In this post I describe my current DSLR setup for macro photography. I mainly use it to shoot insects. This setup is designed to be used in the field, and I can carry it with me on my bike and drive to 2 or 3 interesting places (usually meadows with some flowers in suburbia) during an afternoon. Here is an example shot:
Macro photography — depth of field and light
The problem with macro photography is that you get very shallow depth of field when photographing tiny things which are rather close to your lens. So you usually have to close aperture to get a larger depth of field, which means less light. So you need a flash. Some people use two flashes on both sides of the camera to get rid of ugly shadows from a single flash (or even use a macro ring flash). I use a self-made diffuser to get good light from a single flash. I built it from an old cardboard box and some semi-transparent paper I found, tape and aluminium foil (on the inside). This also ensures that the light from the flash actually hits the subject, which is another problem:
The problem with macro photography — flash does not hit subject
So the basic idea is to have a single flash and a cheap DIY diffuser which also makes sure that the light from the flash hits the subject. The latter is important because in macro photography, the subject (e.g., an insect) will often be very small and very close to your lens — so close that the flash may shoot over it (or the subject lies in the flash shadow of the lens). The diffuser solves the problem:
The gear is not that important, but here is what I use:
I use a Yongnuo YN-560 flash, a tele zoom lens (Nikon 18-200mm) and extension tubes. The camera ain’t that important for this but I used my Nikon D7000. Most people prefer a 100mm lens or even less, but I only had a 50 and the 18-200 when I made this, it also works as you can see.
Everything is set to fully manual (the flash is very cheap manual only anyways). Make sure to check the photos often for correct exposure in live view and adapt the power of the flash when you change the distance to the subjects. Some insects allow you to get very close, you may need to turn down the flash then.
The diffuser is only cardboard with semi-transparent paper in the front and aluminium foil on the inside. You can build it yourself in a few minutes. There are some suggestions on the internet (just google something like ‘DIY flash diffuser macro photography’), but don’t follow them blindly. Depending on the size of the flash and lens you use, you may need to adapt them a bit.
Here is another shot I made using this setup:
Don’t be annoyed if you get many out-of-focus shots in the beginning, it takes some practice (and you will still get quite a few bad shots even with practice).