#Macro photography- don’t forget the light

July 29, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

I think one of the major benefits of spending a lot of years peering down a microscope, is that you develop a deep appreciation for how important lighting is. In order to see details, you don't just use a good microscope. You also spend a lot of time playing with different angles and levels of light. That's why you have light sources above and below the slide, and also fibre-optic lights on goose-neck lamps. Having the highest quality microscope in the world, means nothing of you can't work with light.

The same principle carries over to macro-photography. I've noticed a lot of people who start up with macro photography who think it's all about the lens. So they're willing to spend a lot of money on a top-grade lens, and then there's nothing left over for macro-flashes. The thing is, having light sources you can use to bring up relief on the subject matters a great deal.

This orbweb spider below is one of my favourite shots


One of the reasons is the lighting. I've got a green card set up behind the spider to reflect light back on it, and it's been hit with two flash sources. This is a spider I've photographed in the dead of night, in NZ bush. There is no other lighting here other than the sources I carried in. There's no streetlights, and the forest canopy is preventing moon or star-light from impacting on the picture. So by using light from different directions the spider ends up having shape and detail.

One of the reasons I went with Sony in my early DSLR days was because I saw the potential in this system for macro photography. The camera bodies had stabilisation, which gave hand-held macro shots a helping boost. The other factor was the weak AA filters used on the Sony sensors. This gave a notorious level of noise to images at high ISOs, but more detail in photos at low ISOs. Given I shoot macro at low ISOs, this suited me just fine.

Weaknesses however remained. Whilst Minolta had an excellent 200/4 long macro lens, Sony never resumed production of this lens- nor brought in a replacement. That left the macro lineup as a 50mm, and 100mm and later a 30mm. The gap at the long macro can be offset by using 3rd party lenses, but I really wanted to see a 200/4 back in offer.

The second weakness was lighting. Again Minolta had a ringflash in production prior to the Sony acquisition. This has been replaced with a ring-light instead- which suffers the problem of not actually being a flash and of very limited use for macro photography. The only other option was the Sony HVL-24. This is another Minolta rebadge of a specialist macro lens.

Up to now however, I've always baulked at paying the retail price for this unit. In the mean time I've been using a Sigma EM-140 ringflash. This wasn't available when I first got into macro-photography again, and it's actually a good unit. Nonetheless, you're still restricted by a ring-flash. It's difficult to make meaningful adjustments to the direction the light comes from.

Well, I've now bought a 2nd hand copy of the Sony HVL-24. This solved my issue with the retail price new :) And hopefully, I can offer some thoughts on its value after some use.







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