The Horizontal Flash

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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
Keith says...
Johan, this is a great idea. It will save a lot of clap-trap when I travel. Do you have any sample photos with this illumination scheme? Keith
11th May 2014 8:56pm
Johan says...
It's not too bad but the only thing you really need to watch for is the light underneath, if the subjecy blocks the light. I'm sorry I don't have any high res (HD broke on me), but some of the older ones on my Flickr - ie this, this and this
11th May 2014 11:29pm
Harold Gough says...
Having ordered an Olympus EM-1, I have decided to invest in some system flashes. This will not only give me TTL flash metering for the first time but the Wi-Fi units with stands to allow them to be placed on the ground (or another convenient support) offer new flexibility for placing them in relation to the subject.
25th April 2014 12:48pm
Harold Gough says...
Re: All light coming from above: The advantage is that this avoids light fall-off across the subject RE: Flash very close to the subject: If relying on TTL metering to quench the flash when exposure is complete, there is a limit to how short a duration can be handled by any metering system, such that over-exposure can result.
5th April 2014 4:56pm
Michael says...
What a fantastic site!!!! Superb job here Johan!
20th March 2014 12:10am
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