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Macro Photography Lighting

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When it comes to macro photography, its success is often dependent upon the photographer's understanding of light.  The biggest issue is vibration.  Any movement, however slight, of the camera or the subject causes a blur.  The closer you are to a subject, the more the photograph is going to capture any vibration or movement.  Even a tripod-mounted camera can cause a vibration when the shutter is pressed.  If the subject is far away you most likely won't notice this vibration, but when the subject is very close, this vibration is much less forgiving.  One solution is using light.

If you add light you can reduce the amount of time the shutter is open.  And the less amount of time the shutter is open, the less time for vibration to interfere.

red candle macro One of the best lights is natural light.  Working in direct sunlight allows for much shorter shutter speeds, and also allows for more spontaneity.  Finding a sunny outdoor spot and photographing the things around you is a good way for the amateur macro photographer to gain experience.  However, shadows cast by the equipment you are using or by the subject itself can be underexposed.  It can also cause stark contrasts, which are sometimes desired, and sometimes not.  Like all photography, when it comes to macro photography experimentation is key.

Outdoor areas that are shady have less directional light, and therefore, fewer shadows, than areas that are directly lit.  In many cases, shady outdoor areas have plenty of light for the photographer to work with.  Working in shade will reduce the contrast but can also result in a greater amount of detail.

A photographer can also manipulate the light he or she is working in.  There are three basic ways to manipulate light:

  1. You can block direct sunlight, turning a sunny area into a shady area.  To do this, all that is required is a hand, body, or item to stand in the way of the light.
  2. You can change the direction of light, adding light or removing shadows in dark areas.  This can be done using reflectors.  Some reflectors are colored, making results even more interesting.
  3. You can diffuse light, by spreading direct sunlight over a wider area and making it softer.  You can do this with a professionally manufactured diffuser, or you can build your own using any neutral colored, semitransparent material.  Diffusers can be vast, stretching over the entire area to be photographed, or they can merely be comprised of a small amount of material stretched over a frame in front of a flash.

When it comes to artificial light, the macro photographer has two choices:  continuous light, or instantaneous light.  Continuous light is light that is permanent, such as a floodlight or light bulb, while instantaneous light is temporary, such as a flash.

The benefit of continuous lighting is that it can be manipulated to work like natural lighting.  However, you can't manufacture as much light as you can by using a flash.

Flash photography can cut down on shutter speed and is also much brighter than continuous lighting.  However, using flash photography requires much more experience than using continuous lighting.

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Macro Photography Lighting