Studio Techniques

by Johan J Ingles-Le Nobel
Last updated May 13, 2017

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The world of extreme macro photography relies heavily on diffused light to photograph its specimens.

However, the world of product, fashion and portrait photography have developed a sophisticated approach to lighting and there is no reason why some of their studio lighting techniques can't be borrowed to add a little sparkle to extreme macro photography.

Lighting Diary

I know the light I used, the directions, strengths and tools, for every photo I have ever taken. Do yourself a favour and start making copious notes, and you'll learn quickly what works and what doesn't. And if you like the look of something, you'll know how to reproduce it. If professional photographers do this, why wouldn't you? Make yourself get into the habit.

Core Lighting Principles

If there's one key takeaway about lighting that should drive your approach to illuminating the extreme macro specimen it's this: it's better to have too much light and take it away than to have too little. You can always block light using a micro paddle as a flag, but it's much harder to add light into the dark recess when you don't have enough without messing everything else up. Light falloff is also a very big deal in extreme macro, and this is just one of a number of core lighting principles that should be digested when undertaking extreme macro in the studio.

Shaping Light

Various tools exist for shaping light in the studio, some of which are also very useful for extreme macro photography: barn doors, reflectors, gobos, louvers and snoots all have a place in the lighting setup of the tabletop studio. Every photo I take uses some of these techniques.

Light Direction

it's better to have too much light and take it away than to have too little

Light can come from the front, back, side, around, underneath, and any combination of those. Because of our preoccupation with diffusion, directed light just isn't used enough in extreme macro, but there are some very interesting possibilities waiting to be made.

Experiment

The cost of learning photography has never been lower than it is today. Not only that but you will see the results instantly. This is a great excuse to experiment, so for goodness sake, take advantage of it.

Software Tools

There are some great tools out there that mimic studio photography tools and show you what the effect is of trying out different lighting arrangements. They're dead cheap, and well worth investing in if you're planning to get serious about extreme macro.

Comments (1)

Article: Studio Techniques
Carmen Mazzuca says...
John; Your comment that direct light is not used enough is interesting. Being new at this I have adhered pretty strictly to what seems to be accepted practice and attempted to diffuse light to extremes. However, with some tiny (approx 1mm dia.) translucent fungi I found, I have experimented with very direct light from LED's; some with micro snoots; from behind and underneath. I did this just as a learning exercise. I would be interested to hear your thinking about the specular reflections that direct light seems to introduce. I can see that on an insect these bright spots would detract. On the other hand some of the highlight was not offensive on the fungus. Judgement call perhaps? Enjoy the site very much and refer to it daily. Carmen Mazzuca FloridaMa
16th January 2015 5:38am
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