Home Lighting Natural light macro photography – Preparation

Natural light macro photography – Preparation

by Güray Dere

I mentioned in a previous article how important it is to use the flash in macro photography. Now I will write the opposite and praise the macro photography without a flash. I want to show you how to use different techniques rather than creating confusion. If we can use the natural light correctly by putting aside our light sources such as flash or led light, our little friends will look much more real in our photos. But the shooting is going to be a very difficult process. Let’s see how to do this.

The use of natural light is technically a bit advanced. So I’m going to look at it in a couple of different articles. First, let’s discuss the equipment needs of the work, how to follow a path and its challenges. In the next articles I’ll tell you about the sample shots from the field and the different situations we have encountered. Sometimes we won’t be able to reach our goal, and we’re just gonna come back empty-handed.

Why natural light

  • Natural colors

The most natural answer to the question of “why natural light” is that we see the world we live in with natural light (daylight). If we want to take the closest picture to what we see with our eyes, we need to use this light. For example, those who make 3D modeling know and pay attention to the diffusion of the light in the sky and in the clouds and the light coming from all directions is important for the natural appearance. In the same way, our photo shows the color reflections from all the objects around. Light-shadow transitions are soft. All this shows our model not in space but in its natural environment, making it real.

  • Background

When shooting with the flash, the background light will decrease as it moves away from the flash. Macro shooting features, such as aperture narrowing and high magnification often require a strong flash. Even when shooting in daylight, the light of our flash illuminates only our insect and its surroundings. Because the flash light is much stronger than daylight and the camera settings suit that powerful flash light. So we can find dark backgrounds in our photos even in daylight. We have to adapt to the natural light to achieve colorful and bright backgrounds.

  • Disturbing the insects

Most insects are quite responsive to a flash that fires nearby. I even witnessed that the high-frequency sound, which we hear while the flash is charging, repelled some insects. We need to make a large number of shots in macro shooting. But we’ll often disturb our target in the first shot with the flash and make it fly/run away. An insect that is constantly moving or escaping from the flash can make focus stacking impossible.

Copyright: Özgür Kerem Bulur

Macro shooting in natural light

After realising the advantages of using natural light, let’s take a look at what we should do. I’ll tell you as much as I know. Let’s look at the challenges first.

Long exposure and vibration problem

The biggest challenge of using natural light is that it requires long exposures. In general, we need to create a vibration free environment to use 0.5-1 sec exposures. If we are talking about natural light, we can also say that we will do it outdoors. Even if we fix our camera on a tripod, the flower/insect will cause a completely blurry image when it moves a little or when a slight wind blows. We have to stabilize our insect as we stabilize our camera!

The vibrations that we cannot feel in normal shooting are our biggest enemy in high magnification long exposures. The vibrations don’t just come from the outside world, our camera is a source of vibration too. Because of the mirror movement that occurs when the shutter button is pressed, we cannot make long exposures in macro shots in many DSLR models. My Pentax K-x camera, which I used in the past, unfortunately prevented me from doing this.

Mirror lock-up

The DSLR mirror mechanism is a device that adjusts the light to the viewfinder or sensor. When the exposure starts, the mirror moves up and sends the light to the sensor. The viewfinder is dark during the exposure. At the end of the exposure, the mirror goes down and directs the light back to the viewfinder. Again we see the scene through the viewfinder. This mechanical movement makes the famous shutter sound. Long exposers know that even if we stabilize the machine, the vibration of this movement of the mirror creates blur in the photograph.

A setting called mirror lock is used to prevent the vibration. Thus, the mirror movement is much earlier than the exposure. The mirror is lifted up first. According to the setting we wait 2-3 seconds. Meanwhile, the vibration caused by the mirror fades out. Then the exposure starts in this flicker-free environment. When the posing is complete, the sound and the vibration are repeated while the mirror is coming down, but our work is already over. The vibration of this last movement is not reflected in the photograph.

Shutter – curtain

Unfortunately, taking care of the mirror movement is not enough for long exposure in the macro. There is a second movement inside our camera. The opening and closing of the curtain.

Right in front of our sensor, two curtains manage the exposure time. I can consider the way they work in another article. What bothers us is that these curtains create vibration while opening and closing. Although we do mirror lock-up, the curtain movement with a “click” sound at the beginning of the shooting, is enough to waste our high magnification – long exposure photograph. I had to live with this situation for a long time, leaving me no choice but to replace the body.

EFSC – electronic first shutter curtain

Some Canon DSLR models and some mirrorless cameras, such as Sony, have a feature called EFSC ot EFCS. This allows you to open the shutter before and not during long exposure. The sensor information is electronically reset at the beginning and then the exposure is initiated. There is no mechanical motion or sound. And, of course, no vibration… Although Canon introduces this function as silent mode, it is actually a non-vibration mode.

The EFSC cameras are ideal for high-magnification and long exposure in natural light. The Sony A7II body that I’m using now supports this feature, and I can say that it makes a serious difference in terms of sharpness.

Auxiliary equipments

Since we can have a vibration-free camera let’s look at the auxiliary equipment that will keep the body and the object from shaking and increase the overall quality.

In the meantime, when I wrote the article, I didn’t have an EFSC-supported body. My friend Özgür Kerem Bulur, whom I often go to the macro shooting trips, helped me in the next two articles about equipment and sample photographs.

Our natural light system is ready. Manfrotto 410 Junior Geared Head for movement in three axes. Newport 430 micrometer precision rail for focus stacking. And the bellows rail for rough focus adjustment..

Tripod for macro

The overall purpose of all tripods is to keep the camera steady, but the high magnification in the macro takes this requirement to an advanced level. The slim metal-legged tripods form long-lasting vibrations in light wind or touch. Instead, we prefer tripods close to the ground with short and thick legs. If possible, we can obtain custom-made wooden tripods and dampen the vibrations as soon as possible..

External shutter

It doesn’t matter whether it’s wired or wireless. If you touch the camera during shooting, this vibration will continue for a long time. That’s why we need to use external shutter when using natural light.

Tripod head

After a long struggle to set up our camera and the framing, the insect may take a step away and distress us. The tripod heads, which can move precisely in three axes, can easily compensate for this. Manfrotto 410 Junior Geared Head is one of the recommended products.

Focus rail

The “focus stacking” technique is used to create a wider clarity as the magnification increases. For this, it is necessary to photograph the same frame with a large number of images and to shift the focus slightly forward in each one. We use “focus rails” to do this on the tripod. If we have a bellows, it’s rail can also work, but unfortunately, most of the time it can’t provide sufficiently precise movement.

The most appropriate solution is actually a CNC product with micrometer driven rails. The Newport family is used extensively in the macro world. This type of rails are also available in fully automatic versions. Although they are a bit expensive, they are able to provide great convenience because they do focus stacking automatically.

I don’t recommend cheap rails made in China. We cannot control the back and forth movement adequately in these products,

Sample holder


Two little claws sold under the name of “helping hand” can be used outdoors, even if they are more prominent in home/studio use. Or we can do better and use clamps on “octopus” type flexible tripods. These are usually not sold as a whole but we can make them easily putting together the main parts.

We hold the object to be photographed or the leaf/branch with the insect on it using these clamps and prevent it from swaying in the wind. We can also set the angle we want with rotatable clamps.

Diffuser and reflector

We don’t want natural light to be completely natural. Home-made white plastic diffusers work well to disperse harsh sunlight. We can also soften the shadows with a large white surface or metallic reflective surfaces.

It is a good idea to use these tools with octopus tripods.

Note: Turkish articles will be translated soon

I briefly introduced the accessories. A little more detailed review of these can be found here: http://makrodunyasi.com/dogal-isikta-yardimci-ekipmanlar-tripod-ve-tutucular/

The next post is about practising on the use of natural light outdoors. Our experiment with Kerem and a two-day macro shot showed that we should be very patient 🙂

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