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Macro Photos

Lesson 16 from: Introduction to Outdoor Flash Photography

Mike Hagen

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Lesson Info

16. Macro Photos

Next Lesson: Final Q&A

Lesson Info

Macro Photos

Done a lot with people, but you can use your flashes for a lot more things than just people. A lot of people watching today love nature, love flowers, love outdoors, so I want to show you how to use a single speedlight to do great, macro photography. Let's talk about flash photography in the context of macro photography. A lot of times when you do macro work, if you're not using flash you're at the whim of whatever weather conditions are present. Today we have a cloudy day, and actually cloudy days are fairly good for macro photography, but they yield relatively flat lighting. You don't get to contour and shape the light. I'm going to show you how to use your flash to shape and contour the light to create a little bit more sparkle and pizazz in your macro work. Normally when I do macro photography I use what's called an extension tube. That extension tube basically goes between the lens and the camera. The flowers we found today are fairly large flowers though, so I'm not going to need...

the extension tube for this macro example. Let me show you the lighting setup that I'm gonna use. I actually made this for another CreativeLive class I taught called, A Do It Yourself Lighting, and what this is this is a wash basin, you can get this wash basin basically at any department store it costs a couple dollars literally. I cut a hole in the wash basin, I put the flash through there, and then on this side I put the diffusion dome on top of the flash just to keep the flash from falling out, it's quite simple. I'm triggering the system using the radio trigger technology from Nikon, but again this will work with anything like a Canon, or a Fuji, or a Sony, and even any of the wireless stuff you buy on Ebay or Amazon, it all works. Nothing too crazy about the trigger. I am back in TTL mode rather than in manual mode, so let me show the camera my settings overall. For this I'm going to be mobile, I'm moving around; I'm moving forward and backwards, up and down, left and right, and it's hard to be fixed with my exposure and with my distances, so I wanna be back in more of the automated modes. I'm in aperture priority mode. I'm choosing an aperture of let's just say, f5.6, something like that, and I'm at ISO 100. My shutter speed is gonna vary depending on wherever I point the camera, and then the TTL, I'll show you the flash, the flash control, I'm in TTL mode. There we go, TTL, and I'm just gonna start out my flash power at minus one in TTL mode, so that's about a stop down from a medium brightness exposure. I'm doing minus one because I want to use the ambient light as the predominant light, and then the flash as a fill or a kicker. We push okay, and now we just start taking pictures. As I'm taking some photos I'll talk about how I'm positioning my light kit. This basically works like a big 'ol soft box, and I can position it here on the side, I can position it on top, I can position it back by the camera, I can even position it here to get kind of a rim light. This is very fast and flexible way to do macro photography and get a different look in each of these positions. We'll just take a few shots. I'll start out here on the left. (faint camera click) Get down low to make the background kinda fade away. I'm gonna take a look at my image real quick just to see what my exposures are like. Yeah, that's looking good. It's looking like the sun is kinda shining through the flower, which is exactly what I want. (faint camera click) I'm gonna move it back a little bit farther so it does shine through the flowers. Great. (faint camera click) And I'm basically just getting it as close as I can to the flower without getting into the frame. That just makes it all very nice and soft. Let me look at the photo here real quick. Those are looking great. Looking fantastic. Shoot to the lower flower here, I'm gonna try on top. (faint camera clicks) Try to the front. (camera click) To the side. Heres where I wish I had another hand cause I really want it to be over here, so I'm gonna shoot like this, see how that works. (camera click) Cool. That's a hard move. It's a good workout. And one more shot I'm gonna shoot from the top down, so I can get kinda the triangle effect of these flowers. Cool. (camera clicks) There's no right positioning here, and that's why I'm moving it around so much. You never really know until you look at the photos on your computer screen what's gonna be best. Right on, those look great. So there you have it. Nice field photography macro lighting kit. Yeah who knew wash tubs, wash basins would work for your flash photography? Before I used this wash basin I would use something like this, and this is great. It's basically a little, fold up reflector, and it's translucent so I would bounce light off of it, or I would shoot light through it, and both of those methods work, but here's the difficulty with using something like this, you have to find a way to hold the flash and then attach it to this thing, and hold your camera. Think through that, flash, reflector, camera, position, it's just too many things to mess with, so I was just thinking through what's the best solution and I actually saw another photographer had used this idea. I bought this from a department store, the one that has the red symbol you all know that one, and it cost me just a few dollars. I took my flash and I just used a Sharpie pen and outlined the outside of the flash on there, put that in the hole, super easy trust me, there we go. You want it a little bit tight so there's a little friction, and then you put your diffusion dome on there, and the diffusion dome basically holds it into place, also the diffusion dome scatters the light around inside of the wash basin, so it makes the light soft overall. Now I can hold on to this, and this is easy, and wherever I position it that's basically a soft box. Here, on top, on back, on the side, on the front, whatever. Then it takes a little bit of skill, I just locked myself out of my camera, there we go. A little bit of skill doing something like this, forward, top, back. I was using TTL, and I was in aperture priority mode. Some of you asked about that a little bit earlier today. Why? Why was I using TTL and aperture priority? Well, it's pretty mobile. The flash moving from here to here, that's actually a pretty big change, and if I was doing manual exposure I'd have to set down my kit here, I'd have to go to the menu and change the exposure, then pick it all back up, so TTL is much faster overall, much more efficient for me to do. If I was on tripod and I was using maybe an umbrella or some other type of lighting kit, I would actually go back to manual mode, because then things are stable, consistent and repeatable. Let's go look at one of the photos. Actually before I get to the photo, off-camera flash. I love doing off-camera flash for macro photography. I think off-camera flash gives you much better look to your images than on-camera flash. I see a lot of photographers trying to do on-camera flash like that photo we took earlier in the day with Remi our Parkour athlete, just not gonna look good, so get the flash off to the side, and then shape the light. This is a pretty large surface compared to a flower, in fact this is a really, from a perspective standpoint, this is 20 to 30 times bigger than the flower, how fantastic is that for soft, wraparound light. Then TTL, we talked about that. I love working in TTL mode when I need to be mobile, and I use manual for when I'm tripoded up. Macro triggers, there are a lot of ways to trigger this, but if you want really consistent macro photography you might consider using the cable like I talked about earlier today, using the full-on TTL cable. I like that, I actually do a lot of my macro photography with the cable because it's all close here to the camera I don't have to worry about any type of technology, but it is a little bit clunky, whereas wireless allows me freedom to move around, I can put it wherever I want to. Of course we have to end with the picture. One pretty photo of a yellow flower and you guys all saw how we made that.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Introduction to Outdoor Flash Keynote PDF
Lighting Diagrams

Ratings and Reviews


Mike Hagen has become one of favorite instructors. His instruction and question answers are clear and concise and he has a real world approach. He has a friendly and approachable personality. Best of all during this course he works by himself which makes you feel you too can accomplish the shoot on your own. Mike demonstrates a practical approach with affordable equipment as he is aware many photographers starting off do not have a huge budget. In his other course on using your first flash he also had several gear set suggestions based on budget which was so thoughtful and helpful. I hope Mike does some more advanced courses as well and I will keep watch for his name on the course schedule. A definite thumbs up for photographers starting off using flash.

Brandon Couch

This is the second class I've taken with Mike and it was amazing! So easy to understand even when you get into the "tech" side of how flashes work but especially when using them outside and how easy it is. I would totally recommend this class to anyone wanting to take amazing images outside with one flash. He even makes bare bulb flash look awesome. Such a great course!

Laura K.

I have watched a couple of Mike Hagen's classes, and hope Creative Live will bring him back to teach more. He is a fantastic, thorough, easy-to-understand instructor. He doesn't assume viewers already know certain things. He is humble and diligent and truly wants students to understand and learn the things he is teaching. He breaks things down and explains things better than most, and he doesn't hold back on details. Mike also provides helpful handouts/written materials to supplement his videos. I really like his classes and teaching style, and hope to be seeing more from him in the future.

Student Work