Macro Flash Photography

A popular genre, especially amongst we small game hunters is macro flash photography. Some of the better photos here on iNaturalist are clearly shot this way.
It never crops up as a topic in popular magazines or guides though.
Information is hard to find, the following two books cover the principles (and some gear):
Cyril Harnischmacher “The complete guide to Macro and Close-Up Photography”
Robert Thompson “Close-up and Macro Photography”
There are two types: TTL without dangly wires (Nikon’s R1C1 infra-red and the wireless Godox which works with several brands) and another with dangly wires (Canon & Olympus)
Information about them all is rather scattered.
Hopefully someone is going to tell us of a busy forum somewhere where this genre is discussed. If not then please share what you know about such set-ups (weight, unwieldiness, batteries, Flickr groups (e.g. R1C1), blogs etc.)
We’ll surely all benefit from crisper pics
[Please avoid discussing Olympus Tough - we know they’re good but they’re another thread]

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I’ve learnt a lot from Chris McGinnis ( and the Olympus support crew. I’m still learning but feel well supported by a community of Olympus users. The Cygnustech Diffuser from Brendan James comes highly recommended.

I use a non-macro flash: Nikon SB-700 with a home-made diffuser. The diffuser is made of cardboard, covered with foil on the inside and taped on the outside for rain protection. The diffuser element is made of polymer foam, not sure what kind (probably polyethylene foam or polystyrene foam), taken from a shoe box. Before I bought the flash and made the diffuser, I used a disposable plate attached to the end of the lens with a rubber band with popup flash.

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There are about a gazillion guides, articles, and discussions for exactly this all over the internet, both in text form and on YouTube. It’s an extremely popular topic. Here are just a few examples of both articles and videos on this exact topic

It’s often been discussed here on iNat as well, although usually as part of a larger discussion on macro photography.

It’s not really possible to give a “best” answer to what specific equipment will get the best results as it depends on what your camera setup is like. As an example, a lot of iNat participants are using their phones and will have very different gear needs and requirements than those of us using DSLRs.

If you’re using an interchangeable lens camera a ring flash is really nice as it is right up where the action is so the lens doesn’t cast a shadow over the subject, and it’s affixed to the camera, freeing up hands.

Personally, I don’t like them much though as I don’t like having cables dangling around to catch on things.

For myself, I prefer having a high powered flashlight that I use as an off-camera steady light. I find it’s far easier to get the focus and exposure nailed, and you can move it around to get nice shadows and contrasts.

The one I was using for these observations has two lights, so the shadows are a bit weird, so if you go this route pay attention to the light setup:

You do have to be more careful using a steady light though.

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I have a Meike ring light on the front of a Nikon D300 with 105mm AF lens.

I struggle with overexposures in full sun conditions using TTL, because I don’t usually have time to mess with manual flash settings chasing bees. Example:
A butterfly patiently sipping nectar makes my life much easier
This setup has especially excelled for nocturnal photography! All TTL, rarely a wasted photo:

You might want to check out the Allan Walls Photography YouTube channel. He covers studio and outdoor macro and close-up photography. The only issue I have with him is that much of the equipment he uses is very expensive.

Micael Widell on Photography also covers macro photography. You can find a number of different macro flash set-ups on his channel.

My current favorite for doing macro flash photography on a budget is xx7trey. He gets great results with pretty basic gear.


Obsolete but fully functioning tech is 100% mandatory imo.

No pro will pay close to full retail new value for 10+ year old junk. But it’s still simple enough to use that anybody can get use out of it right away.

From personal experience I love the Canon EOS 20D. Pro-quality DSLR body anyone can use, and still going strong after almost 20yrs. I got one as a very special present when I was rather small and would never be without one.

Go Google the price and buy one. Then buy a bundle of old but compatible gear. You won’t regret it.

I’d just add to that Widell and Walls each have Discord channels. Very helpful people that can help with questions. I think both have the links in their YT videos.

I’ll add that I use the Godox with 4 flashes on the ring, on a 100mm Canon macro lens. I also have a pretty heavy setup for a Laowa 25mm that allows me to put up to 4 Godox flashes on arms.


I need to remember that there are creators who do that sorta thing. I bet they know great ways to have gear for cheap or free.

I’m amazed at some of the DIY stuff I’ve seen on Walls’ Discord. There is a specific section just for that.


I’ve been using the AK Diffuser, which works well for small organisms and it’s much better than anything I could have built myself. I really like that it has a LED light in it so I don’t have to carry around a second light. Some example photos:


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