Issues with Light in Macro Photography - dummies

By Thomas Clark

Some point and shoot digital cameras enable you to get as close as one centimeter from your subjects and still achieve sharp focus, but doing so can be problematic as far as light is concerned. When you’re that close, your camera is likely to cast an ugly shadow on your subject and give you lousy results.

You can deal with shadows and unflattering light a number of different ways. The following options can help, whether you’re a photographer on a budget or a gear junkie:

  • Pay attention to the direction of your main light source. If your subject is lit from behind or from the side, you can move your camera closer without blocking the light directly. However, if your subject is lit from the front you’ll get in the way of the light for sure.


6.1mm, 1/30, f/13, 100

  • Macro-specific lighting attachments help you get control of the light in your scene. Some photographers prefer to use a ring light, which is a battery-powered flash that surrounds the lens and throws even light onto the subject. Others prefer a flash bracket system, which props a battery-powered flash on each side of your subject. Each option produces a fairly even light.

    In this photograph, a ring light was used to compensate for the shadow cast by the camera onto the subject. This technique requires a camera that is compatible with macro-specific lighting gear.


6.1mm, 1/160, f/13, 100

  • An ordinary battery-powered flash, which is propped up next to your camera, lights your subject from the side. This requires a camera that can sync with an off-camera flash (either through a sync cord or a wireless transmitter). This photograph shows the results of this method.

    If your camera isn’t compatible with off-camera flash systems, substitute a flashlight for the battery-powered flash.


6.1mm, 1/160, f/13, 100

  • A small piece of reflective material might be just the ticket for shining light onto your subject. A small mirror, for example, provides a strong reflective light, and a small white card provides a much more subtle light. Angle the reflector in the direction of the main source of light so that it bounces light toward the subject. See the example in this image.


6.1mm, 1/160, f/13, 100

Your on-camera flash is generally rendered useless when you’re photographing at the closest focusing distance with your point and shoot digital camera. It’s either blocked partially by your camera’s lens, or it doesn’t light your subject evenly because it’s so close.