Macro Flash and a Beetle Contemplating his Domain
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All the photographers I have known have had things go wrong. Years ago when we used film, mistakes cost money. Now we have the liberty of experimenting. Nothing in my experience beats artificial lighting in macro for difficulty. There is no one group of settings that works for all circumstances or subjects. I have gone through patches of not quite getting the results I want. My solution is always to try again.
I have made the point that slower shutter speeds (below 1/60th of a second and lower) allow in natural light when using flash, but apart from that the shutter speed, seldom makes a difference; it is the flash that freezes the action.
At high shutter speeds (e.g. above 1/200th of a second) it is likely your background is probably darker than you would like. At high synch speeds, 1/250th of a second and above it will probably go black.
Many of us struggle with finding the right balance between a dark background and an overall well-lit picture. A bad choice can ruin a picture. More importantly what works at home in a stable environment may not work when you are kneeling (hopefully on knee-pads) in a field. My point here is that this is normal, it happens to everyone. The difference between success and failure is measured in millimeters.
In the case of the red milkweed beetle above, I was lucky that a background was near enough to catch my flash. Angling your shot with light fall off in mind helps a great deal. Other solutions to this issue, depending on circumstance are using the smallest possible fstop (f11-22), forcing the light out farther or another flash aimed at the background. You need to read your manual to learn which flash modes involve multiple spurts of light making freezing motion not as likely.
Another issue I want to address in a future post is diffusion. Suffice it to say at this point that straight flash is harsh and more than likely you will wish to diffuse it.
But as with the beetle reaching the end of the leaf, sooner or later even flash can be conquered!