Macro Lighting From Below


The Art of Seeing: Macro Techniques for Flowers and Plants


Lesson Info

Macro Lighting From Below

Here's another setup that we've prepared for you. It's a piece of perspex held up by two light stands and clamps and the lighting in this case, are two strobes, two Nikon Speedlights. With diffusion domes. One, we're gonna put underneath the perspex. It's gonna backlight the subject and then one is gonna add some light to the surface of the subject and Steve's gonna help us again to control the lighting. Steve, what do you wanna say about this? Doug, come on in here and I'm gonna show you how we have this setup. Obviously, we got the Plexi at a height so that you can get over the top and shoot down on something. There's two lights. This is gonna be your top fill light. So it's gonna fill the subject. Our goal is to make this Plexiglass go white and so we have this one on the bottom set at full power. Right now, this is set at half power and we can adjust that depending on what the subject looks like once we've put it in here. There's a couple of ways to test the Plexiglass, we basica...

lly want this to come out white. So. No, carry on. Carry on. So Doug, there's a couple of ways to test for lighting. First, we're gonna test the lighting on the bottom and I've got a flash meter here. This is one method and what we're doing here, go ahead and hold your camera up there, flip your little flash up. On the Speedlights, you can set them so that they'll read when a flash goes off. So when your little flash goes off here, which is not gonna be as powerful as these two lights, it will trigger both lights. And so what we're gonna do right now is we're gonna test the bottom light. I'm gonna face this down and go ahead and fire your flash. Okay, so I got F/16. but that's middle gray. That's telling you that if we expose for F/16. which is basically F/22, you're gonna have pretty much a pure white, I mean, you're gonna have a middle gray. What you want is pure white. So we're gonna open up. Just go instead of F/22, let's go down and start at F/11. That's two stops open. It's gonna make this two stops brighter. Let's test the top one now. I can actually, most of these little Speedlights have a little test button, I can just hit that. Fired it but let's try it again. And this is reading F/11. So F/11 is your set exposure. And from that we're going to adjust it. The only thing that effects you exposure really on flash is your F stop. Your shutter speed most cameras sync at either 1/25 to 1/200. We're gonna put yours on 1/125. These lights go off a lot faster than that. I think these are about 800th of a second minimum. So hand holding is not going to be an issue. Another way to do this that I didn't mention, you can actually shoot just the Plexi so you just get over it and shoot the Plexi. You look at your histogram and you want to push, all you're doing is your measuring one color here. You want to push that to the brightest part and that's gonna tell you. So when that line in the histogram is lined up there then you're at white. And you don't want to over backlight it because then you get flare. You'll see it. The fact that you can see the image on the back screen is gonna really help you. Yes. But that's another way if you don't have a flash meter, you could just do it using your histogram on the camera. Okay. While Steve's been priming the lights, I've been playing with some subjects. I've got some ferns. Let's see what they look like when we put them on the perspex. So this is a really good example of starting with nothing and coming up with something. That's what I call creating a set. So we have some pieces of ferns here and I'm gonna let you take a look at them. And determine what we can do with them. So we could start with one piece and then we can add some other pieces to it and we can arrange them any way we want. Actually the way you were holding them in a fan, I think that would be great. Let's go back to that. So we can do anything we want to. So you said hold them in a fan. So maybe something like this? Yeah. And let's keep them right over the middle of the Plexiglass where the light is. So we could move the strobe a little bit. So now they look like a fan indeed. Let's try this. Okay. So can you get far enough away to see the whole arrangement? No. So we need a wider lens. Okay. A regular 50 millimeter will probably work. Just do a test here. That's blown out. I'm way off. Doug, why don't you take over. And you can see things are getting very technical here. And compare this to the way we started off where you were making technical decisions and aesthetic decisions in the moment. It all fused together. As you were there, in the morning, sitting in front of these plants. And now, we're looking at a situation where there's a lot of technical steps that need to add up to making a successful exposure. And that is just one part of it. Because unless you bring in your creative thinking and you combine pieces of a plant on to that piece perspex, there's still no picture. So whether you like this or not, it is another avenue to express yourself if you're interested in working with plants. But it involves a lot more decision making and you can see the three of us are constantly rolling through decisions with respect to F-stops, ISO settings, the reflectivity on the perspex. So it's not as easy as being out there and being in the moment. Question for you, Frans, and this is from greenfusephotos. Do you have a light underneath the Plexiglass? Yes. Can you talk about what's down there? Yes, I think the best thing is to roll the video and then we'll stop it at a moment when that strobe is seen. Perfect. It looks a little dark. Yeah, we need to open that up a little bit and look we're getting... Is that from the bottom or is that reflection from that light? That's your flash. The flashing coming through so we'll move that up a little bit. Yeah. And I think the top light needs to... This is the top light right here. You sure? I also think we can arrange this a little better. Let's do this Doug, before you do that. We can't turn that strobe up anymore, it's maxed out at full power. So what you want to do is you want to go to ISO and let's see if that's gonna give it one more stop exposure. And why don't you go to F/8 instead of F/11, that's two stops. Let's just see what that looks like. Because everything looked a little bit dark there. Still getting them. Yeah, I've got another idea. I find this arrangement a little bit forced because of the way it spreads out, it also makes it harder to avoid the reflection of your fill flash on the perspex. So let's try this. Come up with another arrangement. I was starring at that fan of fern leaves and I thought the idea I missed that I wished I could have applied retroactively. we had six fern fronts there. We should have used five because then it would have become a plant hand. That would have been a different idea. So let's see where we end up with this. May make it a little bit easier to frame it. Okay? Yeah, went off. Got a little bit. So we could push the histogram to the right. Let's open it up a little bit more and-- Let's do it by going up to 400 on your ISO. And Doug, now you've got the help of two people. Two for the price of one. One for the lighting and... I made this arrangement to make it a little easier to avoid the reflection from your fill flash here. See if you can come in a little bit more tightly because if you show the bottom of the ferns, it becomes very clear what we've done here. I think the most interesting parts of the ferns are where they're beginning to curve here. So see if you can focus on that a bit more tightly. I think now we're getting in the zone. See this looks little bit more artistic, it becomes more of a composition in it's own right instead of a few pieces of ferns that have been put on a piece of plastic. And I think we can get even closer. If we look at it, I think maybe somewhere in here is where the true composition is. Steve, I also think we may want to get a little bit more power from the strobe at the bottom and see if we can make it look a little bit more translucent. And let me do one. Okay, back to you. We just saw that strobe below the piece of Plexiglass. In answer to the earlier question. So there's one strobe illuminating the plexiglass from below and that creates translucence in the subject and with the correct exposure and the correct strobe settings the plexiglass will turn all white. And then there's a top light shooting light onto the subject so you also get a correct surface exposure. Let's roll the rest of the video. Blown out. I'm still at F/11. I find the repetition interesting but the way it's lacing together here at the bottom that doesn't quite look right. You're not triggering the bottom light at all. That's only top light. The virtue of working with continuous lights is that you can immediately see what you're getting. When we switch to this set up, illuminating by strobes, you have to become a lot more deliberate in calculating your light output. That's why Steve is helping me here and we face some initial difficulties because Doug's Canon camera didn't talk very well with the Nikon strobe so now we're switching to a Nikon camera. And while he's figuring out the technical challenges, I'm gonna think of a more interesting visual arrangement for these fern leaves that we put on the perspex initially. So basically what we were finding number one, the cameras didn't sync with the Canon and the Nikon flashes. Now we've got Nikon and Nikon and they're talking to each other. The bottom light is still set. It reads at F/22. We've got our exposure set at F/16 though, right? Right. We actually moved that light up a little bit so it's probably a little more than F/ but we needed to adjust the fill light up top and we've raised it up. As you're raising it up, you're creating less light hitting the subject on top. Yes. So now I want to make it look a bit more interesting. Doug, when I looked at the initial frames in the back of your camera, I found it a little bit too plain. So let's see if we can move these ferns a little bit more together here. And now, let's see if we can create another kind of composition. So what if you try to frame it as a vertical instead. Just gonna take that central fern front and then show a little bit of the edges of the surrounding ferns. Okay. What do you think? I think I cut it off on top. So shift it a little bit further up. But I think this looks more sinuous than what we had before. The starting frames looked a little bit static. They're just fern fronts lined up. Now they're flowing a little bit more. So we had a lot of technical issues. We were resolving them and part of that decision-making was knock out that Canon camera and we got Doug a Nikon camera in his hand. How did that feel, Doug? Well. I found out shooting Nikon is not fatal. (audience laughing) It's just a matter of having the right equipment to do the right job and if you look at these images, the ones I took on my Canon and this, you can see how the lighting is more even and it's back lit because of that bottom strobe. Where mine, you can see the shadows back there. So what was the experience like for you because this is probably something you've never done before, right? Absolutely ,this is something I've never done before and it just gave me a better perspective on how to do things. Personally I don't think I would have ever thought of using white Plexiglass and illuminating from the bottom. But then like I told you before, I haven't done very much macro photography or close-up photography like this before. So this was a great learning experience for me and I really appreciate you letting me come along. All right, thank you. So... other lessons from this. You're probably wondering as you're looking at this picture, well that's totally blown out right? But it is actually correctly exposed. We talked earlier about exposing to the right. You expose for the highlights. This is a raw frame. The way it kind of it was rendered and then in Lightroom or in Photoshop we can push it back and come up with a perfect tonality that will saturate the greens so don't look at what comes out of your camera for color, just look at the histogram and make sure that your histogram is in the right position. Frans, photomaker would like to know how do you avoid glares and reflections in the Plexi? That's another good question. We saw earlier in the video there were a couple of moments when the reflection from the strobe showed up in the picture. So that was one reason why Doug was maneuvering around. You have to find an angle where you're not seeing the strobe straight underneath the subject. Thank you. Should we look at the rest of the video? Yeah, I like that better. So let's do one more frame now. Crop it off a little bit more at the bottom and create a little bit more space at the top still because you're very close to the tip. What do you think? I think I can crop it off there. Okay. This setup requires a lot more calculation of exposure. You have to balance the two lights but it's still something that you can set up very easily in your living room or in your garage and then you bring in plant material and you start playing with plants in a different way. You make your own arrangements. What do you think? Is this is something you might want to do at home? Yeah? You can just put up a piece of Plexiglass between two chairs, that's as simple as it is and then you clamp one strobe to the top of the chair and another strobe goes to the bottom of it. So the minimum requirements are one piece of Plexiglass, two strobes, and a light meter. Frans, would you ever use something to flatten the flowers or would you use another Plexi with a different texture to get a different kind of artistic view out of those shots? Well, you could certainly try kind of sandwiching, to flatten a specimen but then you're probably gonna deal with some more reflectivity from that top piece of Plexiglass. So I've never done that personally. What about using different textures of Plexi? So that you get a surface quality instead of a transparent quality? That will lead to a very different kind of image but but certainly yeah, that's worth trying.

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. 


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!