Welcome to the forum!

As an adjunct to the Tangents blog, the intention with this forum is to answer any questions, and allow a diverse discussion of topics related photography. With that, see it as an open invitation to just climb in and start threads and to respond to any threads.

Indoor macro photography issues

edited March 2013 in general photography
Hey Neil,

I'm having issues experimenting with macro Photography indoors. I'm using a Nikon D7000 with a Nikon 105mm F2.8 Micro VR lens. My flash is an Older Nikon SB-26. I know, I know, I need to invest in at least an SB-600. I'm having zero success in blowing out the background, (ambient light with the flash). I know the basics of it, and have done it correctly outside in bright sunlight. I know I need to overpower the ambient light in order to blacken out the back ground. If I set my shutter speed to anything above 320 I get a picture that is half black. Is this due to the older SB-24 not being able to keep up or a power issue? I 've tried F8-F32, and same issue, or the picture is all black or half black. If I use a larger f stop, say F5 and below, picture is extremely overexposed. I've tried with the flash mounted on the camera as well as off camera at numerous heights and angles. One thing though....does the object I'm photographing have to be suspended in any way, so there is nothing immediately behind it? I've tried matrix as well as spot metering with same results. Am I getting some sort of reflection or flashback? sorry for the long post. any help from you or the crew here would be great.


  • TrevTrev Moderator
    edited March 2013
    Your Sync Speed is the problem methinks.

    Have you set the Camera to Auto FP, so when you move the shutter speed above the sync speed, it will auto follow with flash. Downside, you lose at least a 3rd of a stop or more in flash power.

    High Speed Sync (HSS) on Nikons including the D7000 is refered to as "Auto FP". This can be set on the D7000 via:
    menu -> Custom Settings Menu -> e Bracketing/flash -> Flash sync speed.
    Select 'Auto FP'

    So those shadows are representing the flash not being fully lit when the shutter's second curtain begins to close. The higher the shutter, the more black banding.


  • edited March 2013

    How are you sir? Good to hear from you. So that's all I need to do? Wow, now I do feel stupid. I'm at work now so I can't try it out but I will tomorrow. Thank you very much. Also, so my old reliable Nikon sb-24 is not the issue, and still a good workhorse...nice. Would you recommend using the flash mounted on the hot shoe, or off camera? Again, does the object I'm photographing have to be suspended in any way, so there is nothing immediately behind it? Or, does it need a background, say piece of white paper or something else? I've tried matrix as well as spot metering with same results. Thx
  • edited March 2013
    okay, tried it out, same issue....but there is no setting that simply reads Auto FP...there is a 250 Auto FP and a 320 Auto FP setting....tried both, same issue. Any Clues?
  • TrevTrev Moderator
    That is a mystery, but I don't own the D7000 so could not check personally.

    I just had a bit of research, and I think the reason is the flash itself.

    Here is what I found here: http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/D7000/D7000FLASH.HTM

    "The built-in flash's normal X-Sync speed is 1/250s, but there's a 1/320s (Auto FP) option at reduced range. FP flash sync speeds as high as 1/8000s are available the with optional SB-900, SB-800, SB-600 or SB-R200 external flash units."

    So maybe, not ever having used an SB-26 that could be the problem.

    Other than that, I cannot help any further I don't think. Maybe someone else with this camera and flash combo can.
  • well thanks Trev, your help and advice much appreciated...
  • not quite sure what built in flash sync speed has to do with an external flash....that confuses me somewhat Trev...
  • TrevTrev Moderator
    Unfortunately nor do I.

    Neil or someone else may know, since I have never had a pop-up flash nor SB-26 combo before.
  • Well the help was much appreciated Trev. I'm looking into purchasing either the Nikon R1C1 or the R! Kit for macro work...But If I can't get a handle on this, I'll have to figure something else out. I see many people doing grat macro work with the need for an RIC1 or R1 Kit.
  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    Hi there ...

    If you're getting your image to be half-black, it means you went over the maximum sync speed. You need to be at 1//250 or lower.

    It has nothing to do with power. It's everything to do with it being a focal plane shutter.

    You say you want to blow out the background? This means over-exposure of the background. But in the rest of the description, you want a black background.

    For that, you'd have to under-expose your ambient by 5 stops or more.

    Can you show us an example of what you're trying to achieve? Whether your own images, or a link to someone else's photography. Then we'll have a better idea of where we're headed with this.
  • Agree, as Neil stated can you post a link to a photo. Preferably one you are having the issue with. We can help more with being able to see
  • edited March 2013
    sorry Neil,

    I think I meant, under expose ambient light, thus making the back ground black. I'll have to take a few pics. deleted others for obvious reason..they were horrible...

    Googled "focal plane shutter". Never heard that before. Right in front of the sensor...Got it


    agreed, have to take a few pics..thanks

  • here are some I just took, all jpegs...just to keep file size down.
  • sorry...lens filter was a tad dusty...cleaned it...ooooops!
  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    OK .. looking at the first image:
    1/250 @ f/16 @ 100 ISO ...
    those are hard sunshine kinda settings.
    Meaning, those settings would be applicable if you were photographing outside in the sun.

    That you didn't get a black background there is due to only one reason .. lens flare.
    Contain that, and you'll achieve what you want to.
  • edited March 2013
    And I contain the lens flair how? Put the lens hood on the 105mm f2.8 lens, use same settings...background will be black?

    and the last two images? darker, but still have black banding. Was flair caused by sun, which was behind me coming thru a window, or flair came from Flash

  • edited March 2013
    Okay.....I've been at this for hours! I'm taking photos inside...Have yet to take a single picture where the object is lit up, and back ground completely dark. what am I doing wrong? I've tried every setting I can possibly think of, every F stop, Shutter speed...I've elevated the object so back ground is clear with nothing in close proximity. I've tried led lights...Nikon flashes, one flash, then two, full power on flash (s), 1/1, then 1/64 and...same result. Can't make the back ground black...I know it's something terribly simple but it escapes me, and the longer I'm at it, seems the worse I get. Pictures are fantastic, but no black back ground...Last one is closest I've gotten..First pic is with Nikon 60mm F2.8D Micro lens.Help!!
  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    Can you do a pull-back shot of how you position your flash in relation to the object and your camera?

    And ... if you have bright sunlight outside, and the window as your background, then you are battling against the odds here. Make it easier on yourself.
  • edited March 2013
    hey Neil,

    its night time here...pics in last post all at night in a closed room...I tried the flash in every angle, even at slightly higher elevations as well...same result..The pictures great and all, just not what I was going for. If it were you, how would you set it up indoors?
  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    A big problem here in giving you specific advice:

    1. You need to do a bit of homework first, to become familiar with which settings affect:
    a. ambient light
    b. flash exposure
    Things will become more apparent then.

    2. your method is inconsistent.
    You're shooting in daytime with sun coming through a window .... then at night.
    You're changing your flash power without a systematic approach.

    3. We don't have a pull-back shot to give specific advice.

    4. You need to contain the amount of flash spilled onto the background.

    5. You need to make very sure you're not getting lens flare.

    So with ALL that in mind, your method is just too inconsistent for you to get to any real predictable results.

    Start from scratch ... which would be point 1 here.
  • edited March 2013
    okay Neil,

    Most of my shots were at night...indoors, no light thru any windows. first shots I uploaded were while it was still light out, that's it, after that...all night shots indoors. Reason I'm all over the place is I'd tried everything I could think of...Videos on YouTube make it look like child's play.
    Hell, they even give specifics about camera and flash settings, but I still couldn't get it to work. Oh well...I'll keep at it. Thanks for trying to help...
  • Going to try to break this down for you in a step by step progression.

    Additionally, there are other ways to do this and I may miss something but give it a try.
    I may have misspelling too but I'm typing fast.

    First, correct me if I am wrong in the assumption of you what you want to achieve:
    You want an all black background with a decently lit subject. Correct?

    Lets go with that.

    First factor to consider is that you always have to sources of light to deal with when using flash. Ambient or existing light and you flash.

    Then you have two things that either need or do not need light.
    No light for the background to make it black and light for what you are photographing to make it show up in your photo.

    I won't get into direction, quality or details about lighting the subject, just that's part two so to speak.

    First step as mentioned and also shown in your original photos is the banding or where half the photo is black.

    This relates to your sync speed so first find out what shutter speed is your sync speed for your camera. I will assume it is 1/250 of a second but if different just substitute what yours is. For simplicity, when using flash you cannot use a shutter speed that is faster than your sync speed. Technically you can but let's just stay with this idea for now.
    When you use a higher shutter speed than your sync speed you will start to get that black band in your picture and the faster you go the more it will show up so for now keep your shutter speed below 1/250.

    So we have one camera control set in stone now. Our shutter speed. Best to keep it at 1/250 since we want to eliminate ambient light on our background.

    Now. We want a black background that is affected by our flash.
    Technically, you could get a black background in bright sun shooting at a white roll of earless paper, but lets make it easy on ourselves and not fight the ambient light.

    First thing we would want is something black for our background, makes sense.
    Roll of seamless paper, cardboard, bed sheet or anything black that we can fill our frame with. Bigger is better as it makes it easy to change camera angle if needed.

    So we have our background set up and need it completely black.

    This next concept might be difficult to grasp at first but bear with me.
  • You cannot make you background completely black "in camera" if your subject is placed on that background and still expose properly for your subject. Inversely the same hold true for making the background completely white.

    Some would argue this but physics dictate otherwise. But you can get close and maybe just a little photoshop work to clean it up.

    Stop right here and read this article by Alex Koloskov.
    It's about a white background but making a black background uses the same principles and the point is separation between subject and background.

    Let me restate that: Separation between subject and background. Very important.

    You are basically setting up for two photos but only pressing the shutter once. One setup for the background and one for the subject.

    Stop and read that article then come back: http://www.photigy.com/simple-way-to-get-a-complete-white-background-out-from-a-camera-in-studio-product-photography/

    Now that we understand thE content of that article we now realize that the lighting of the background or lack of cannot affect the subject and the light on the subject cannot affect the background. This is achieved by distance between subject and background.

    I suggest for your photo you have maybe 6 feet between your subject and background but with less distance being suitable for small subjects and more distance for large subjects.

    What is happening is the inverse square law of light in play.
    See Neil's article about this here: http://neilvn.com/tangents/bounce-flash-photography-and-inverse-square-law/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bounce-flash-photography-and-inverse-square-law

    It's valued for all subjects but also this works in reverse meaning the closer the light is to your subject at a given power level for proper exposure the darker your background will be in relation to your subject.

    Ah ha! Really the exact opposite of what Neil was trying to achieve at the wedding reception. But there is a different goal. He wanted an evenly lit background by moving his effective light source far away which lit subjects up close near the same level as subjects in the back with nearly the same exposure. But what we want is the exact opposite.

    So: move flash far away for even lighting front to back and move flash close in to drop the background into darkness or at least close to it.
  • So now we are getting an understanding of the fact we are basically lighting on two different plains.

    Lighting the background
    Lighting the subject

    First there are two options: if you are going to place your subject on the background such as a roll of seamless realize you won't get the background completely black but close. But that's ok for practicing. You would really need to be shooting perfectly level with your subject not to show what it's sitting on or have your subject sitting on suspended glass or plexiglass as in the article from Alex Koloskov I previously listed. Notice his invention of the plexiglass shooting table he made. What a great idea.

    Whatever you decide to use is fine just know those facts just mentioned.

    So now let get to the fun.

    We are lighting two things subject and background.
    Or not lighting in case of the background.

    So first lets take care of the background and get our camera settings.
    This is a multistage process, with test shots used in progression and will help you learn to instinctively do this in the future.

    Lets start by not fighting the existing light and get into a darker environment.
    Not completely dark but dark with enough light to see what you are doing.

    Use that room with the shades pulled and a fairly dim room light to see if needed.

    Camera on tripod with the shutter at sync speed and not above. Remember the banding issue so stay below that but we want to stay at or just under our sync speed as faster shutter speed is part of the equation to eliminate the ambient light.

    As you may have guessed what we are trying to do now is eliminate all ambient room light from the camera.

    First shot as the room exists. We're not going for anything special here, just frame up the background with your camera to fill the frame with the black backdrop and take a shot on manual mode at 1/250 shutter speed and any aperture to get a close exposure at your lowest ISO. we are using the lowest ISO because a low ISO also also eliminates ambient light. So we are probably at 1/250 shutter speed and maybe 200 ISO for a Nikkon. Aperture is unimportant now. Take your first shot. Background filling the frame?
    Good we now have a photo of a slightly overexposed background. But we have also set two of our three variables. Shutter speed and ISO. We want our background completely black so start closing up your aperture a stop or two at a time and continue taking test shots until you have complete black. Give it another click or so darker just for kicks.
  • You're probably around F11 or F16 by now but it could vary depending on the brightness of the existing light. Lets say you ended up at F16 but your setting may be different so substitute what you have for my F16 here.

    So we now have all three of our camera settings determined. Nothing else we can change on the camera regardless of our subject.

    So we have completed half of our goal. Made a black photo of nothing.
    But really you have done much more.

    Our subject lit completely with flash.

    So set up your subject and arrange your composition without moving camera, background or changing any camera settings. The only time you will touch your camera now is to focus and press the shutter.

    I am going to assume your flash is off camera and in manual mode adjustable by power levels of say 1/16, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, or full power etc.

    So with subject in place and camera ready we have two variables to expose for our subject. Distance from the flash to subject and flash power. Since we are in a dimly lit room power should not be an issue but would be outdoors. So your flash should work perfectly with power to spare.

    Before we take our first photo with flash lets look at a couple of things.

    We don't want our flash lighting the background. Ways to do this would be angling the flash in from the side or flagging it. BFT, Neil's black foamy thing comes to mind since this is the tangents forum but anything could work to prevent light on the background. Angle away from the background or anything dark between your flash and the background.

    So since we don't need much power lets start with 1/8 power on the flash since you will be working in close shooting macro you don't need much power.

    A light modifier such as a softbox with grid would be nice but using your bare flash for now would probably be preferable for this test.

    With the small objects you're shooting 1/8 power might even be too much but let's start there.

    Flash on stand aimed at your subject and away from the background maybe about 2 feet away or half meter depending on where you are from. Take a shot.
  • First look at the background and double check that it's still completely black and no light spill is there. If so angle your flash away more and or flag the flash so the light is blocked from the background keep taking test shots until its completely black again.

    Now lets look at our subject. The light may not be great due to direction the flash is pointed or the fact that we are using a bare flash but we are not going for pretty right now, we just want proper exposure. You have two options.

    If exposure is incorrect and as just mentioned you can either raise or lower flash power or move the flash closer or further away.

    Power is probably the preferred option but if you're at the lowest setting and the subject is still over exposed or flaring then you're only left with moving the flash back further.

    Also note that when moving the flash closer or further.

    Moving the flash further away to decrease your exposure will make shadows more harsh from lit to unlit areas of the subject but the light will be more even from front to back or from right to left.

    Moving your flash closer to increase your exposure will make the light softer but not as even.

    With macro subjects you direct flash may be plenty big enough to still give soft light regardless.

    Except for reflective or mirror like subjects which is a whole new ball game.
    No so much a new ball game but light type, size, placement and using flags plays a major role. Additionally being macro, small products will have so many flaws that your camera will pick them all up and you get to play with photoshop for hours regardless of how perfect your shot is :)

    So back to your subject. Change power or distance do your flash to light your subject as needed for correct exposure and you're done.

    Complicated and drawn out? Yes at first but simple next time.
    Just remember to light or not light one thing at a time and as you add to be sure what you add does not affect what you previously did. If so re-evaluate at that point and adjust. You will never get first shot perfect but will get very quick after a while.
    Then you will want to start getting fancy with your light but the basics here will always apply.

    Did I miss anything here? Probably, but maybe not.

    There's many ways to do it but using a step by step approach is a great way to learn and expand from there.

    Note: the flare you were seeing that Neil mentioned was from over exposure of part of the frame. Flare comes from a direct light source aimed directly into the lens so a lens shade can help.
  • Holy Cow!!

    Jeff, that was THE most detailed comprehensive outline I have ever seen! You actually typed all that info? You need to save that as a document so you can cut and paste! You laid it out perfectly. The Links you provided were of great use as well. Can't tell you how grateful I am. I will try these steps at first opportunity. I will keep you fine gentleman posted and upload my results. Can't thank you all enough...I was having second thoughts about the whole macro venture...Much relieved. :-)
  • Thanks

    Would love to see your results

    As far as my post. I intended much shorter but it kept growing.
    Far from complete but intended as a step by step foundation to build on.

    Good luck
  • got it!! 1st pic taken with my Sony NEX 7 to show you set up, as requested.

    You couldn't have made it easier then you did...Both flash settings were at 1/8 power, Zoomed 28mm, and F32...Check Exif Data for Camera settings...worked like a charm, Thanks to all and especially Jeff for that VERY detailed Step by Step Process...
  • Great!!!!!

    Photos look good for this experiment.

    Hopefully each step along the way made sense.
    See you had to use a rather small f stop because of your background but it still worked.

    Keep at it.

    A couple of points for future projects:

    Notice the dust? Remove best you can before hand to save photoshop work.
    Do same shot with attempts to remove the platform the jewelry is sitting on in camera.
    You got subject lighting correct. Try light modifiers to make light pretty. Large white paper in front of flash units for example will smooth hot spot from jewelry. The bigger the smoother it will look. Even light. Double down on that for reflective surface. Eg. Flash then a piece of printer paper then maybe a 2x3 foot piece of white paper in front of that. Same on other side. Basically make a jewelry sandwich.

    Jewelry and similar objects are most difficult objects to photograph especially when shooting macro.

    Great investment to this type of learning is the book "light, science, magic".
    Can get at amazon.
    Best photography book I have purchased.

    Sorry Neil, this book is still number one book on the shelf.
  • I have a few light modifiers I can try...thanks again for all the detailed expaination, and the time it took to relay it...Much appreciated Jeff.
  • Jeff,

    Really got a handle on this now WOW..After being at it for a few days, seems like child's play now. so Now that I understand and am able to reproduce it, how do I get rid of the dust in the pictures...? it show up horribly..
  • TrevTrev Moderator


    Spot Healing Brush Tool and start clicking.

    Or if you are familiar with layers/masks, dupe the layer, use Filter/Noise/Dust & Scratches [it blurs] then put a black mask on that layer, and brush back the background.

    Depends on how many.

  • Ah, Photographers best tool...I'm quite the novice at Photoshop, but I do know how to do that, I just thought perhaps there was a physical way of doing it...but the dust particles just keep coming back...Photoshop it is. Thanks Trev!
  • The advise from Trev is spot on.

    But best way is to clean beforehand.
  • edited March 2013
    I took your advice on the book, Light, Science, and Magic...ordered it yesterday..Thank you all...
  • edited March 2013
    Got the background dark, now experimented with colored gels..1st pic Red Gel and Focused Stacked, 2nd pic I used Red/Blue gel together to get slight Purple fringe, and focused stacked just in center of Magnetic balls...3rd one just flash and single picture, and 4th pic, blue gel single picture.. What do you think?
  • The distance of the background from the object as well as its texture is important in determining if and how it will be part of your photo. The different gels really change the complexity of the balls adding different highlights. Experiment with different matte surfaces as well as acrylics if they will be part of the final photo. Increase the distance for the black background.
    hand.jpg 404.5K
  • edited March 2013
    I see your point. I'm just getting into this, and with help from you as well as others who have responded make it that much easier to understand...I experimented with the gels to see If I liked the color highlights.... The blue is pleasing to my eye...but finally getting backgrounds black made my day. Thanks for the reply and advice.
Sign In or Register to comment.