro twin flash system, is relatively new. Its versatility and relatively low cost make it a system to look into if you’re interested in making some serious inroads to macro photography.

The system consists of a mount plate that you attach to your camera and two fully articulating arms that flex to hold the lightweight portable flashes in just about any position. Having a pair of flashes that can be positioned like this helps keep the light balanced and completely under your control. You can backlight a flower to make the colors pop, light from the sides for even illumination across the subject, light from above and below—just about anything. Give it a try, and you’ll open up a new way of taking macro shots.

Contact: Xotopro Photographic Equipment Ltd.,