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Enhance Outdoor Light for Macro Photography

The ability to enhance the daylight to suit your close-up and macro subjects is entirely dependent on having the right tools for the job. Learn about some of the specific tools and techniques that work best in the field, assuming you don’t wish to bring your entire studio with you on a nature hike.

By carrying a small amount of extra gear, you can ensure your images will always have the lighting of your choice. Here’s what you need:

  • A scrim can be used to diffuse the quality of sunlight, creating softer shadows in your nature scene. This tool is placed between the subject and the sun and can be made from any material (such as a white cloth) that allows light to pass through.

    A thicker material provides more diffusion than a thinner material. Small diffusion discs are available for purchase at most photo equipment outlets; they can be folded down to a very small size and are very lightweight.

  • A small piece of black foam core can be used as a black flag to block the sunlight from your scene.

  • If you’re not happy with the sunlight’s direction in a particular scene, then change it. A small piece of reflective material enables you to redirect sunlight, creating the key light direction of your choice. This is known as a reflector, or a bounce card, and can be used in conjunction with the black flag to shift your key light.

    Simply block the sunlight with the black flag, and bounce it into your scene from the direction of your choice with the reflector. A small, lightweight, retractable reflector can be purchased at most photo supply outlets, or you can make your own from a small piece of white foam core, a mirror, or any shiny surface material.

  • Similar to the reflector, a small battery-powered flash can mimic the sunlight. One advantage to the flash over the reflector is that it provides just as much light in cloudy conditions as it does in sunny conditions. You can use your flash to create the appearance of sunlight even when there is no sun to work with.

The photograph shows the differences between a scene that was photographed in the middle of the day using available light, and using key-shifting techniques. On the left, the direct sun at high noon causes unflattering shadows in the image. By blocking the sunlight with a black flag and using a reflector to create a new direction for the sun, the photographer was able to create a more flattering image.

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100mm, 1/25, f/11, 50    100mm, 1/25, f/11, 50

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