Several years ago I started trying the strobist style of shooting instead of big studio lights when possible, which turned out to be most of the time. The concept behind the strobist movement is simple -- use the top mount flashes for your DSLR off camera. Many photographers already have one or several of these flashes in their bag. By taking them off camera you are able to use studio type lighting techniques for a plethora of different shooting situations.
After I read my first article about this approach I gathered up some old run down Vivitar 285 flashes from the office of the company I was staffing for at the time. After a little rehabbing of the flashes I was up and running. Since then they have influenced the way I shoot. These units are lite and easier to travel with than big studio lights. They fit almost anywhere. Placement is only limited by your imagination and ability to do rigging or grip work. They are also great for macro photography. Lighting for macro does not require large amounts of power. These units are capable of putting out more than enough light. The challenge is controlling that light.
Today there are many companies making accessories for top mount flashes, intending them to be used off camera. You can get grids, gels, barndoors, softboxes, beauty dishes and the list goes on and on. You can make your own accessories to do whatever you need; again limited only by your imagination. I would like to share 3 sites that have influenced my shooting. Give them a read and draw some inspiration / ideas. Figure out ways to apply the styles and techniques to macro photography.
Strobist.com is a site run by photographer David Hobby. The site was my first introduction to this style of photography. There are many how-to articles and educational pieces. In addition to the lighting knowledge the site has had an influence on my overall shooting style. There are many challenges for you to try to help learn the techniques.
Although the site is not specifically about macro photography the take away knowledge can be easily adapted. If you have not been to the site before get ready to spend many an hour there. Learn as much about lighting as you can. Always be looking at the work photographers outside your focus area are producing. Learn how they do what they do to inspire ideas in your own work. This site provides great exposure to these different types of photography.
Joe McNalley is one of my favorite photographers. Joe’s use of light and shapes in his images has always resonated with me. He is a master with lighting. The balance he is able to strike between ambient light and introduced light from a flash is incredible. The depth his lighting technique brings to an image is something we can all learn from.
His book The Hot Shoe Diaries from 2009 is an indispensable resource for improving your lighting ability. The book is all about using top mount flashes off camera. Buy it, read it and then read it again to see what you missed the first time around. His blog is another great resource. He talks about the shoots he’s done, how he did them and most importantly what was going through his head. Understanding the thought processes behind lighting is one of the best ways to improve your photograph.
Fiberstrobe is a blog dedicated to the use of fiber optics in photography. I was turned onto the site after reading an article on Strobist.com. The author Marcell does a lot of close-up and macro work, lit using fiber optics. He has come at the challenge from several different perspectives from multiple light sources to making his own ring light.
He makes all of the fiber optics gear he uses and shares how to go about it yourself. There is a big do it yourself aspect to the site. I love this because I too am a big fan of making my own gear. He has also provided trusted vendors to supply parts if you want to make some gear.. I am currently working on making my own set of flash accessories based on what I have learned from the site.