Lights! Camera! Action!- Using a Ring Flash
In my last blog I had just begun to shoot bees hand holding my camera in natural light. This month I’ve experimented with my ring flash, shooting bees and bugs during the harsher mid-day light, and intentionally finding the most colorful natural backdrops possible. The result is that I’ve experienced a much higher shot-failure rate, but the occasional successes are just stunning and well worth the price of shooting and discarding so many images.
When shooting in filtered (i.e., cloudy) or shaded light, I used my Tamron 90mm macro lens with a Canon 5D Mark II and a ring flash attached. When shooting in unfiltered mid-day light, I used my 70-200mm lens with a 500D close-up filter on my Canon 7D camera. Either way, my success rate for achieving sharp focus while handholding the camera in manual focus mode was abysmal – about one in 12-15 shots. And that’s just for focus. But I must say that it got better each time as I discovered the rhythm and habits of the bugs and began to anticipate their movements.
The ring flash on a macro lens often called for an exposure compensation of -1 to -2, which often left the background black. In the harsher light (without the flash) I could shoot at up to 1/8,000 second sometimes. In both cases some of the images had too many blown out spots from the reflective light on their body parts, although in some cases it could be rectified in Photoshop. Much better, though, to avoid or diffuse the harshest light in the first place. (Sometimes I clamped a bendy Plamp onto the tripod mount turned upward and attached a 12” collapsible diffuser to filter the harshest light.)
When it worked, it really worked, and the detail and frozen motion were extraordinary. Shutter speed was of the essence (at least 1/1,000 second with no flash and 1/200 second with flash), but extending the depth of field as much as possible (f/8-f/16) was a close second. The lower the ISO the better, but sometimes I ventured out into the 3200-6400 range with decent results (especially with the improved noise reduction capabilities of Lightroom 3).
I haven’t given up on the warm golden light during the magic hours created by the low sun, but shooting with flash and at mid-day add whole new dimensions to my macro photography.