What do I need for indoor Macro photography that I don't already have?
September 6, 2012 4:55 PM   Subscribe

Help me find the basics for indoor macro photography. I have a DSLR and Macro lens. I need cheap lighting and a set. Preferably small or easily storable when not in use.

Let's say I wanted to take a macro shot of a smallish item, like text on the inside of a bottle cap, just as an example. I have a Sony a77 DSLR (LOVE IT!) and a Tamron 70mm macro lens (not the best lens for this sort of thing but it's great for the outdoor stuff I do). I also have a tripod.

What I need is decent lighting and a set (is that the right term? A background?). Anything else?

What's the cheapest way to get what I'd need? I assume I need three light sources, yes? What else do I need? I'm more interested in starter options here since this is just a hobby, and macro work isn't even the majority of my hobby.

Editing wise, I have all I need (Aperture 3, Photoshop, etc)
posted by 2oh1 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Make your own lightbox!

Google for different variations, but I did this with some construction lights from Home Depot ($7 each that day). The most expensive part was the lightbulbs (I opted for some compact fluos that mimicked day light). Total spent $27.

The only thing I'd recommend, depending on your budget, is to go for lighting that has a stand. I struggled with that part, but really it's just so you can get your lighting in the right spot so it's equal (to eliminate shadows). Also, it's easier if you actually have four lights, instead of three plus flash. Helps with the different color of light and intensity.
posted by getmetoSF at 5:17 PM on September 6, 2012

For true macro photography (by which I mean the image projected on the film/sensor is larger than the actual object) the background doesn't matter a whole lot, because your depth of field is razor-thin. e.g., here's a record. I couldn't find a true tamron 70mm macro lens, but there's a 90 that does 1x macro (your subject is the same size as your camera's sensor) - stopped down to f/22, you get like 5mm DOF.

One thing about macro photography that's annoying is you really see any dust on your subject or scene. So I usually put the subject in a hobby vise, and put something the colors I want a few feet behind - which just ends up a blur. This is a keychain chain - the background is a Rubik's cube! Or if you're lighting it yourself, just don't illuminate the background and it will be completely dark.

People say ringlights are good for macro, but I think they make things too soft and flat. I usually use one or two strobes (just the standard canon flashes) - maybe with a bounce diffuser or softbox. An off-camera shoe cable or other flash remote is key - because then you can control where the light is coming from.

The other approach is to take pictures of things that give off light themselves, like fires, light bulb filaments, etc. :D

For 1x macro, it's difficult to shoot hand-held, but possible. The DOF is so narrow that small motions change the focus significantly. So you'll definitely want to use that tripod. If you're going zoomier than 1:1, then a focusing rail is very useful - because it's hard to move the tripod 1mm without screwing up the framing.

Macro photography is great; even at 1:1 it opens up a new world.
posted by aubilenon at 5:39 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I made something like getmetoSFs link except I basically made a "box frame" out of PVC pipe. I bought a range of colors of 16x20 or so thick art paper. I clamp these to the frame for a backround. I have a few yards of rip-stop nylon I use for light diffusion. Something not unlike this.

I have used it with regular light bulbs and high wattage halogen work lights. Also with regular strobes. Either is fine.
posted by RustyBrooks at 5:53 PM on September 6, 2012

Really simple? I use some overhead fluorescent bulbs for lighting. Then I cut a hole in the bottom of a styrafoam bowl and mount it to the end of my lens. Pop up the onboard flash and that bowl does an amazing job of diffusing the flash. Set whatever you want on some white paper and shoot away.

With some minor levels adjustment in Photoshop, you end up with something like this.
posted by sanka at 7:31 PM on September 6, 2012

Here's a different approach. It's based on cheap battery-powered book lights.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:13 PM on September 6, 2012

Probably-too-late self-promotional addition:

For photographing inside hollow things, like inside a bottle cap, a "ring light" or "ring flash" can be handy. It goes around the lens, and thus gives the closest thing to shadow-free illumination you're going to get. This isn't great for accurately displaying the actual shape of the object - it tends to iron things out flat, like onboard flash but not as ugly - but it's a very useful tool, and with a ring light attached to your lens you can leap and contort as much as you like while taking pictures of outdoor insects or whatever, and always have light pointing the right way.

It's easy and cheap to hack together your own not-very-bright ring light; I wrote about one way to do that here.

You can also get some of the benefit of a proper photo tent by just using available light and reflectors. Get yourself a couple of sheets of white "foamcore" or "corflute" corrugated plastic and experiment with, for instance, natural light on one side of a subject, and a reflector on the other. (There's a reason why pro outdoor still and video photography so often involves people carrying big white boards around.)

My old large photo tutorial also contains a fair bit of stuff about macro and small-product photography.
posted by dansdata at 7:16 PM on October 6, 2012

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