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The Art of Seeing: Macro Techniques for Flowers and Plants

Lesson 11 of 15

Advanced Macro Lighting Techniques

Frans Lanting

The Art of Seeing: Macro Techniques for Flowers and Plants

Frans Lanting

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Lesson Info

11. Advanced Macro Lighting Techniques

Lesson Info

Advanced Macro Lighting Techniques

Frans, in this the previous segment you really Illustrated how approachable macro photography can be. Especially in the in the studio setup but for those folks out there that really want to step up their game, I think that's what we're gonna do in this next video. Can you give us some insight as to how that really changes the game? Yes, we have three different sets to share with you. The first set was using these simple clamp lights in a tabletop setting. The second set we just looked at two strobes and a piece of plexiglass. The third set that we're going to look at now involves more traditional studio type lights wrapped in soft boxes but it's still pretty simple. We're still using a very basic tabletop setup. Let's roll the tape and then we'll comment on it as it happens. We've created one more setup. This one's a bit more professional. Three continuous lights wrapped in soft boxes. The whole kit doesn't cost more than $ but you can control the lights a bit more. They're dimmable.

Steve, can you explain the details? Sure, Frans. Basically you have a pretty generic set up. What we've got is we've got three lights, they're all in same power right now. The beauty of that is that we can on the back panel here, we can adjust the intensity of any one of the lights. This is our main light. It's a little closer so it's giving the main light on the flower. We've got a little backlight coming in and we've got a little fill light here and the way to create mood and three dimension is to adjust the amount that each light gives out. One thing about these lights, they're daylight balanced fluorescents and the thing about the background is that the way that we control the light in the background with this setup is we actually can feather the lights and when we feather them it doesn't change the light on the subject but it does change the intensity of the background. So that's how we're controlling our background. There's no real background light other than these two lights. So Doug you wanna come in and bring your camera in? And of course we have our talent. Another amazing flower from South Africa. A Leucospermum and it looks like fireworks and that's what we're gonna ask Doug to photograph. How can we make a flower look like fireworks? So Doug, the the idea is to reinforce that starburst pattern. So I would suggest that we center your composition on the flower. Leave enough space on all sides so that you can crop it later. Don't worry about your being too precise here and then we're going to start playing with the lights and we're going to vary the lights on the background and make it a little darker, making it a little lighter, and see what we like best. So let's start with the whole flower and then later on we can see if we want to zero in on some of the details, okay? Maybe come out, yeah. So now center it a little bit. I think you're seeing what I have in mind too. So I would suggest kind of closing down the aperture. There's no reason not to get every bit of detail out of this. I would show a little bit more light on the background for starters. That looks good to me. What F stop do you wanna be at? I'm at five. You want to get up to eight? Yeah, I would take it down to 11. Okay, let's lock it in. Let's lock it in and let's expose a frame. Wow. Do you like that? Yes, I do. Does everything looks sharp right up to the center? There's that one little curly thing sticking out towards the camera. Let's bring the loop in. Yep, everything looks sharp. The only thing that is out of focus is the stem of the plant but that's actually good because that's not as photogenic. Steve, what if we start varying the lighting on the background. Let's start by making it a little bit lighter and then let's make it darker. So that we get variations on both ends of the spectrum. Okay, this is a little bit lighter. Looks really sharp to me. Want to make the background darker? So to make the background darker Doug, we're just going to feather it the front now off the background. See how it's changing the intensity there? We're gonna do the same thing with this one. Actually back this one up a little bit more. Because we don't want to get too much more light on the plant. We'll put it back to the position we had it in originally. There you go. Shoot a couple more frames while you're at it. Do I change exposure at all? Leave it the same. Now, what if we get in a little bit more closely and frame it a bit more tightly? Don't move your tripod, we'll move the plant. Just gonna move it towards you. Is that enough, I can't see what's.... These are such broad lights it's not really changing the light on the front of the plant as we move it towards the lens. I can't see it this way. So how about something like this? Now, let's let's aim the camera down a little bit. So let's make sure that you stay totally centered on the heart of the flower because there we're still trying to execute that idea of the starburst. Same exposure then? Yeah, that looks good to me. You're a little bit off-center it looks like to me. Kind of aiming a little bit to the right. You have a little exposure here, Doug, As you're getting closer you're focusing out more-- There was a question asked earlier about kind of cable releases or electric releases. In this situation where you're executing a very precise image I would advocate that you do not use kind of this cable release because it's dangling there and with longer exposures, you can definitely have an influence on the camera there. So therefore swear by this little remote electric release. Even though you may find you can't find it in your pocket after a while. So you might want to hold a third with your shutter speed so there's more light. That looks good to me. This is getting there. But I'm not sure that... I love what you trying to do. I mean what Doug and I executed was a very precise image and then you jumped in with your Lensbaby, which went in the opposite direction. Because this is a selective focus lens-- I'm not sure that works the best with that. No, I'm not sure either to tell you the truth. I saw what you were trying to do but I'm not sure that the effect actually works because you want the starburst effect to be symmetrical and the Lensbaby effect works in the opposite direction. So kudos for trying it and we might be able to find another solution for it. Maybe if we cropped really heavy we might be able to get something. We made a lovely picture of this wonderful flower looking at it as a starburst pattern. Doug executed it. Steve helped set up the lights and it looks beautiful but then Kate came in with a very different idea. She added a Lensbaby to her camera, which is a selective focus lens to see if she could take things in another direction. She experimented with it but it didn't quite work. But I really applaud her for her sense to push things off in another direction. We showed you some examples of different kinds of sets that you can create yourself using different lighting techniques and using different backgrounds. You can start very simple. It doesn't cost you more than $100 to begin at your own kitchen table and then you can expand on it with more professional lighting techniques. But no matter how you do it, you can have fun playing with plants inside your own home. What do we think? Awesome. Yeah? You think you might try any of this? Yeah? Any questions? Yes. If you don't have a cable release or electronic can you just use the self-timer? Yes, of course. That's the simplest solution to the problem of not wanting to affect your camera during long exposures. Yeah, put your camera on self-timer and in addition to that you can raise up your mirror and then you're absolutely steady. Once you got the camera setup I believe, correct me if I'm wrong, the intensity was at full 100% on all the lights. Did you ever play around with the dimmer switches or do you keep it on full and then just adjust your camera? The lights that we, could everyone hear the question? Did we dim the lights or not? That was definitely a possibility with that last setup, which is more professional. We ended up feathering the lights, kind of changing the position, instead of changing the output but it's a possibility yeah. Do you feel like one's more dominant that the other? That you should just set your lights up and then change your camera settings? Or do you ever play around with the lighting during a shoot? All of the above. A lot of back and forth I imagine. And then Frans, so one from the Internet from PCconsulting. I find that when I come in very close with a macro the exposure changes and I have to let more light in. is there a way to predict this loss of light and therefore compensate other than trial and error? I'm not sure I understand the phenomena. The closer they get they're finding they're losing light and they're wondering if there's a way to predict this. Or it could be their particular situation. Yeah, I'm not sure quite how to interpret that. It's possible that then you get extremely close that you and your camera are blocking light that is reaching the subject. That's the only optical explanation I could come up with but otherwise, the distance to your subject should not have any influence over the amount of light that reaches the subject. I'm a little perplexed by that. Okay, no problem and then-- But I do have one other solution or one other suggestion. The methods of macro photography that I'm sharing with you today are just a small subset of all the possibilities and if you're working with subjects at a very close range, you can consider adding a ring light to your kit. A ring light is a flash that fits around the front of your lens and it creates a shadowless light and it was originated in medical photography. Dentists use it, doctors use it to photograph parts of the human body and it's been picked up by fashion photographers as well. But there would be one solution to the person who asked this question because then the light source comes directly from the front of the lens and you're not blocking the light. That's great. And then Connie Stuart Mitchell would like to know is there a way to do this with just a single strobe? Can you be this effective? When you apply a single strobe, first of all, two of the setups that we shared with you involved continuous lights, which personally I prefer to use because it's a lot easier to see the effect of your constant playing with subjects and playing with the light. With the strobes, things get very technical and if you use just one, you couldn't do the work that we showed you with a piece of perspex because the beauty of that is to create translucence and also to create a surface rendition. So you really need at a minimum for that technique, two strobes. Great and then let's see. One of the students wanted to know, do extension tubes work as well in the studio, like a setup like this, or do you usually use them out in the field? Extension tubes can be used no matter where or apply to what subject and they work with practically every lens. So you're the really a universal tool as far as I'm concerned. And I would advocate if you're watching us from around the world and you've never tried photography of subjects close-up that your first investment could be to get a set of extension tubes. Now there's a cheaper start and that is to get one or more screw in kind of close-up filters but those are optically inferior. They really degrade the optical quality of your lens. So even though they might be a bit cheaper, I would suggest that you go straight to extension tubes if you feel you're in need of special equipment.

Class Description

The beauty of nature runs deep. Every growing thing hides whorls, patterns, and subtle shadings of color that escape the cursory glance. Macro photographers are driven to capture these secret details, but it can be hard to master the techniques that allow them to truly evoke nature at its best.

Join renowned National Geographic photographer and naturalist Frans Lanting for this class as he walks you through the Arboretum at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

You’ll learn:

  • How to take great impressionistic shots freehand
  • How to use combinations of natural light, flash, and light modifiers
  • How to set up beautiful and controlled images
Frans Lanting has documented wildlife from the Amazon to Antarctica, and has made a career of recording the beauty of nature in vivid, transporting imagery. In this class, you’ll learn how he has distilled the quiet joy of discovering hidden beauty, and bring it home with you. Best of all, you'll be able to apply these macro photography approaches and techniques in the field or even at home with a bouquet of flowers on your kitchen table. 

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Bonus Video: Student Story - Doug

Bonus Video: Student Story - Kate

Bonus Video: Patterns & Multiple Exposures

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes


JIll C.

I had the pleasure of participating in this class as part of the live studio audience in the Creative Live San Francisco studios. I really enjoyed the format in which two students had been pre-selected to visit the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum for a photo shoot with Frans Lanting about a week in advance of the class; then the videos were edited and played out during the class. Frans stopped the video frequently to clarify and supplement the information provided, so we weren't just sitting in a room watching pre-recorded material. Nor were we just listening to him lecture for hours. It was actually a surprisingly dynamic format. I also enjoyed the final session in which student-submitted images were critiqued by Frans and edited by Jim Cetechi (Creative Live host) real-time. It was interesting to learn how our images could be improved with just a few simple techniques, e.g. cropping, contrast, highlights etc. - all done in Lightroom. Frans helped us to see the potential for perfection in each image. I was thrilled when he didn't find anything to "fix" in my images :) Frans seems to truly enjoy "playing with plants", and helped us think about how we can use our photography to portray the beauty and significance of the natural world. I like the fact that he helped us to think about the potential of photography as more than just a hobby. He is an enthusiastic and personable trainer, well-versed in all aspects of photography, not just macro photos. I can't wait to add some of his techniques to my photography arsenal.

North San Francisco Bay

This workshop will give you everything you need to start macro photography, appreciate macro photography, and/or take your personal skill set to the next level. Frans really is a fantastic instructor whose love of teaching is obvious and infectious. He provides you the technical tools, inspiration, and has a unique ability to help you refine your own vision while simultaneously broadening the possibilities of that same vision. His respect for individual artistry coupled with his fined tuned eye of decades of experience puts him in a very elite class of photography instructors. You can expect to have a list of gear (much of out inexpensive and very effective) to put on your wish list as well as the urge to immediately go out and try what you have learned. If you have gone so far as to read this whole recommendation then go ahead and purchase the class. You won't regret it. Have fun!

a Creativelive Student

Frans is an inspiration. Not only is he an incredible photographer, but also he is an equally wonderful teacher. His ability to explain both the simple and complex in easy terms -- as well is the ease with which he shows as he speaks -- makes learning from him a treat. You can also see him come alive with excitement as he 'plays with plants' which makes you all the more excited. So glad I was able to take this course with him! Thanks, CL!