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12-09-2010, 08:34 PM   #1
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Macro flash advice

Hi all,

Iím after some advice on the importance of a decent flash when doing Macro work. I take a lot of shots handheld since I find setting up a tripod too cumbersome when chasing bees and bugs around, but a lot of my shots are plagued with just enough blur to stop a good photo becoming a great photo.

I see a lot of truly amazing shots on this forum and Iím wondering if most of these were done with a flash or a tripod? None of my photos look anywhere near as crisp.

If an external flash is recommended, what should I be looking at? I would assume for macro photography power isnít too important since itís so close?

Having said all that, Iíve just started trying to use the K-7ís built in flash with a diffuser (no great results yet), so would I be wasting money trying to get a flash that would be better spent on other things?

Cheers,
Stiv

12-09-2010, 10:23 PM   #2
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Hi Stiv:

I shoot a lot of Macro and usually rely upon strong light and hand holding. In very good light, you really can get some excellent shots. I do not use a tri-pod often. A monpod can come in handy though. Here are a couple of examples in good light, handheld--the blue flowers were about the size of a dime:







However, there have been times I use flash. My results with the onboard flash are not usually to my liking, but I have been surprised on occasion. When I asked for advice on a ringflash for Macro work here @ the forum, this thread was created https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/pentax-camera-field-accessories/91374-rin...uggestion.html
--hope it helps you:

EDIT: BTW, turn up the ISO on your K7. I use a K20d, which has excellent High ISO performance, but nothing like what the new K5 dishes out. Even in excellent light, it is rare for me to ever take a Macro shot unless I am at least @ ISO 320. Use your higher ISOs to your best advantage.

Feel free to ask more questions!

Last edited by Jewelltrail; 12-09-2010 at 10:31 PM. Reason: update/add
12-10-2010, 12:42 AM   #3
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DIY

You could buy one of those 50$ china flashes from ebay, and construct your own light guide out of cardboard, to lead the light right out near the lens. Manual flash is the best for macro work.

There are lots of DIY stuff on the net, showing how to make even ringflash guides out of baking forms etc.

If you line your light guide with tinfoil and move in real close to the subject, you will be able to shoot at f/22 on half or full flash power.

Regards,
--Anders.
12-10-2010, 09:40 AM   #4
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My thoughts on ring flash are well documented in the thread that Jewelltrail referenced.

But I'll address larger issues here. I think you have to decide how seriously you are going to be about learning to shoot macro. To do it right requires a fair amount of discipline (plus luck, but that applies to all photography). This is not snapshooting.

I recommend Bryan Peterson's book Understanding Close-up Photography. Great illustrations, and very comprehensive. I learned quite a few tricks and new tools. His enthusiasm for shooting anything closeup is contagious.

I suggest you procure the following: a good tripod, preferably one that has horizontal plane shooting functionality; a cheap wireless remote, an external flash with a diffuser, a Pentax hot shoe cable footing--get the taller one that allows the popup flash to open, and a 2-3 foot cable to run from the camera to the off-camera flash.

The tripod is necessary to prevent camera shake and ensure a "crisp" photo. It will also free up your hands so you can manipulate the flash. It will also let you shoot longer exposures which are critical when using apertures such as f11-16. The remote keeps your hands off the camera once framing, focus, and exposure are configured correctly. A tripod also helps ensure consistency which is a requirement for excellent photography.

From your initial post I assume you don't have an external flash. In my book just about all photographers who are going beyond snapshots need one. While the range of available strobes for Pentax DSLR can go beyond US $400, as a starting point as well as for macro use, I'd go with something cheaper.

I'd suggest an old-style thyristor-based flash that allow full manual control. PTTL won't serve you well with closeup shooting anyway. Plus it's critical for a photographer to learn to use a flash manually when shooting in M mode on your camera--which is the way to go for closeups.



Something like a used SunPak Super 383 works great (for me at least). You can lower the power output to 1/16 with a very convenient slider. There are also three levels of Auto flash, so you have plenty of flexibility for all shooting possibilities. It swivels and tilts too. Plus it should run under $65 USD, but you may have to dig a bit. There are other good cheaper strobes too, so check the Strobist site and here.

Stick a diffuser on the flash to soften things, attach your cable, and then have some fun. With your camera set on the tripod you use the flash in so many ways. You can supplement the existing lighting--often quarter-shadows obscure the scene too much. Or you can create drama with intense shadowing. Or you can just dominate the natural lighting and control the scene completely. And that's just outdoors I'm talking about.



Technique: with both ring flash and external flash you will get a lot of light. I often use ISO 100-200, f11-16, and an exposure between 1/45-1/125. You may need to go to 1/180 if the wind is a factor. That all said, I've gotten fine shots up to ISO 800 on my K20D.

Lower ISO is preferred because on screen you can see the noise differences with macro--especially if you are cropping. Macro shots, more than a few other types, draw viewer's eyes closer in, so sharpness and noise management is more critical. A print, most likely, won't reveal those issues, so your output requirements need to be taken into account for ISO selection.

If you are shooting with more wide-open aperture (which is one of my favorite things too), your flash can be held further away for just a touch of light or some fill. Experiment. And have fun.

M

12-10-2010, 10:01 AM   #5
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Definitely check out this thread for inspiration on cheap, build it yourself macro flashes. It's quite possible to get some stunning results, despite being on a tight budget!
12-10-2010, 05:07 PM   #6
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After a lot of experimenting with macro, I settled upon a system that involves shooting in AV at f-22, P-TTL, diffused hotshoe flash, a monopod spike that sticks into the ground (that I made myself) for stability and the DA 35mm macro Limited. I also have the DFA 100mm macro, but the closer working distance of the 35 works better with flash and small apatures. To check out what I mean, Google Ron Kruger and click on any link to Photoshelter. Then click on Tiny Wildflower Macros gallery.
12-10-2010, 05:37 PM   #7
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for insects, I use an external flash and a DIY diffuser
12-12-2010, 10:45 PM   #8
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Original Poster
Thanks everyone for your comments, and some great links there.

I agree with Miguel, I need to decide how seriously I want to take Macro photography. Like a lot of people I'm sure, I'd love to really study the fine art of it but realistically I don't have the time.

I might just look at getting a cheap and versatile external flash that would be useful for all types of photography. And if I get a free weekend I'll look at a DIY macro flash conversion

12-12-2010, 11:07 PM   #9
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nuff said.....

12-12-2010, 11:12 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by Miguel Quote

The tripod is necessary to prevent camera shake and ensure a "crisp" photo. It will also free up your hands so you can manipulate the flash.

M
Sorry, but Im going to disagree

As for the OP...... macro's of inanimate objects, flowers, insects, or?
12-12-2010, 11:51 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by yeatzee Quote
Sorry, but Im going to disagree
That's cool, but care to articulate why? Tripod + macro is pretty much textbook procedure. Not that I do this 100% of the time, but I notice a negative difference more than half the time when I don't use a tripod.

M
12-12-2010, 11:54 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by Miguel Quote
That's cool, but care to articulate why? Tripod + macro is pretty much textbook procedure. Not that I do this 100% of the time, but I notice a negative difference more than half the time when I don't use a tripod.

M
experience dictates my response Tripods are only necessary in macro photography, for me, when doing extreme focus stacking.

edit: Check the flickr link in my signature to see whether my macro's are "crisp" All taken tripod-less
12-12-2010, 11:56 PM   #13
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ex.




2 images stacked handheld
12-13-2010, 01:50 AM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by yeatzee Quote
ex.




2 images stacked handheld
Stunning! Can I ask what lens (lenses?) you used?
12-13-2010, 04:57 AM   #15
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I think you are far less shakey than most Yeatzee,I always use mine.
Course I love my coffee
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