The Horizontal Flash

by Johan J Ingles-Le Nobel
Last updated August 31, 2017

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People most commonly use a flash bracket with a flash rigged on this angled towards the subjects for their extreme macro, but having tried and tested various brackets I ended up using horizontal flash setup.

Why Horizontal?

This horizontal setup works because the flash is very near the subject so you have more manoeuvrability, sharper shots, faster flash recharge and longer lasting batteries. It is also smaller, so you can fit between leaves and branches et. The simplest and most effective field setup for non MPE users that I could manage at the time.

horizontal flash

Horizontal flash setup for extreme macro. Rather than having the flash sit on an arm fixed to the camera, I opted to lean the flash over the subject. This setup uses adjustable shoe mounts and PC-sync with manual flash mode, although nowadays I use a Nissin SC-01 universal off camera shoe cord to allow the use of rear curtain sync.

The horizontal setup works well because the flash is very near the subject so you need to use far less battery power, which means longer lasting batteries and much faster flash recharge times.

Manoeuvrability

The first good reason to use a horizontal flash setup is its manoeuvrability, especially when shooting small insects in the field that are amidst branches, stalks and leaves.

My experience of trying to get a large bracket-arm mounted flash unit and DSLR into such spaces has been less than fruitful as I usually have one of two issues.

Either the blasted flash arm contraption is just too big and you can't get into where you want to get, or the sheer size of the whole contraption means that the insect spots you and casually flies away. Neither is desirable in extreme macro.

Recharge

When I'm shooting outside I like to approach the insect and shoot several shots when I'm nearly in focus to make extra sure that at least one in the sequence will be nice and sharp. We're dealing with fractions of a millimetre sharp focal plains, so overshooting can be forgiven.

more manoeuvrability, sharper shots, faster flash recharge and longer lasting batteries

Part of the consequence of this is that you want a decent macro flash that recharges as fast as possible, and by having a flash head much closer to the subject than on a big old arm it means that you can use a lower power speed, which not only makes for a faster flash duration (so sharper extreme macro photos) but also means the flash will recharge faster.

The downside is that all the light comes from the top, not the sides or the bottom.

Batteries

Longer lasting batteries are always welcomed by flash shooters and I am no exception. Using the flash at the lower power settings means the batteries last longer. If I can I like to use the flash at a fixed manual setting but sometimes I'll use rear sync to avoid the dreaded phenomenon of flash ghosting. But being able to get off more pops with shorter recharging times is a great result!

Horizontal Flash Construction

horizontal flash

GoPro 'rollbar mount', used as parts for a my old "flash cage". 1 and 2 fit round and straddle onto the extension tubes with 1 at the bottom. The steel bolts 3 are replaced with much longer ones of the same gauge. I then cut off some drainpipe and put holes in it to make a U shaped support for the flash. The spare GoPro parts eventually went towards a torch mount which attached to the bottom.

For this setup, a flash is connected to the camera with a Nissin SC-01 universal off camera shoe cord to allow the use of rear curtain sync, and the flash itself, usually a Metz 58, sits inside a custom flash 'cage' made using GoPro parts, nuts, bolts and bits of drainpipe. The illustration at the top is last year's model which used a Pentax flash and PC-Sync.

Diffusion

This is a seperate topic on its own and a variety of differnt materials give different diffusion properties. Tissue paper, polystyrene, vellum paper, tracing paper, laminating sheets, styrofoam amd milk bottle plastic all work, but give different colour casts and light blockage. Shape matters as well - concave is better because there's no difference in light intensity because of light falloff.

Comments (11)

Article: Horizontal Flash
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Max Rockbin says...
Could you provide more info / pictures on the flash cage? I'm not really getting the idea.  Also, in the photo you show an adjustable shoe that looks a little different than the Hama you reviewed as "poor". Have you found an alternative? TIP: For Canon users who would like to use rear curtain sync with manual-mode flash: Canon only enables the rear sync option with TTL flashes (w. TTL enabled), so I've read. A Yongnuo 622c wireless flash controller essentially emulates a TTL. It can be used to control a TTL flash set to manual mode. MAYBE even a manual only flash (much cheaper). A Yongnou rep said yes, but I haven't tried it.
31st October 2014 5:38am
Johan says...
Hello Max - added an explanation, hope this helps. Fwiw, I don't use it anymore, now preferring a ringflash. Also you have to be careful adding weight onto lens and extension mounts, it can bend things. The Hama things aren't that great - think the pic had both variants on that page, this uses the right hand one with PC-sync connection.
31st October 2014 12:11pm
Harold Gough says...
I would like to learn more about second curtain flash. I now have this available but would like to know the applications in macro.
12th May 2014 3:41pm
Johan says...
I had a big problem with something weird which I subsequently discovered is called 'flash ghosting' because I mix ambient light with flash photography.Rear sync solved that for me.
12th May 2014 11:02pm
Harold Gough says...
I suspected it was something like that. I have front and rear curtain options but I think I will stick with Fill, for macro anyway.
13th May 2014 10:08am
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