Home-made Macro Flash Diffusers

Home-made Macro Flash Diffusers

This is going to be a camera-geek post, so if you find it boring you have been warned 😉

One of the wrinkles with macro photography is lighting. When you are taking super close-up pictures you end up with a very narrow depth-of-field (how much is in focus), sometimes fractions of an inch. So to get as much in focus as possible you want to use the smallest possible aperture, which means you must then use a slow shutter, which means you risk any movement (you or the subject) producing  blurred pictures.

My speedlight diffuser

The answer to this is to use a flash, which gives you the light you need to use a small aperture and has the added benefit of freezing movement 🙂 However, the on-camera flash on a DSLR is usually pretty wimpy, and as it is low on the camera you also have the problem of the lens blocking the light when you are right up close to the subject (my macro lens allows me to get within inches what I’m photographing). But using a speedlight (a flash that mounts on top of the camera) can have almost it’s own problems too- the flash is high over the subject, and though speedlights tilt up to allow you to bounce the flash off ceilings, they don’t tilt down (well, mine tilts down a bit, but not enough), and they can be overpowering.

From the back

The answers to all of these issues are to use flash diffusers, devices that sit over the business end of a flash and soften and diffuse the light coming from the flash so that the light is not as harsh. And although this is what you need for a speedlight for macro photography, you also need to direct the light as well- and this is even more important for the on-camera flash, which needs softening, but also directing and almost concentrating to the spot where you need it.

Camera, speedlight and diffuser

After a little research on the interwebs, I found some interesting examples of DIY macro diffusers both for speedlights and on-camera flashes. So I decided to have a go at my own- and these are what I came up with 🙂

The speedlight fits snugly into it

For the speedlight I took the reflector off one of those clamp-on painter’s lights and cut a hole in it to receive a plastic plumbing adapter I found at Home Depot (it’s actually for connecting rectangular gutter downspouts to round drain pipes) which has a nice, rectangular hole on one side, and an offset, round hole on the other.  I used foil tape to connect them together so it all stayed reflective and I covered the big hole in the front of the reflector with thin, translucent plastic (actually it’s plastic cut from Holly’s first head cone). With some foam sheets rolled up and glued into the rectangular hole so that the speedlight head fits nice and snug it puts a nice, large light source right over the area in front of the lens and I can get decent shots all the way down to f/32 @ 1/250 sec @ 100 iso- I’ll post some examples of pictures taken in the next post 🙂

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Small diffuser for on-camera flash

That works great for taking pictures at home or close by, but it’s too unwieldy to take into the woods with me. So I also made another one to use with the on-camera flash that I could take hiking with me. I used an aluminum water bottle rather than the Pringle’s can I saw others had used , it has a reflective interior, is light, and is tough enough to be hung on the side of my camera holster and not get hurt when it swings about.

From the front

I cut the end off the bottle at an angle and covered the opening with more plastic from Holly’s cone; then I cut a slit at the other end to fit over the on-camera flash when it’s open. I also added a small tab of the plastic that slips into the camera’s hot-shoe (where the speedlight mounts), with an elastic band hooked under the bit that sticks out under the flash in the front (where it says “Canon”) and pulling in the other direction it sits quite happily on top of the camera and since it adds almost no weight it’s perfect for hiking into the woods. The reflective interior directs the light to the diffuser at the end which bathes whatever is in front of the lens in light. The flash is nowhere near as powerful as the speedlight, but decent shots at f/16 @ 1/250 sec @ 200 iso are possible.

Camera and diffuser separated

Nice and compact

A little fine tuning of the gear and my technique is obviously going to improve things over time, but I’m quite pleased with both of these for a first attempt 🙂


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