Welcome to Macro Photography for Beginners
In this post I will be writing mostly about the differences of using continuous lighting and strobe lighting kits for macro photography. In previous posts on this blog the articles have mainly been directed towards outdoor macro photography. Indoor close up and macro photography is often referred to as still life or simply studio photography. It is an important discipline with regard to product photography and for keeping records of collections. It can be achieved on a shoe string (little expense) but generally good photography studio lighting kits are expensive. This can be a limiting factor for the budding beginner to macro photography. There are different ways to achieve good macro results in a studio. A choice has to be made between working with continuous light or with a flash studio lighting kit.
The first thing to do is to figure out the differences between working with continuous lights and a strobe (or flash) photography kit. In the beginning most photographers experiment with DIY studio lights often built from materials found around the home. DIY studio lights obviously vary in quality and capabilities depending on their construction. There are plenty of websites that will provide details of how to build DIY studio lights for macro photography. The most commonly discussed method in the UK is to use two or 500w Halogen site lamps. This probably is one of the cheapest and safest ways to experiment with DIY studio lights. Please don't attempt to build elaborate lighting inventions that are unsafe or likely to be dangerous. In addition please note that this type of studio lighting (halogen site lamps) will get very hot. Another reason to consider buying a proper photography light kit instead of DIY studio lights is the thorny issue of colour temperature.
What are Redhead lighting Kits?
Redhead is a type of lighting that is used by professional studio photographers. Originally introduced by a company called IANIRO. The term redhead has now become a generic term for all the similar or cloned lighting kits that have suddenly appeared on the market. The original redhead lamps were actually closer to orange in colour. These 1000w lights gained popularity due to their innovative open face (bowl shaped) design. This made the lights easier to accessorise by easily adding various types of filters over the open face of the lamps. The IANIRO redhead lighting kits are expensive and not really designed for the beginner to studio photography. There are several decent replica lighting kits available like the De Sisti Cosmobeam 1000w open-face lighting kits. (the ones I looked at did not even include the bulbs!) In fact De Sisti Cosmobeams can be bought individually. Whichever way you look at it, redhead light kits are expensive studio lights and not really the best option for the smaller macro photography set up. Arri Lighting kits, are another popular barn door, open faced redhead, individual stand lights that fall into the same category, but interestingly their light heads are blue. (spawning the confusing new search term of bluehead lighting).
There are lots of manufactures of photo lighting kits but they are mainly designed for lighting portrait photography (or similar which equates to large areas). Where a typical set-up may use up to four or more lights to get the most out of the subject. De Sisti, Arri, IANIRO and other brands allow you to buy individual lights and build your own bespoke kits. In most cases a single barn door, open face light and stand would cost more than a complete basic macro photography studio lighting kit. In other words, unless you are actually building a full size photography studio these lights (which are excellent) are not the best option for lighting macro subjects. Instead we need to turn our attention towards strobe lighting kits or less expensive brands of continuous lighting. When discussing photography the word strobe is interchangeable with the word flash. New and improved innovations in continuous lighting and studio flash kits are always being brought to the market.
Interfit Lighting Kits
Interfit are a manufacturer known for their range of affordable studio flash kits. They also make lighting specifically for use with light tents. This is continuous lighting is ideal for indoor close up and macro photography. Interfit cool-lites provide daylight balanced illumination (5200k). The great thing about these light is that they output soft uniform diffused light. When used with a light tent or light pod they are ideal for all types of still life photography including close up and macro work. The lighting can bought as a kit and also each individual product can be bought separately. Interfit take this a stage further with Super Cool-lite 5, which are also daylight balanced fluorescent lamps but more powerful. Super Cool-lite 5 are equivalent to 500w of tungsten lighting (per head). These can be obtain separately or as a twin head kit. Cost-wise we are still in the ballpark of a single high specification redhead light. The difference being that you get everything else thrown in inclusive of the all important bulbs! It is my opinion that a beginner to macro photography would be perfectly content with the interfit cool-lite 5 twin lighting kit and a light pod. However, Interfit also make a more powerful Cool-lite 9 which is equivalent to 1000w (per head) of tungsten lighting. Please note that these more powerful lights are intended for lighting larger spaces. I only mention them for those who are looking for dual purpose lights or to accommodate any geeks that may be passing by. Interfit's newest addition is the Cool-lite 655 which obviously provide even more powerful lighting equivalent to 1320w (per head) of tungsten lighting. I would imagine that these are more suited to lighting larger areas that a small macro photography light pod or light tent. As an added point of interest, this type of lighting (all these afore mentioned) can also be used for video making. If you often dabble in film making these type of Interfit studio lighting can be used for good affect in your video scenes. In addition if you have the time or opportunity I recommend taking a look at the range of flash accessories called Interfit Strobies.
Elinchrom, creative image lighting technology based at Lake Geneva, Switzerland. Elinchrom are known for producing some of the best studio lighting kit. They specialize in flash units rather than continuous lighting. Their extensive range of products is primarily directed towards the professional photographer. Products include compact flash units BX 500 RI and BX 250 RI, RX 300, RX 600, RX 1200 WS compacts. They also manufacture a range of prosumer products aimed at the Hoi polloi. This range contains two flash lighting units, the D-lite 2 and D-lite 4. They may not be the least expensive but they are possibly the most aesthetic. If you are in the market for studio flash lighting then Elinchrom is certainly something worth considering.
Bowen are one of the most recognisable names when it comes to studio lighting kits. Their continuous lighting products are divided into three distinctive categories of Studiolite, Unilite, and Trilite. Bowen provide the perfect lighting kit for macro photography with the Unilite Table-top Studio Set. The kit contains two Unilites, light stands and a Cocoon light pod. The Cocoon is a variation between a light pod and a light tent. It made of four translucent diffuser panels that simply zip together. This is one of the most cost effective entry level lighting solutions for beginners to still life macro photography. Bowens also manufacture an extensive range of compact flash heads to cater for all tastes. This range is also divided into three categories of Gemini, Gemini R and Gemini Pro. They can be purchased as monolights, lighting kits or travelpak kits.
Kaiser Photography Light Kits
Kaiser Fototechnik takes a different approach to macro photography lighting than most of the other companies in this field. They manufacture a unique range of products that include some quite unconventional lighting kits. Instead of the usual light pod lit uniformly from both sides, they have created a range of Shooting Tables. These are open-topped surfaces that can be lit in various ways. This type of product seems naturally more suited to product photography. They also sell light boxes such as the Pro-lite Basic 2. Light boxes provide an evenly lit white surface encased in a metal housing. Kaiser are certainly an innovative company making some quite remarkable photography products. It is unfortunate that they have such a weak web presence. In comparison to most of their competitors Kaiser are almost invisible on the internet. It would be a wise decision for Kaiser to build a more up-to-date website and generally improve their marketing strategy. Whilst digital photography continues to grow in popularity demand for lighting equipment is going to be high. If you have had problems tracking them down here is the link to their website: Kaiser Fototechnik
If the name Lastolite seems familiar, it is most likely because they were the company who original manufacturer of the collapsible reflector. The company has evolved since those days and now specialized in all types of backgrounds and lighting control for the photographic and video industries. Their range of continuous lighting kit extends to two options. The RayD8 c3200 and the RayD8 c5600. Lastolite also manufacture a range of flash/strobe studio lighting kits with the brand name Lumen8. These kits are available in 200w and 400w variations. There is a small amount of information about these products on Lastolite's website. However, they also provide the option to download a comprehensive brochure. The range of light tents called Cubelite may be of particular interest.
Microsync manufacture wireless radio sync systems. These are used to fire the studio strobe lights in synchronisation with the camera shutter release. Microsync claims to manufacture the smallest and smartest way to fire strobes (and/or and SLR). Wireless radio sync systems work by fitting a transmitter to the camera's universal hot shoe. Connect the receiver into strobe unit's sync input to complete the system setup. To fire the strobes and the camera shutter in synchronisation it is possible to use a second transmitter (connected to the camera) and receiver. The transmitters and receivers must be set to different channels.
Macro Photography for Beginners
I hope that this article about photography and lighting has been insightful. The major decision has to be whether to use strobe studio or continuous studio lighting effects. When using strobe lighting you have to use a trial and error method. A light meter can be a useful device for setting up your studio lighting. Gossen are a company that make an impressive range of light meter products. Any good brand of light meter will be a useful acquisition for studio photography. Continuous studio lighting is the simplest of the two lighting effects because it provides a what you see is what you get scenario. If you don't need to light a large area you can survive with less powerful lighting. It is important to ensure that the lighting is daylight balanced. If the lighting is not daylight balanced you may encounter some colour temperature problems. The use of filters, gels, grey cards (for setting a custom white balance) and a light meter can help resolve some of these colour temperature problems. It is probably cheaper and easier to just get daylight balanced bulbs in the first place! There can also be problems with some types of lighting creating a lot of excessive heat. This becomes a more significant predicament if you are photographing heat sensitive subjects, for example, certain types of food. To summarise then, from the point of view of a beginner to macro photography. Take a look at all the studio lighting kits available by all the best known brands. Read about photography and lighting until your face is glowing like an incandescent light bulb. Decide whether you want to use continuous or strobe lighting (or perhaps use both if you prefer). Buy a decent studio lighting kit with daylight balanced bulbs or buy the individual components for a bespoke kit (if you are confident about getting it right). Use a good quality light tent or light pod for the best macro photography results.
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