Sunday, 13 March 2016

Cheap macro softbox

The great thing about photography as a hobby, is the big variation possibility. There are so many styles and techniques to explore, even without spending a lot on equipment.

One of the techniques is macro: To photograph small objects. This can be pursued by purchasing a macro lens, e.g., the Lumix/Leica 45mm f/2.8 or the Olympus 60mm f/2.8. Both these lenses are 1:1 capable, meaning that you can photograph an object the same size as the imaging sensor, i.e., 17mm by 13mm.

Another, much cheaper option, is to get macro extension rings (click on the link for an explanation). These can be used with the kit zoom lens at maximum extension (usually 42mm), or a tele zoom lens. Don't worry about the smaller maximum aperture you get with this option, usually f/5.6, versus f/2.8 with the specialized tele lens: Mostly, you will need to stop down at least to f/5.6 when photographing small objects anyway, otherwise, most of the picture will be out of focus.

One particularly difficult aspect of macro photography is lightning: Often the light will come from one single light source (a flash or the sun), making the picture look flat and contrasty. Which brings us to the subject of this post: Using a macro softbox to overcome this. A softbox simply makes the light go through a larger surface before hitting the object, so that the light comes from a larger set of angles, rather than one single angle.

A very simple and cheap softbox is a simple transparent wash bucket, which you may well have already. Ideally, it should be as neutral as possible, not having any colour tint at all:

The clue is then to put the object to photograph inside the bucket, and make sure to not point the opening towards the light source. Like this:

Here is what the picture looks like, with and without the softbox (click for larger images). I used the aperture f/7.1 for some depth of field:

With softboxWithout softbox

You probably agree that the picture taken with the softbox (bucket) has a more even lightning.

This softbox can also be combined with a flash, by pointing the flash towards the outside of the bucket. I am using the Lumix FL360 flash unit, with a TTL flash cable (the flash also works on Olympus cameras):

Again, I think using the bucket hugely improves macro flash images:

With softboxWithout softbox


Taking closeup images can be fun, but getting a good lightning takes some effort. A quick and cheap start is to use a transparent bucket as a softbox. It can be used with ambient light, or with a flash.