Sunday, July 19, 2009

Bug hunting -- this time with flash!

You'll remember in a previous post that I tried out using a flash when shooting closeup work. I had intended on taking pictures of bugs, but I couldn't find any. Well, today I did, and I used my flash to light them all up while I shot their portraits.

Different ball game with bugs, my friends. I was excited to get awesome depth of field, snappy colour, zero noise, and tack sharp results. Not as easy as as it sounds...

Problem #1: Close Focus
When shooting bugs, I focus at the absolute closest focus distance. I'm SO close that the hot spot of the flash is projected beyond where my lens is focused. I still get some light fall off due to the use of the dome diffuser, but nowhere near as much as the full brunt. I found I needed set my flash to full power to get enough light on the scene. This also meant the bugs were lit from the top, with no light at all filling in the details. The effect is somewhat cool, but bugs are much cooler up close when you can see all of the bits that make them up.

Problem #2: You Only Get One Shot to Get It Right
In 99% of the cases, the flash burst scared away the insect. That meant I had one chance -- not only to get the focus dead on -- but to make sure the flash power was right as well. In one case, the fly I was shooting was SO fast, that resulting image was JUST his legs poking down from the top of the frame as he flew away when the flash went off. Since the flash needs to recycle each time, burst mode was out too, as my flash won't keep up at full power.

Problem #3: The Flash Gets In The Way
The flash, especially with the diffuser mounted on top, is big and bulky, and bumps into stuff. Usually the plant the bug is sitting on, effectively announcing my presence and prompting the little guy to fly away.

To fix Problem #1, I needed to capture some ambient light. That meant higher ISO, and subsequently higher noise. I suppose I could have shelled out a few hundred bucks for a macro lens that gave me more working distance, like a 100mm or 200mm, or $3000 (roughly) for a Canon 5D mk ii in order to get noise-free images at high ISO, but I'm cheap, so higher ISO was my practical option. I also needed to stop down to f/11, so my depth of field was, once again, reduced.

Fixing Problem #2 and #3 were more an exercise in patience than anything else.

Now, having said that, when it works out, it's AWESOME!!! Take a look at this one:

Now a 100% crop of the eyes:

Are you kidding me??? I can literally count the eyes! No way I could get this handheld without a flash.

Here are a few more. As always, click on them for larger versions and more from the study:



  1. gorgeous shots... i'm going to use your tips and see what i get!

  2. Great! Be sure to post back here and let me know how it worked out.