Experimenting with macrophotography

I’m following some of the suggestions mentioned in the previous thread — specifically, I got some extension tubes. $20? I can afford that much, at least. They worked, really well! There was one catch: lighting. I knew it was always going to come down to lighting. The ring light I had was just too cumbersome, and I ended up juggling camera, LED lighting, and specimen, which required 3 hands, and even with a pair of tripods (eventually, as I wrestled) it was incredibly awkward — not the kind of thing where you can say, “Oooh! A bug!” and whip your camera around for a fast picture. When you’re also experimenting with the aperture and the exposure, you need 4 hands.

So now I need a better way to manage the lighting, so I need to buy more stuff. This is the nature of photography, everything funnels you into making more purchases to feed your habit. I saw this video that emphasized inexpensive solutions, so I’m going to try an extender arm and a flash cord. I tried looking for a biology site that would show me how to grow a few more arms, and came up with zilch.

So I’m getting a few more low-cost widgets. This is going to set me on that slippery path to prowling camera stores, looking for a quick fix, isn’t it? I’ll be in a ditch in skid row, begging passers-by for a few coins for a new ND filter.

Anyway, a few rough pictures of a caterpillar below the fold. It’s good enough for me to see the potential.


  1. Artor says

    You need to find an appealing octopod you can merge your DNA with. Knowing your predilections, that’s a pretty wide open field.

  2. monad says

    Wait, wasn’t the whole point of studying developmental biology and then spiders so you could figure out how to grow more arms?

  3. rickwayne says

    Heh heh heh. Once we get him to look up instead of down, WE SHALL HAVE HIM! (Astrophotography, man. Comfortably siphons off all your excess wealth. And time. And peace of mind.)

    I’m a fan of LED lights for macro, as opposed to flash, so that you can see to frame and focus. Possibly the bendy-arms kind that mount in your camera’s hot shoe might be suitable. The Bolt VM-210 on B&H Photo is only $40. (SOON, WE SHALL…)

  4. bjnich2 says

    You would do best to use a speedlight since a flash tube puts out tons more photons than an LED ringlight. A really good speedlight series on a budget is by Godox. This one is small, but would have plenty of TTL power for macro work.


    You’ll want to use a short TTL cord so you can position the flash appropriately (wireless isn’t reliable at close proximity to the camera+transmitter). Vello’s is cheap but good.


    Add a flash bracket. This one gets the flash forward of your camera grip. It’s a little pricey, but solid and has anti-twist so you can keep the flash assembly where you want it.


    A short articulating arm. You want one with a good size knob so it can be solid when tightened.


    A cold shoe for the articulating mount. This one is a few bucks more, but much better and more trustworthy than the cheap ones.


    I haven’t found the idea diffuser yet, but you could make one easily enough using a white translucent container and some duct tape. The nice thing about using a speedlight is you can stop down for better depth of field without cranking up the ISO.

  5. stroppy says

    Ha! In the good old days you could shell out for pen and paper and be good to go. These days everything is ru$h, ru$h, ru$h and it’s the scientific illustrators out on the street begging.

    Now what you need is an up-to-date camera modded for full spectrum photography. There’s just so much going on that you miss with ordinary equipment.
    /kidding… sort of.

    (…and a drone! A little one with a camera so that you can fly it into tight, dark spaces…)

  6. marcoli says

    I have the Meike reversing ring. It is a clever idea as it gives you aperture control with a reversed lens, but the front part occupies space that could be used for working distance between the glass of the lens and the subject. Won’t be good for spiders in webs, I fear.
    I have wound up not using it much. If your extension tubes are electronically connected you can mount the lens in the ‘forward’ direction and you would not necessarily need the reversing ring for aperture control.
    The rig described in the video may be inspired by John Hallmen, who is one of the great macrophotographers. His version is here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/johnhallmen/21816371891/in/album-72157604592459772/ His Flickr page is worth just perusing and generally geeking out over, as he is one of the most creative photographers I know. Note he uses a piece of translucent cup as a diffuser.
    Light and diffusion can take up most of your time in developing macro rigs. It can be a bigger problem than lenses, even. To ease the journey, here is what I call “diffuser porn” — pictures of various rigs with an emphasis on creative and cheap and very, very good diffusers:
    Ok, I will stop now.

  7. Akira MacKenzie says

    I started playing around with my camera’s macro mode when I started taking pictures of my miniatures.

  8. gorobei says

    Heck, stop that macro down to f/128 and hit your subject with six slaved flash units.
    Sure, the poor beastie may feel like it’s just wandered into a nuclear war, but this is art, so you don’t even need an ethics review board.

  9. chrislawson says

    I have a 58mm ND400 filter, a 52-58 mm variable ND filter, and a 58 mm circular polarising filter. Haven’t used them for years. Happy to mail them to you. Just let me know. One of them is even engraved with a “digital filter” label, which always makes me laugh.

    Just check the width (marked Ø on the lens) to see if they are the right diameter. If needed, you can buy cheap step-up threads to make them fit a small lens (you can also step down to smaller diameter, but you risk vignetting).

    Having said that, most invertebrate photography requires the opposite of ND filters. You want more light, a strong LED or a flash, to make the images really sharp. ND filters are good for smoothing out images (e.g. you want to take a photo of a building, using an ND filter can make all the people walking around disappear by stable tripod + ultra-long exposure, or you want that flowing-water effect which averages a waterfall over many seconds). If you want really clear, well-focussed images of arachnids, you want a strong light source to shorten your shutter time, especially if you want a good depth of field (common in scientific photos) as opposed to a narrow depth of field (popular for artistic photos). If you take a photo of a moving arachnid with an ND filter, at best it will look like a vague blur. Fine for eggs, webs, and other static objects, including some spiders in rest state. Not good for moving organisms.

    In short, you’re probably better off looking for a good LED light or flash with diffuser rather than an ND filter. NDs are mostly used for landscapes, not macro photography of insects/arachnids.

  10. notruescott says

    Does a digital filter remove your stupid finger or thumb from your images?

  11. says

    If you got multiple extender tubes, you can stack them, BTW. The quality gets worse (but surprisingly good still) and of course the depth of field goes way down.

  12. chrislawson says


    If only! That would make the “digital” mean something useful. Much like the “digital motors” in Dyson vacuum cleaners.

  13. says

    Those pics turned out very well. I especially like the second one as it has a greater contrast range. Maybe not so great for sciencey stuff, but artistically very nice.

  14. says

    Macro photography is something I dabble a fair bit with. Usually though, it’s while doing other work, so I had some peculiar requirements when it came to setting up my macro rig.

    • It had to be very compact, so I could take it with me without it being a burden. Photography in general is something I do while doing other things, rather than something I do specifically.

    • It had to be able to do achieve good macro photography of things down to 3-5mm across. My current camera images a 17.3x13mm frame at 1:1.

    • It had to be easy to handle, with one handed shooting as an option.

    I ended up with this setup, which I haven’t changed in years, with the exception of upgrading the camera itself.

    And some photos taken with the kit.
    Peacock spiders

    Simatheula Sp. Love their bronze sheen. :D

    A leaping Salticidae (No flash, sunlit).

    Saitis Sp. (So very colourful)

    Cuckoo wasp

    And a little spider who’s species I can’t remember (maybe a crab spider), eating some pollen/nectar.

  15. Roberto Alsina says

    It was a matter of getting really really close to her while she was high on sugar from my capuccino.