Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Corel Paint Shop Pro – Photo X2 | Adobe Photoshop CS3 | Image Editing Software

In my last post I wrote exclusively about tripods, tripod heads, focussing rails (micro positioning plates and quick release plates. I gave you my honest opinion when I recommended a tripod and head combo for macro photography. Just to clarify, I recommended the Manfrotto 460mg and Benbo Trekker as a versatile macro tripod and head combination. You wont find many tips on macro photography in this post because I am going to write it exclusively on the subject of image editing software. Unless you have been living under a rock for several years you will have realised that software is an important tool in digital macro photography. It is important as a photographer to understand the benefits that imaging editing software has to offer. Failure to enhance your digital macro photography with software will leave you with frustratingly dull images. It is all part and parcel of the post processing procedure for digital photography. The ability to sharpen an image, adjust the levels for more accurate exposure and alter the saturation for more vibrant colour is why you need to invest in the best image editing software that you can afford. Some photographers have no idea how to manipulation or enhance their photographs with software and are immediately at a disadvantage. Make sure that you do not fall into this category because no matter how hard you try to get the perfect image it will always look less vibrant, sharp or incorrectly exposed. The better you are as a photographer the less time you will have to spend on post processing with software. If the image is excellent to begin with you can make a few adjustments to give it masterpiece status. This is one of the benefits of digital photography. It is surprising how far you can go to restore a very bad exposure, particularly from a RAW file.

There is always a lot of talk about pixels yet few people understand what a pixel actually is, or their importance in digital photography. The word pixel is derived from Picture Element. A pixel is a point in a graphic image. Pixels are arranged in rows and columns. So now we know that a digital image is made of pixels and want to find the image editing software to gain control of these pixels. This way we can get much more from our digital images. If you are not post editing your digital images with software you a not utilizing the full potential of your digital camera. Post-editing is an essential way to make your digital image really stand out.

One of the greatest advantages of digital photography is the ability to crop the images. This means that you cut out the part you want to keep and remove the rest. If you read my post about composition I briefly mentioned this technique. It is quite obvious that by cropping the image you are making it smaller and it will therefore contain less pixels after the crop. Most image editing software will have a crop tool but when it comes to post image processing you need a powerful piece of image editing software.

Adobe Photoshop is the best Image Editing Software
If you take the time and learn to use Adobe Photoshop properly there is no chance that you would ever want to use any other software program. The incredible range of filters, tools, utilities and plug-ins make it a very versatile piece of software. If you are prepared to learn how to use this software it is definitely worth paying the extra money for it. The software is quite obviously complex and you would probably benefit from a photoshop tutorial or training course. The program has many tools and filters that are especially useful for fixing photographs.

There are several image adjustments in Adobe Photoshop that I find extremely useful for post processing macro photography. Replace Color is useful for making adjustments to backgrounds especially for product shots that require a clean background. This is one of the image adjustments that I use a lot and might post a tutorial on how to clean up backgrounds in the near future. Replace color can be used for a whole host of other scenarios. Shadow and Highlight is a brilliant adjustment tool and can be used to bring some lost-by-shadow detail back to your images. Many of my macro photography disasters have been rescued by this image editing tool. Over use of this filter can cause the image to have an unnatural appearance. It is worth getting the image right with the camera first time, this will save you time with post processing your images. Saturation can be used to increase or decrease the color in an image. This has to be done with some degree of caution if you want the image to look realistic. The list of features within this software is endless and I have no intention of writing them all down. I think that most of us understand about adjusting the levels in a digital image. This is just a quick and simple way of altering the overall contrast (lightness and darkness) of an image which is depicted by a curved graph. There are numerous ways of doing the same task including entering the new values manually, dragging the curve to new position or using the sliding control bars. Although this is one of the most simple image adjustments that you can make it is also one of the most effective.

There is no doubt that Adobe Photoshop is the crème de la crème of image editing software. It is the software preferred by professionals. However, this website is for beginners to macro photography and I want to bring to your attention another powerful image editing software program that cost a fraction of the price of Adobe Photoshop. The first one of course is Adobe Photoshop Elements which is a cut down version of Photoshop. Elements has enough features to keep most photographers happy but like the full programme you need enough computer memory to run it. Both programmes use a file organiser (Adobe Bridge for Photoshop), although a very useful program in it's own right it means that both have to run at the same time. This can be the cause of a slow down on some older or less powerful computers. There is good news for Mac users (I may be joining you soon!) because Photoshop Elements is available for Mac computers as well as PC.

I would recommend buying the most up to date version which is currently (at the time of writing this article) Photoshop Elements 6. This will ensure that the software is compatible with your operating system, this is important if you are running Microsoft Vista. Adobe Photoshop Elements has a user-friendly interface with a distinctive slate gray background. The tool palates can float or be docked and are very colorful in appearance. The software program has three main modes that are EDIT, CREATE and SHARE. In edit mode you are able to make changes to your images such as sharpening, exposure, scratch removal etc. In create mode you can make a photo book, collage, on-line gallery or flash slide shows. I have to admit that the online gallery and slide show features that use templates are not really my cup of tea. Some people might enjoy using these over simplified features but they really are nothing to write home about. In my opinion if you are interested in making online galleries or slide shows there are much better software programs available to do this than Photoshop Elements. It is far too basic to be considered a serious application feature in this software but it may come in handy for wasting a rainy afternoon or entertaining the children for an hour or so. Share mode makes it easier to send your images by email etc. The file organizer (based on Adobe Bridge) runs very slowly and can be difficult to navigate. To make searches easier you can add keywords and tags to your images. This is a very useful way of locating a batch of images taken with a particular macro lens (for example) or with a very specific photographic set-up.

Overall Adobe Photoshop Elements is a good value for money piece of software that has gradually improved with each new version. It certainly has enough filters, tools and features to keep most beginners to digital photography busy. I have used Adobe Photoshop elements quite a lot in the past and found it very easy and intuitive to use. Adobe must have thought it was easy to use as well because there is very little help available for the computer illiterate amongst us. If you find yourself within this category you may be more interested in Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X2. Originally this software was developed by JASC. I have used Paint Shop Pro on my PC for several years and only recently bought a copy of Adobe Photoshop. Paint Shop Pro is a brilliant application and in my opinion much better to use as a beginner than all the others. It is an intuitive program and also has some very useful features for image editing and image manipulation. I really like this software for its simplicity and ease of use but if given the choice between the two I would buy Coral Paint Shop Pro – Photo X2. The main reason for this decision is that Paint Shop Pro runs quicker and smoother in my experience. They are pretty much even in most respects but I have occasionally experienced glitches with Elements. Although they were not too serious it is frustrating when the software hangs or has to be restarted.

Adobe has a new image editing option for us all to consider. Photoshop Express is still in the pipeline at the moment but is due to be unleashed very soon. It is a new innovation by Adobe that incorporates online photo editing and an online image gallery. The software allows very basic image editing options that might keep some snappers happy. This will include crop, rotate, red eye removal, black and white, saturation and white balance. It is definitely not aimed at serious photographers who will find this software option far too limiting. However, this may well be the way that we are destined to edit our images in future so it's worth keeping an eye on developments. The release of Adobe Lightroom 2 is also imminent. Lightroom was developed with the help of professional photographers. It is described by Adobe as the professional photographers toolbox. Essentially Lightroom is designed to work with Photoshop. Adjustments to images in Lightroom will not alter the original data. Adobe has also added Photoshop CS3 Extended to this growing family of programs. This software allows you to edit 3D and motion based content.

As this website is called “Macro Photography for Beginners” I want to offer some advice regarding photo editing software. If you are happy to learn how to use Adobe Photoshop CS3 and can afford to buy a legitimate copy then this is all you will ever need to edit your images. If you are working on a lower budget buy a copy of Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 or Adobe Photoshop Elements. Avoid all other imaging editing software like the plague. Ensure that your computer has a specification capable of running the software that you have chosen. Photo editing software uses a lot of computer memory especially when working with large file sizes.

Thank you for visiting my website, I hope that you found this information helpful.

Marvin Africa

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Tripods for Macro Photography

Which Tripods are best for Macro Photography?
A very important aspect of macro photography is finding a way to support the camera whilst also allowing you as the photographer, to make precise movements to the cameras position. To get consistent results this has to be done in a way that is fast, simple and accurate. To get this type of camera positioning control you need to invest in a sturdy tripod. A tripod does not necessarily have to be expensive to be effective for macro photography. The very cheap unbranded all-in-one pan and tilt tripods are best avoided because they are simply not good strong enough for the job. This type of tripod is designed for much lighter cameras and camcorders rather than heavy digital SLR cameras with macro lenses and flash units connected. It is likely that the excess weight would break the tripod and could result in damage to the camera, lens or flash unit. It is therefore a good idea to find a tripod that is strong, sturdy and designed to take the weight of all your expensive camera equipment.

There are thousands of different tripods on the market and the only thing that they have in common is that they all have three legs. A tripod is the only realistic method of getting consistently sharp macro photographs. However, this cannot be guaranteed when working with outdoor subjects such as plants, flowers and insects. Still life Photography is relatively easy in comparison and a sturdy tripod is almost guaranteed to give crystal sharp results indoors. This of course is only possible if you are using an adequate camera and lens combination with good lighting and a remote switch. Another way is to achieve consistent sharp still life images is to attach the camera to a stand or bracket.

Nature and wildlife photographers often use their cameras hand held (without tripod support) for flexibility. This can be a difficult skill to learn and often requires the use of flash which allows for quicker shutter speed. Unless balanced with ambient light this may result in pictures that have an unnatural appearance. My own experience of hand held macro photography has been disappointing at times but with practice has gradually improved. I found that it involves taking a lot more shots of the subject in the hope of getting at least one that is sharp. On reflection you can have a lot of soft images of the subject or use a tripod in the hope of getting at least one acceptably sharp image. The argument against using a tripod is that they are rather restrictive, cumbersome and time consuming. My response to this would be that this is the price you pay for seeking consistently sharp images. Your strike rate may be lower but the pictures you do manage to get will be of much higher quality. Also the composition will usually be better due to the slow and thoughtful way that you are forced to work with a tripod.

One of the tripods that I have found that is suitably flexible for outdoor wild flower photography is the Benbo range by Paterson Photographic. These tripods have a unique design that makes it possible to get your camera very close to the ground. In fact the Benbo Trekker will allow you to get lower than ground level if your subject is in a hole (below ground level). There are other tripods that can do this by reversing the central column. Reversing the central column means that your camera will be upside down. In addition the legs may obstruct your view and make it difficult to see through the view finder. If macro photography is your sole purpose for buying a tripod and your subjects are likely to be on the ground or close to it, a Benbo is probably one of the options to consider.

Benbo tripod are not always the easiest piece of equipment to use. I have found the Trekker II that I use to be quite a challenge to set-up quickly. The lower leg section are sealed and waterproof so that the tripod can be stood in shallow water. Although I recommend this tripod (the current model is the Benbo Trekker Mark 3) I would not buy the tripods standard ball and socket head and also consider whether to avoid the swivel joint. The swivel joint is available in the centre column and allows the camera to be adjusted from horizontal to vertical. However, many photographers have indicated that this additional joint adds a weak point in the tripod. I can confirm that in my own experience the swivel joint does affect the overall weight capacity of these tripods. In macro photography ability to use precision to fine tune your composition is very important. Any weak point or vulnerability will become apparent very quickly. Benbo tripods are an adequate tripod for beginners but you have to accept that they do have limitations. These tripods can be improved by the addition of a third party head such as the Manfrotto 460mg (or similar) rather than a low quality standard ball and socket head. Poor quality ball and socket tripod heads will make framing your subject a very frustrating exercise, particularly if the camera is facing downwards. In this position the ball and socket joint will be under a considerable amount of stress.

Manfrotto 460mg - 3 Way Tripod Head
This is a very innovative tripod head made from light weight magnesium, it weighs 0.4 Kg (0.9 lbs). It can be moved in 3 different directions using independent adjustments. This flexibility makes it possible to move the camera to any position imaginable. The head will pan through 360 degrees and has frontal and lateral tilt. The Manfrotto 460mg has rubber grip fine adjustment knobs rather than levers so you cannot poke yourself in the eye! The head is supplied with a PL 200 quick release plate. It has a load capacity of 3.0 Kg (6.7 lbs) which is enough for most camera, macro lens and flash arrangements. The combination of the Benbo Trekker and the Manfrotto 460mg gives you an excellent and balanced set up for macro photography. There are plenty of alternative tripods heads in all shapes and sizes. Geared heads offer more precision and are popular but also very expensive in comparision.

Please Note, that to use the Benbo Trekker tripods (with 1/4" thread) with a Manfrotto tripod head (3/8" thread) youwill need to purchase an additional adapter. Benbo Trekker tripods have 1/4” male thread, this requires the addition of a Bogen/Manfrotto 1/4” to 3/8” adapter. This inexpensive adapter will make the Benbo Trekker tripod compatible with 3/8” tripod heads made by other manufacturers. There are two different types of this adapter. One of them is a simple adapter that threads directly over the original 1/4” thread converting into a 3/8” thread. The other type is virtually the same except that it has a flange (or disc) around it. Neither are expensive and both will allow you to convert a 1/4” thread to a 3/8” thread allowing you to use a Manfrotto tripod head with a Benbo (or Uni-loc) tripod. I found that Kaiser also make a very inexpesive 1/4” to a 3/8” thread adapter.

The Benbo Trekker range is also cloned as the Uni-loc Major System - so these tripods are essentially the same product using the same or (very similar) design. They both meet high standards of quality (some say that the Uni-loc has a better build quality). Trekker tripods are sold with or without the controversial swivel joint in the centre column. It is also possible to purchase replacement centre column. If you have a Benbo with a swivel joint but want a straight column you can buy a replacement from Paterson Photographic.

Also I have read that some photographers are unhappy that the camera has to be supported when you undo the tension nut. This is actually no different to most other brand of tripod, I am not aware of any tripod that can be operated any differently. I have found that the Benbo tripods are easy to set-up if you slacken the tensioning nut very slightly (just enough to move the legs or the centre column into a new position). I accept that for some people the Benbo is just right for them. In fact as you begin to more proficient as a macro photographer you may decide to look for a more proffesional tripod for your macro endeavors.

If you want to avoid the Benbo/Uni-Lock style of tripod and would prefer to go straight for the proffesional tripods here a a few brands to consider.





(Aluminium).Gitzo get very good reviews for their Explorer Range of tripods most notably for macro photography. A popular choice and currently still available is the Gitzo Explorer G2220 Another popular choice but with mixed reviews from photographers are the Manfrotto 190X Pro B and the larger 055B tripods. My only advice is to try before you buy or at least read as many reviews as possible, not only about the products but the company behind them. Customer Service should always be considered as you will need this when seeking spare parts, repairs or even a refund if the product does not live up to expectations.

Macro Focussing RailsI have already outlined a fairly reasonable tripod (either the Benbo, Manfrotto or Gitzo) and tripod head (Manfrotto 460mg or better) for macro photography. This combination is especially suited to outdoor field work such as wild flower (botanic), insect (bugs), fungi (mycology) or similar types of field photography. It is actually possible to improve the equipment's flexibility further by adding a focussing rail (also known as a micro positioning plate). The difficult and frustrating part of macro photography is focussing on your subject. To do this manually without a focussing rail means moving the camera backwards and forwards to bring the subject into focus. To adjust the focal distance you have to move the tripod and camera closer or further away from subject. To maintain a particular ratio i.e 1:1 you might have to resort to adjusting the extension of the tripods legs or the centre column. This can be a frustrating and difficult procedure without a foccussing rail. The focussing rail connects to the tripod head and can be used with a quick release plate. This enables the camera to be moved in small increments backwards and forwards for quicker and more precise focusing. Manfrotto/Bogen make an acceptable micro positioning plate for this purpose. In the UK it is branded as the Manfrotto 454 Micro Positioning Plate and in the US as the Manfrotto/Bogen 3419 Micro Positioning Plate. It is an outstanding piece of kit and a perfect compliment to the set-up that I have described in this post. This labour saving device is ideal for macro photography because it can be used to make precise positioning movements with fingertip control. It is small at 180 x 77, 5x6mm in dimension and does not add much weight at 0.5 Kg (1 lbs) because it is made from extruded aluminium. It is strong though and has a maximum weight capacity of 8.0 Kg (17.7 lbs) which is easily enough for a Digital SLR camera, Lens and off camera flash unit. When using the fingertip control for ultra-fine positioning the Manfrotto Micro Positioning Plate has a simple lock-release lever for fast set-up. It is common sense really, but it is important that you support the camera if you have it positioned facing downwards whilst using the lock-release lever. It is also possible to fix two Micro Positioning Plates together so that you have the same control over left to right movements (but this is over kill in my opinion and not really necessary - each to their own).

Quick Release (QR) Plates It is always worth paying for a good quality tripod head to use with your tripod. Remember that you do not have to buy the same brand of tripod head as your tripod. The flexibility of being able to mix and match provides the photographer with a much wider choice of selection. Quick Release (QR) Plates are a simple device that make it easier and faster to attach or remove the camera from the tripod (via the tripod head). This means that you spend less time setting up each composition and more time taking photographs. Macro Photography without a quick release plate is awkward and fiddly to accomplish. If you do not use a quick release plate there is a strong chance that you will eventually damage your camera, tripod or lens collar connection. This will come about through repeatedly attaching and disconnecting the camera to and from the tripod manually. The end result of this would be having to buy a new and expensive lens collar for your macro lens. The worst scenario would be the camera, lens and flash unit coming away from the tripod and getting damaged. You always have to consider the stability of the the system you are using and quick release plates makes a lot of sense. Many of the high quality tripod heads come with a quick release plates but you can also buy them separately if required.

I hope that you found this post about tripods, heads, focussing rails and quick release plates useful. If you begin using (or upgrade to) a set-up like the one I recommended it will make a lot of difference to your macro photography. In my next post and possibly several subsequent posts (hey, its a big topic) I will be writing about image editing software. Thank you for visiting my macro photography for beginners website.

You may also be interested in my blog post about Macro Tripod Problems (or the day my tripod broke, may have been a more accurate title)

Thursday, 1 May 2008

What is the best Flash for Macro Photography?

Flash Techniques in Macro Photography
One of the first questions you have to ask yourself as a photographer is, do I need to use a flash for macro photography? The answer to the question is YES you do need a flash for macro photography. There are times when it may be possible to take photographs using ambient light close-up. At higher magnifications the need to use flash becomes more increasingly evident and therefore an important part of the macro photographers set-up.

Macro Photographers looking for a system of flash photography are unlikely to find an out-of-the-box solution. A lot of the macro photography that you see on the internet is “close-up” using the flash as the primary light source. If you are considering a flash to your equipment list these are your options:-

Options for outdoor Macro Photography Set-up

Twin Flash
Ring Flash
Hot-shoe Mounted Flash Gun
Built-in Flash (Pop-up)
Twin Flash (Master) and Flash Gun/s (Slave/s)
Ring Flash (Master) and Flash Gun/s (Slave/s)
Built-In (Pop-up) Flash diffused
Twin Flash diffused
Ring Flash diffused
Hot-shoe Mounted Flash Gun using an off-camera hot-shoe extension cord attached to macro bracket arm and fitted with a diffuser
Ambient (natural) Light Only – No Flash

Options for Still life macro photography

Twin Flash
Ring Flash
Twin Flash diffused
Ring Flash diffused
Artificial light source (lighting)
Ambient (natural) Light Only – No Flash

*diffused includes all techniques, light box, light tent, reflecting light etc

Fill Flash | Fill-in Flash
Daylight photography can pose all kinds of problems for the happy-go-lucky photographer. In terms of macro photography this is usually a diurnal activity (done during daylight hours). Nocturnal macro photography is not something that I have come across (yet). It may seem strange to talk about using flash photography when there is an abundance of natural ambient light to use. The problem with the bright sunlight is that it casts shadows over parts of your subjects and this reduces the amount of detail in the photograph. To solve this photographic problem a small amount of flash is used to light the areas of shadow. This is called fill, fill-in or fill flash and is a valuable skill to learn in (macro) photography. The flash has to be fired at reduced power so that it does not alter the overall exposure of the image. In macro photography there a plenty of interesting methods of utilising fill-in flash for your photography. To do this you must adjust the flash exposure. If your flash is connected to the camera by a hot shoe you usually make the setting on the flash unit. In the absence of a light meter (I don’t bother with them either!) Spot metering can be a useful method of calculating the amount of exposure compensation if your camera has this feature (mine doesn’t!). Spot metering is considered by some photographers as essential for macro photography. (note to self - I need to buy a new camera!) So if you’re buying a new camera for macro and close up photography make sure it is capable of spot metering. What you are trying to evaluate is the difference in contrast between the dark areas (shadows) and the light areas (highlights) in the frame. I recently read a tutorial on macro photography that was approximately 150 words in length. The tutorial by an amateur photographer provided the reader with his exact settings followed by his “expert” advice “this works for me”. Now this photographer did put up some pictures which were very good and the settings he was using seemed OK as well. The problem arises when a student of photography tries to follow this photographer’s example. There are degrees of variation within equipment and environments to evaluate for each composition which renders copying setting from an photography forum a total waste of time. It is different to seek advice so that you can learn how to set up the camera yourself. Be inspired by great photographs and photographers and try to emulate what they do by all means but do not copy their camera settings and expect the same results. (sorry about that…simmering down!)

High Speed Sync (FP)
It’s going to be another one of those posts with lot of big fancy words and plenty to take on board. I’m fed up of reading about dark or back backgrounds associated with macro photography. Yes, they generally look abysmal but there are lots of ways to avoid them even with a simple set up like mine. High Speed Sync (or Synch if you prefer) is one of them. In this mode which is set using your flash unit you can tell your camera to use a faster shutter speed than the camera would normally allow.

Absolutely Curtains – Second Curtain Synchronisation
There are two distinct types of curtain synchronisation that are used in digital camera photography. First Curtain Synchronisation (also known as 1st Curtain Sync, Fast Sync and Front Curtain Sync) occurs when the shutter curtain is open (during an exposure) and the flash fires to correspond with the opening of the shutter curtain (at the beginning of the exposure). Second Curtain synchronisation occurs when the flash fires later in the exposure towards the end of the exposure. There is a little more to how this works but on a basic level this how the two curtain synchronisation modes work. Second curtain sync is a very useful camera feature (available on most DSLR cameras). Wildlife photographers interested in entomology find this specifically useful for insect photography. It is thought that some insects are very sensitive to camera flash and will make a quick exit when the flash goes off. When second curtain sync is used the flash occurs later in the exposure so that the insect is captured before the burst of flash is detected.

Flash Exposure Compensation (FEC)
To use flash exposure compensation simply select FEC (or whatever the equivalent feature is called in your camera) and us the plus (+) symbol to increase the amount flash (making the flash more powerful). Use the minus (-) symbol to decrease the amount of flash (making the flash less powerful).

Flash Exposure Lock (FEL)
Flash Exposure Lock is denoted by an asterisk symbol on some cameras. When you activate this feature it locks the flash on the part of the subject that you have chosen using the auto focus (AF) points. This works by firing a pre-flash and then calculates the amount of flash required for the exposure.

Going the Extra Mile!
Many photographers and photography critics complain about black or dark backgrounds in macro photography. You do not have to use flash for macro photography it but in certain situations it will not be possible to get an acceptable exposure. Ambient (natural) light at slow shutter speed will create an even exposure for some still life subjects. In addition still life and indoor photography can be lit using lighting for total control of the exposure. This is when a light box or light tent comes in really useful, this is great for taking still images of products for auction sites. A light box or (or light tent) is a structure that you can light with a light source (such as a lamp). The light is diffused by the material but enough penetrates the structure to light the still life subject inside. They come in all shapes and sizes and can be created for very little money from cardboard, fabric, paper etc. In essence this is the same technology used in portrait and studio photography only on a smaller scale Remember that a picture speaks a thousand words. If you can take and use your own close-up or macro photography on your website you have an advantage over your competitors (unless they are also doing the same which makes it all square). This type of photography is not strictly restricted to still life as some entomologists and scientists collect specimens and photograph them under laboratory conditions using the same or similar set-up. In many cases this is to get as much detail and therefore information from the species without any distraction from the background. The photographs produced are not generally of great artistic merit but not all photography is art (or is it?). In summary it comes down to finding a way of working that suits your style and suits your subjects. If you have the ingenuity to try something new you should embrace this opportunity. In digital photography failure is not expensive and this allows the photographer to try all kinds of wild and weird photography techniques. Many of the most successful nature photographers are the ones who are prepared to go the extra mile.

The Cost of Setting up a Flash System for Macro Photography
(Apart from all the $1.00 plastic milk bottles and polystyrene cereal bowls concepts) setting up a decent flash system for macro photography can be quite expensive. Even if you already own a good flash gun (such as the Canon EX range i.e. 580 EX) you will need a bracket (such as a Kirk, Wimberley etc) which may also require a quick release plate and a diffuser (Stofen Omnibounce) and an off camera hot-shoe cord. In fact by the time you have bought all these items you are looking at similar costs as a twin flash (for example the Canon Macro Twin Lite MT-24EX Flash). Now, there is no denying that this type of set-up is great for wildlife and nature macro photography but as a beginner you may not want to spend this amount of money on a flash system. Perhaps you now understand why I use an adapted ring flash for my wildlife and nature photography. I actually enjoy trying to get the best out of the equipment by making diffusers, reflectors and deflectors. To me this is what photography should be about and not just a case of buying the most expensive equipment. There is no out-of-the-box flash system that will work perfectly for outdoor nature photography. The ability to adapt existing equipment to suit your subject is an important skill that has to be learned to be a successful macro photographer.

Flash Exposure Bracketing (FB)
Do you remember reading my comments about Automatic Exposure Bracketing (AEB) in my post about exposure? I said that this feature can not be used with flash and was therefore as much use for macro photography as a pair of chocolate underpants. When your camera detects that a flash is connected to the hot-shoe on top of the camera Flash Exposure Bracketing (FB) will be enabled. It is controlled through the flash unit and works the same way as the AEB feature. It is easy to set-up on a flash that supports this feature and the shots can be taken one at a time and not in a burst (consecutive). On the few occasions that I have used this function it has worked really well. I find it useful for still life macro photography at very close range and high magnification. If you are taking pictures of stamps or similar flat objects with a ring-flash it works really well. I would imagine that a twin flash would give very similar results.

So there you have it, another intriguing post about using the flash to fill-in. I don’t know why so many macro photographers are using flash as the primary light source in their photography? When light is already available i.e. day time you only need to use a small amount of flash. This should have no or (very little) impact on the overall exposure other than to remove areas of shadow. I hope this has enlightened a few people on how they should be setting up their cameras and compositions. Please remember that achieving natural images using flash photography is a very difficult but worthwhile technique to master.

Marvin Africa