True Bugs on Green (two pictures in a series) and a Technical Discussion of Diffusion
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The Two Spotted Plant bugs are very common, yet I was unable to find out much about their life cycle or other interesting facts specific to them. This is not unusual given the enormous number of bugs in the wild. I have run across these a few times and they are relatively easy to shoot. They move quite slowly around the large stalks, not away. They make for great subjects as they get into interesting poses and places.
The challenge of green on green photography is similar to black and white. The picture is defined by shadow and details. The bugs here (Two Spotted Plant Bugs) are on long stalks necessitating a shutter speed of 1/250th. Even with the flash stopping motion, a lower shutter speed would let in daylight and hence you would have a soft picture from wind movement. F11 gives us depth of field and at ISO 320 this particular camera has minimal noise.
Green on green is also a way to test your choice of lighting and shadows to see if your technique works in such a limited color range. Flash can help define things and gives you options on shadows.
Technical details on Diffusion:
In the shots above I used flash to be able to photograph the bugs in detail and minimize movement. Diffusion is usually necessary with artificial light because and especially with speedlight flashes for DSLRs the results can be quite harsh with dark shadows. EV/FEC, the ability to turn down the flash, helps the exposure, not necessarily the harshness of the light and the resulting dark shadows. There are a lot of do-it-yourself solutions to diffusion. The secret is getting it right for the circumstances or your taste.
How does diffusion work? The sun, a huge source of distant light is hot and harsh when it shines directly on anything. Clouds diffuse the light making it soft and removing shadows.
Below I have shown some of the results with the camera and flash at the same distance.
In shot 2 the flash is covered by a small square softbox 8” by 6” inch (Micro Apollo). Normally there is one piece of diffusing material between the flash and the subject, I have stuffed the box with semi-opaque white packing material for extra-diffusion.
If you look under the mouth in the examples you will see the shadow shrinks from shot 1 to shot 2 and the light softens. The photographs were taken with the same settings 1/250th at f20, ISO 400, White Balance set to flash and corrected again in lightroom, where auto levels were applied. It’s a very simple illustration of diffusion.
Now some will say that flash always looks artificial, and I would defer to the Pros who use it frequently if not all of the time to contradict that.
Some contend that flash can affect colors. If you do not control your white balance (and with the latest cameras Auto works most of the time) or something comes between the flash and the subject, like foliage or discolored diffusion material then yes the color will be affected.
In the photographs above without the softbox we get some background lighting on the right, while in the diffusion example there is light fall-off and the background goes black. This is another complaint about flash and it can be rectified, but it is not related to diffusion. Photographers work with these issues all of the time and get interesting but realistic lighting. In this case I was shooting in a very darkroom where the only light was the flash, had there been normal daylight or another light in the room I could have avoided the fall-off. In the bug photographs above flash was used and there is no fall off.
Soft boxes can be made at home or bought fully made. The packing material used for electronic gear and other appliances makes for great diffusion material, the material just has to be white, not transparent but allow some light through.
Before choosing a solution, like a soft box, it’s important to note that there are all kinds of variables: distance to subject, position of flash relative to subject and camera, strength of flash, density of diffusing material, tonality of subject, exposure and white balance to consider in using these tools. For instance a slightly deeper and larger soft box close to a subject would provide more wrap-around light.
There are also many kinds of diffusers: large and small to diffuse the sun or flash, held by light stands or assistants and not on the flash itself. There are rectangular soft boxes, umbrella light boxes etc. No one solution will fit all circumstances. In short I cannot tell you what to buy but I will say this, a soft box that fits over the flash beats having lightstands and/or an assistant, to hold the diffuser and is a good place to start.
There is no reason we cannot deal with harsh shadows and harsh light from flash as we can soften it with diffusion. I think its fair to say there is place for flash photography in every genre and category of photography, it’s just another thing to learn. I like to experiment, and I like to think that some of my experimentation has helped me to take better photographs.