After shooting macro for around 2 years, I have noticed that there are quite a lot of things that I do not know, and many skills that I have yet to grasp. However, there is one thing that I am absolutely certain- You need to use flash if you truly want to master Macro. Not sure why? Please read Using Flash In Macro Photography for more details.
Those who are into Macro Photography for some time will notice eventually that simply blasting your subjects with super bright flash will not give you great results, simply because the lights are too harsh. Diffusers are thus needed to “soften” the light. Considering the lack of readily available diffusers in the market, most enthusiasts and pros alike resort to making their own diffusers based on their own creativity and innovation. Please read HERE to learn more about making an awesome flash diffuse. Please feel free to check out my versions of diffusers (a bit outdated, but it works XD) if you like in My Macro Rig.
Okay, so now that you have made your own diffuser, how do you gauge its effectiveness at softening the light coming from your flash? Shooting still subjects indoors is definitely a big NO NO as the ambient light is often too dark for you to assess your light diffusion. Most Macro Photographers will head outdoors to test their new diffusers, which is the right thing to do. However, most are unsure which diffusion aspects that they should check for, which brings us to today’s short article.
There are only three things to check when you assess a flash diffuser; and the best way to test them is to use specific creatures as subjects:
1. Light Diffusion
The better the light diffusion, the softer the light hitting the surface of the subject. If you are unsure, check the shadows cast of your subject: A harsh light source will also generate a harsh shadow (clear shadow boundary).
Model: Any insect or arthropod with a shiny or glossy carapace e.g. metallic bugs, certain beetles, ladybirds etc.
Rationale: The glossy or shiny surfaces of arthropods are smooth and will reflect your flash directly. If your flash diffusion is mediocre, it will show up clearly. Testing your flash on other subjects (say a hairy spider or caterpillar) will not give you an accurate measure of your light diffusion since the light will be “absorbed” by the numerous minute hairs.
2. Light Spread
The better the light spread, the more evenly distributed the light that falls onto the subject. The idea is to ensure that light falls onto the entire subject (and of course the surrounding environment) from different angles, not just from the top.
Model: Eyes of robberflies or dragonflies.
Rationale: The eyes or robberflies and dragonflies are large and rounded. In order to light up the entire eye, you will need a near-perfect light spread from your diffuser. The wonderful and “ever-changing” colours of the eyes of robberflies make a great indicator of your light spread too, which is why robberflies are a hit with most Macro Photographers.
3. Light Shape
The shape of your light, or more precisely, your diffuser may not be as important as the points stated above; but they do come in real handy for specific shots.
Model: Eyes of jumping spiders, frogs, geckos, lizards, snakes etc.
Rationale: The eyes of many creatures will reflect the light coming out of your diffuser, which will show up in your final photo. If you create a star-shaped flash diffuser, you can expect many of your subjects to be “starry-eyed”!
Well, I guess that’s all there is to it, simple enough? 🙂
I hope you find this info interesting and useful in helping you construct a great DIY diffuser. Take note that there is no universal and “best” diffuser out there, as different photographers have different preferences in their shooting styles, so just keep trying until you find one that is most suited to your needs. Please do drop me a question should you ever need any help with designing and building a diffuser!
Until the next article, Happy Shooting guys!
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