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On not overdiffusing flash in macro photography

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Earlier, I blogged about one of my flash diffusers, and about how most flash macro photography is improved by softening the flash’s harsh artificial light. My observations were not novel, of course, and I love spying on the various contraptions macrophotographers invent as they aim for perfect diffusion. See, for example, recent posts by Seth Burgess and Ted MacRae.

The sparkle in this jumping spider’s eye? That’s uneven flash diffusion. A hotspot created by the right flash head sitting closer to the diffuser than the left provides some zing.


I’m now going to play the contrarian. For many images, the quest for ever softer, ever more even light leads to images that are ever so slightly more… dull. While we want enough diffusion to avoid blown-out highlights and completely black shadows, flattening the light too much can have a similar flattening effect on the image’s personality. Thus, even when striving for clean, even lighting I often prefer one side brighter than the other, or, as for the spider above, just enough glint on the eyes to suggest a little mischief.

Smooth, but not too smooth: A Prolasius worker ant from Victoria, Australia.



Alex Wild About the Author: Alex Wild is Curator of Entomology at the University of Texas at Austin, where he studies the evolutionary history of ants. In 2003 he founded a photography business as an aesthetic complement to his scientific work, and his natural history photographs appear in numerous museums, books and media outlets. Follow on Twitter @myrmecos.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. joshuallen 4:47 pm 05/17/2013

    I made a large DIY diffuser the other day, trying to extend my 430 EX II while not adding a ton of weight. Foil covered inside with a piece of paper as the diffusion material:

    Link to this
  2. 2. Capularis 5:41 pm 05/17/2013

    I agree with you fully. It is quite natural to have high-lights in the eyes and some shine on glossy exoskeletons. Twin high-lights in the eyes from twin-flash or circular ones from ring flash are very irritating and unnatural looking.


    Link to this

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