flash needed for macro photography?

Discussion in 'Olympus Cameras' started by lightmonkey, Jul 18, 2014.

  1. lightmonkey

    lightmonkey Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 22, 2013
    im expecting arrival of o60/2.8 sometime soon.

    intended use is for outdoors with live subjects such as critters and plant life.... not for static objects from a tripod inside the house.

    never taken a crack at macro photography before.... but im going to assume id pretty much want to stop the lens down quite substantially [f8+], which means

    (1) likely a flash is needed??? [i mean who can focus bracket handheld at such magnification?]

    (2) if so... is ring flash the best? or standard external flash? or em1's OEM mount-on? or just those teensy bendable accessory are okay?

    (3) never been a fan of flash. unappealing harsh lighting. with shooting sooo close and such tiny subjects for macro, even dialing down power of the flash, i just imagine it overwhelming the subject with a torrent of unnatural illumination....... someone explain a noobie out of this please?

    i aware your seasoned responses :2thumbs:
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  2. OzRay

    OzRay Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 29, 2010
    South Gippsland, Australia
    Ray, not Oz
    Unless you're shooting in bright light, a flash can be pretty important when it comes to macro photography, especially if there's movement in the subject. Any sort of flash will be useful, as long as the light can reach the subject (not blocked by lens). A ring flash is probably the most functional flash you can have, as it provides lighting right at the lens face and many ring flash units can be adjusted so that you get left/right, or top/bottom, lighting variation. Dual flashes that sit on arms either side of the lens are also very good, but these are usually very expensive.

    You can get a variety of ring flashes on eBay nowadays for quite reasonable prices, but most appear to be LED ring flashes, so I don't know how well they actually work. One advantage of these flash units is that they also provide continuous lighting, which can help with focus. I have a Sunpak auto 16R pro ring flash that also has four LEDs for illumination and can go down to 1/256 power, so it has quite a bit of flexibility.
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  3. I also prefer outdoor shots without a flash, Keep It Simple S____. However, a flash will let me really stop down the lens (at least f/8) so that I can help maximize the DOF. I have had good lick using an FL 300R on the camera. I have a homemade flash bracket that I can use the flash on, but with bugs, there is a little urgency involved so I usually go with it on the camera.
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  4. fin azvandi

    fin azvandi Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 12, 2011
    South Bend, IN
    I've found that flash is a huge benefit for macro photography. Rather than looking unnatural it's actually pretty easy to get some lovely light. Since you are stopping down for more depth of field the flash's pulse of light becomes your effective shutter, this allows you to shoot at low shutter speeds and still freeze motion (whether it's your subject or more importantly the camera itself).

    The basic principle is the same as lighting for portraits - to avoid harsh lighting you want a source of light that is diffused and large relative to your subject, the closer the better. If your camera has a built-in flash you can do some web searches for dozens of DIY flash extender/diffusers. I took these with the pop-up flash at about 1/16 - 1/4 power shooting into a tube made from a cereal box, aluminum foil, and tracing paper.


    Or with the Oly 60 being so light, you might shoot with the camera in one hand and a remote flash with softbox/diffuser in your other hand held closer to the subject. Robin Wong has a couple of posts on his blog illustrating his method.
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  5. foxtail1

    foxtail1 Science geek & photo nut Subscribing Member

    Dec 30, 2011
    Southwest Virginia
    Well, I'm the exception, but, of course, I don't get the depth of field as that many do. I don't use a flash.

    I did buy a ring flash (Amazon, I think, an inexpensive one), but the first time I used it I was shooting berries and all I could see in the photos was the reflection of the light ring in every berry! Somewhat turned me off it, but I should try it again.
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  6. Growltiger

    Growltiger Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 26, 2014
    I have used the little flash that comes with the E-M1, with the 60mm lens with a lot of success. The lens is short enough for the flash not to be blocked by the end of the lens. For example I have used this for rock pool photography, into the water, it works well if one is careful to avoid reflections from the surface.

    I'm sure a ring flash could be good, but that little flash does a good job. I use f/8 or f/11.

    I have also tried the Olympus add on twin LED lights. That was a huge waste of money. The lights are dim and it is utterly useless.
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  7. zensu

    zensu Mu-43 All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Aug 8, 2012
    Alabama USA
    I agree the Olympus twin LED lights only add enough light for focusing or for very subtle fill, not enough to stop down the lens for greater depth of field. I highly recommend Robin Wongs' site for information on either macro flash or the 60mm macro lens. http://robinwong.blogspot.com/2012/08/shoebox-macro-flash-bouncer.html Good shooting!
    • Like Like x 1
  8. aks6674

    aks6674 Mu-43 Veteran

    Jan 14, 2014
    I'm going to recommend a normal flash over the ring, because you can use it for everyday stuff as well as macro. I used the fl-300 for a while and it's plenty of light for this kind of work (and wonderfully small), but slow to cycle and a pain to adapt diffusers to. It's a pain to use as a bounce as well, since the whole unit tilts rather than just the head, making it impossible to put your eye to the viewfinder. I much prefer the fl-600 or another regular flash; all off-the-shelf modifiers will work with it and you can use it for just about anything.
  9. fortwodriver

    fortwodriver Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Nov 15, 2013
    Toronto, Ontario, Canada
    I have the twin LED light on the goosenecks... It's an interesting accessory, but it's not very useful. It doesn't do anything to freeze motion and the colour balance of the LEDs is quite blue.

    I used to use an old Hasselblad dual flash bracket with two auto (or manual) flashes pointed inwards. I'm sure you can find a cheaper bracket than the Hassy though. Hama used to make one as well.
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  10. Evan614

    Evan614 Mu-43 Regular

    May 6, 2014
    When reflection of your strobe, on your subject, is unwanted. I will use a reflector with existing lighting. for macro I cut a board (Styrofoam) into a letter U and place it upside down on the end of the lens. a tad sloppy but usable. Styrofoam flexes enough to 'stick' to the lens shade or edge of lens. I find this fills just enough to make me happy.
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  11. Rasmus

    Rasmus Mu-43 Top Veteran Subscribing Member

    Nov 16, 2013
    Stockholm, Sweden.
    Lightmokey, have you used a macro lens before? If not, I suggest you wait a bit before buying ring flashes or light modifiers and start out with just using whatever flash you have.

    Why? Because macro is HARD! Your first macro shots will certainly look like sh*t even if you light them beautifully. With that paper thin DOF you will likely misfocus over and over again, especially if you shoot handheld, because your slightest movement will move your subject out of focus. Also, autofocus is of limited use for the same reason, it's often harder to get the AF to focus on exactly the spot where you want to. It works if you move back slightly and shoot at 1:2 magnification, but near 1:1 you will probably often switch to manual focus and try over and over again until you have the picture you want.

    And yes, most of the time you will use a flash. A few very good macro photographers lie on their belly in the grass and shoot flowers with the lens wide open and create beuatiful, soft and dreamy pictures. Sandra Bartocha springs to mind, google her name and you'll see what's possible with a wide open macro.

    I'll attach a few ones I've taken with the 60 wide open in natural light.





    Stopped down to f/3.5 but still not about huge DOF.
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  12. For me, macro and flash go hand in hand. I want the control over ambient and foreground exposure. I want the control over DOF. I also want the option of my primary source of light held in hand or attached to the front of the lens. Rarely does ambient provide enough light.

    This is especially true for insects. I find that 1) insects move, 2) their bodies have a lot of contrasting areas that are lost in background exposure, 3) they have interesting colors that are lost unless their is enough light to illuminate and 4) . They all look dark while the background can wash out. Once you pass light through them in a direction, you'll see a different, more brilliant look.

    My favorite macro ring flash is the very old Sunpak Gx8r.


    WARNING: I use a Wien Safe Sync with this unit; both to supply the PC connection that is needed for flash trigger AND to protect the camera from high trigger voltages.

    This flash is POWERFUL and when paired with a Sunpak High voltage battery pack it provides a fast recycle. Sometimes, I will gel the flash to match the warmer ambient light as well (admittedly I forget to do this a lot too...lol)

    I have these two examples to help demonstrate:

    Off set light. Held in hand. Illumination of the underbelly and balanced with the background/ambient exposure.


    Ring attached to front of lens. Exposure of ambient is pushed to underexposed while flash become the main source


    I have better examples, I but not online at this time. If I have time, I have better examples that I can post that better show the effectiveness of flash. As a side note, I didn't plan on doing enough macro to invest further so I rely mostly on older equipment that I just happen to have in my collection. In particular, I like using the Tamron 90mm f/2.5 Macro in adaptall mount and sometimes attached to its teleconverter to give me 180mm with a 1:1 magnification. I've actually enjoyed it more than I thought. Yes.. its pretty challenging.
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  13. Another fun project with flash + macro lens... are water drops. A great photo related project done in doors with the weather is crappy.


    Nothing special... just a glass tray with a colorful childrens book and a silver cooking grill slid underneath. Water provided by a pin pricked zip lock bag. If you search online, you can take water drops to very the very complex. Two strobes on stands.... radio triggered. You shoot in relatively darkness so that the flash duration is essentially your shutter.
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  14. GShooter

    GShooter Mu-43 Regular

    I have been using the excellent Metz Mecablitz 15 MS-1 Macro flash for the past 3 months. It is quite pricey, I paid £200 for a factory reconditioned unit. It fits on the end of the lens and looks like a ring flash, but is actually a double flash unit giving the ability to angle and control the intensity of the light units. I use it on a EM-1 using the sync cord which allows flash sync of up to 1/320sec. I don't have an auto focus lens but use an old Pentax 100mm with an adapter so I am obviously using manual focus. Macro photography is like most things, the more you practice the more efficient you become. I would definatly recommend that you use a flash and go for the best option that you can afford if you are really serious about macro.

    Three quick pictures to show the use of macro flash.

    Attached Files:

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  15. OzRay

    OzRay Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 29, 2010
    South Gippsland, Australia
    Ray, not Oz
    A ring flash can be quite useful for a lot of other photography, such as portraiture, as it can get rid of harsh shadows. A ring flash is in fact a regular tool for portrait/fashion photographers (though the ones they use are often quite substantial in size).
    • Like Like x 2
  16. fortwodriver

    fortwodriver Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Nov 15, 2013
    Toronto, Ontario, Canada
    Oh yah, also a water-spritzer makes macro a lot of fun. Lots of macro subjects look better with a little bit of light misting on them.
  17. Replytoken

    Replytoken Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 7, 2012
    Puget Sound
    There was a recent post on another thread where somebody made a simple, but effective, diffuser for macro work. I wish I could find the thread as the diffuser looked easy to make and use. IIRC, It arced over the flash, but cleared the lens barrel so the light was uniform.

  18. aks6674

    aks6674 Mu-43 Veteran

    Jan 14, 2014
    Good point, and I've never used one so I'm arguing from a poor position. I don't think you'll be using that ring for bouncing off a ceiling or off-camera work though, which are what I tend to do most (outside of macro). Suppose like most things it depends on what you need.
  19. The Sunpak Gx8R is really diffused... very diffused... not sure if this is typical for ring flashes. If I leave it attached to the lens and take a portrait of my son, it produces a very flat look with almost always red-eye. I do use it handheld as well but its not something you can mount on a hotshoe. Perhaps I just don't know how to apply such a tool for portraiture.

    This is the closest I have of the ring flash used on a person.... This was on a GX1L (Samsung copy of the Pentax iSTD)

    Attached Files:

    • Like Like x 2
  20. hazwing

    hazwing Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Nov 25, 2012
    Can I ask what sync cord you use to connect the flash to the EM1 (instead of using the wireless trigger?). The sync cord that comes with metz 15 does not have matching slot in the EM5. Is this something the EM5 is missing vs the EM1, or did you buy a special cord?
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