In previous post I presented you some indoor subjects photograhed during the two months quarantine that was imposed in Romania due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to this I promised you a new article about the ring flash usage. Now it’s time for me to fulfil my promise. So let’s get to the subject!
In the first ring flash post I mentioned some settings I used indoors. As visible from the displayed pictures these were mainly for “fill light” scenarios. This means some natural light coming through the window (I photographed during daytime) and the flash doing the rest of the job. In this post I’ll continue the story by presenting you another usage type, namely as “main light”. This could be used both indoors and outdoors and can be achieved by entirely cutting down the ambient light. Comparing to a standard flash (which might cast harsh shadows when used as main light source) the macro flash yields much better results due to the (more) uniform distribution of the light in respect to the subject. In my opinion this scenario is where my cheap ring flash actually “shines”. However I won’t generalise this statement because I haven’t used any other ring flash and the behaviour might be quite different.
The settings for main light flash are pretty straightforward and could be applied for standard flashes too:
- turn the flash off
- set the aperture so the required depth of field is obtained
- put ISO at a (native) minimum
- set the shutter speed high enough so the ambient light is cut off entirely. Do some test pictures to make sure this happens. Everything in the frame should be entirely dark.
- turn on the flash
- play with ISO until the right FLASH exposure is obtained. However don’t forget to adjust the shutter speed to keep the same ambient exposure (at least when increasing ISO). Please note that the aperture and ISO are the parameters governing the flash exposure. For the ambient exposure the shutter speed adds to them.
- to prevent increasing ISO too much you can also use flash compensation
I’m pretty satisfied by the results I got when using this device in “main light” scenario, yet I should mention there are some challenges too:
- Sometimes flash light is simply not enough and ISO would need to be increased over a desired threshold, which would cause a noisy picture. A way to prevent this is taking the flash off-camera so the distance to subject gets lower. However a right positioning should be found so the flash continues to preserve its “ring” property and also doesn’t become part of the picture. Also if you have a cable connecting the flash to camera you should take care not to make the camera move or even drop on the floor! Needless to mention a tripod is strongly recommended.
- There might be some coloured surfaces which reflect light onto the subject from behind or sideways. This might alter the white/color balance, which would result in an unnatural look. To avoid the issue try to place your object as far away from them as possible. Also to enhance lighting you could place reflective objects with neutral colours (white, grey) on the sides. This could greatly improve your results! However these surfaces shouldn’t be visible through viewfinder as only the reflected light is supposed to reach and envelop the subject for a great effect. As a general rule don’t let any reflective surface be part of your picture unless this is what you want (see next point). Another idea would be to take any removable diffuser off (honestly I haven’t done this, maybe next time) but I cannot promise the light quality will get preserved. There is a chance it will become harsher.
- A good bonus is to place the object on a reflective surface. I recommend a black one for greatest impact. However you would want to ensure this surface is as clean as possible (I used my induction stove for most of the below pictures), otherwise you might get headaches when doing the cleanup in Photoshop. Trust me, it’s often easier to wipe the dirt with a cloth than by using Photoshop!
To sum up, photographing macro/closeups with the ring flash is not quite an exact science (but not “rocket science” either). The main idea is: try to probe as much as possible using different settings and angles until you get the desired result.
This being mentioned I strongly recommend you try the main light scenario with macro flashes. As mentioned before it might take some practice until getting used but it’s definitely worth adding it to your photographic experience.
Looking forward for your comments and opinions.
P.S. Check these posts too: