Posts Tagged ‘lighting’

A reader asks:

I also have a MP-E lens with the MT-24EX flash unit. I was curious to know something I didn’t see you mention in your recent blog post about this setup.

Could you share any technical points regarding how you achieve the visible backgrounds with that lens? In general, I get very nice shots with everything beyond the focused subject completely blacked out.

Since dark areas in photographs are the bits that aren’t sending light to the camera, it follows that getting a visible backdrop means applying light behind the subject. (more…)

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Among the more charismatic ants I saw during my visit to South Africa was a silver Polyrhachis that seemed all too happy to pose for me. With such an unusually cooperative subject, I was able to experiment with several different arrangements of the flash heads on my MT-24EX twin flash. Compare these two shots, differing only in the placement of one of the two heads:

Polyrhachis schlueteri, St. Lucia, KZN, South Africa

The top photo is the clear winner. The MT-24EX has detachable heads, and what I did here was remove one of them and hand-hold it under the leaf, facing upward at the ant. This backlighting illuminated the leaf from below, giving it that lively green glow. The other head remained on the camera and was diffused by a double layer of tracing paper.

The bottom photo was taken a few minutes earlier using my standard diffuser with both heads mounted on the camera. While the diffuser really brings out the silver reflections on the ant, the diffused flash also reflects off the surface of the leaf and obscures the richness of the green.

photo details: Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x macro lens on a Canon 20D
ISO 100, f/13, 1/250 sec

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In an earlier post about flash diffusion, I wrote about camera flash being a necessity of the trade-off between depth of field and shutter speed. Most insect photographers- myself included- work hard to improve the depth of field in our photographs, trying to bring as much of our diminutive subjects into focus as possible. This means we use a lot of flash.

However, that’s not the only way to take insect photos. If one is happy to throw depth of field to the wind, one can dispense with the need for flash and produce photos from the ambient light. The effect is dramatic. One doesn’t get crisp field-guide type pictures but smooth, watery, impressionistic images. Some fine examples of taking insect photography in that direction can be found at the site Bug Dreams. In particular, check out Rick’s lovely shots of ants.

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Flash is a necessary evil in insect photography. This necessity is due to two unfortunate traits shared by most insects: small size and stubborn unwillingness to sit still for the camera. These traits confound each other in a way that renders insect photography uniquely challenging. Small subjects need to be close to the lens, placing them squarely in the zone where depth of field becomes razor-thin. Depth of field can be increased by using a small aperture, but that restricts the amount of light reaching the sensor. With so little light entering the camera, a proper exposure requires the shutter to be kept open for a long time. As most insects are busy creatures with better things to do than wait about for the shutter to close, getting a clean shot under natural lighting requires a fair bit of luck.

The easiest solution is to augment the ambient light with flash, allowing for faster shutter speeds. This is what most insect photographers do, although flash comes at considerable aesthetic cost. (more…)

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A few months ago I started playing about with the placement of the flash unit, and almost immediately hit on a new favorite trick.  When lit from behind, insects look even more zingy than usual. Their translucent bodies glow, they are ringed with little halos, and they stand out dramatically against the background. Below the fold are some samples:


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