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LED ring flash for macro shots


I wonder if anyone has any experience of using LED ring flash for macro, general close ups and indeed other shots, eg portraiture? There are times, for example, when I want to photograph turned wooden bowls that I have made simply to record designs and finishes for future reference and harsh shadows can be unattractive and even distracting. I have been looking specifically at the Kenro KFL201 which allows the two flash tubes to be fired together or singly as required. I wonder if this facility would help to reduce the 'flatness' which reviewers comment on when discussing this type of device? I have a Canon flashgun but find this a little harsh for macro work. I am not an experienced flash user so any thoughts would be very welcome.
Many thanks, Graham.

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brian1208 Plus
15 11.4k 12 United Kingdom
12 Jul 2018 7:26PM
I use a variety of "ring flashes" for macro work, including one with separate tubes which can be adjusted for power and switched off. (Metz Mecablitz 15 MS-1)

A simple way to get modelling is to vary the power output to each tube and for a bit of variety rotate the ring by 90 degrees so that the tubes are top and bottom rather than from the side, with the prime light from the top

I also have a Interfit Strobies LED/Flash Macro Ring Light which I find a bit under-powered but can work in some situations

12 Jul 2018 7:42PM
I bought this a couple of years ago.

I bought it cheaper than this off ebay. It's ok for the price. Build quality is a little suspect on mine although this may have improved since then. It is quite versatile in that you can adjust the output between each side and the overall output. Factor in for some eneloop batteries and you have a pretty decent unit.
Philh04 Plus
12 1.7k United Kingdom
12 Jul 2018 8:25PM
Ring lighting is only going to be OK for macro and is quite difficult to get decent modelling, even when you can alter the ratio between the two sides, it is as close to on axis lighting as you can get so as you move to anything larger than macro it really only becomes suitable as a fill light, when you approach portrait's the small units available will be sadly lacking in any power so will be next to useless, the portraits you see are generally taken using higher power and larger units.

Your Canon Flash should not be too harsh for macro work, all it needs is a little diffusion and abiding by a few simple guidelines (These apply to most lighting scenarios).... Your light source should be at least the same size or larger as your subject (in macro it often will be larger which is good) and should ideally be between 1 1/2 to 3 x the diagonal of the source away from the subject...

For your wooden bowls the easiest way will be to bounce your flash of a reflective umbrella or via a shoot through (Reflective will probably be better ) and then fill shadows and add light where it is needed with reflectors... place the light source as close as you can to your subject. The larger the source and the closer the source the softer and more wrap of light you will get and the more softly defined the shadows will be. You need shadows to define shape, texture etc.
dark_lord Plus
14 2.2k 542 England
12 Jul 2018 9:11PM
I recently bought the Kenro flash and it works very well for macro though I haven't experimented much with adjusting the ratio between the flash tubes.
I've no intention of using it for portraiture asI have a ringlash adaptor for my Canon 580 for that.

You could consider using a light cube/tent. small ones which would be fine for items such as bowls are inexpensive and you can use your existing flash (off camera) or an LED panel.
Brian1208, Umberto_V, Philh04 and Dark_Lord

Thank you all so much for your remarkably swift, detailed and very helpful responses to my enquiry concerning 'LED ring flash for macro shots'. They have provided me with a much clearer sense of the strengths and weaknesses of this kind of flash unit so I shall take my time and experiment more with my Canon Speedlite and the suggested tweaks.

With very best wishes, Graham.

PS Please ignore the ticked 'Like' against my question; it's not vanity I promise, just me being thick ...again! I was distracted by the final gags on 'Mock the Week' ! SmileSmileSmile (Sorry! Blush)
LenShepherd 10 3.7k United Kingdom
13 Jul 2018 9:29AM

Quote:Ring lighting is only going to be OK for macro and is quite difficult to get decent modelling, even when you can alter the ratio between the two sides, it is as close to on axis lighting as you can get so as you move to anything larger than macro it really only becomes suitable as a fill light, when you approach portrait's the small units available will be sadly lacking in any power so will be next to useless, the portraits you see are generally taken using higher power and larger units.


I agree with much of what you say.
It is not clear what the size of what the OP wants to photograph is, but if it is 6 or more inches tall these are a bit larger than what many understand as macro (about 2 inches or smaller) and where ring flash are beginning to run out of power.
If 6 inches or more tall (as distinct from "toy soldier 1.5 inch size") my advice is to forget about using flash.
On a recent advanced macro course the consensus was
1/ for macro if a ring flash is used it needs at least 4 adjustable segments
2/ recent digital camera give very good quality at 1200 ISO and often higher, especially if the end aim is an 8 bit jpeg for display on a monitor with any shadows first lifted in post processing.
3/ for a static subject (like that of the OP) a good tripod and some reflectors (those from Jack the Hat are very affordable) make good modelling without harsh shadows easy.
4/ some on the course were using Nikon or Canon twin flash units which can be angled and rotated on a ring attached to the lens. These are better for modelling than ring flash. The downside is current prices are around 650 Nikon and over 1,000 Canon, with the probability they will be updated to LED in the near future.
pink 15 5.3k 7 United Kingdom
13 Jul 2018 10:17AM
Yongnuo now do a Canon (and probably Nikon) clone MT24 unit for about 140, I have one and build quality is very good, I have yet to try it in the field but results at home are encouraging, the 2 flash heads can be moved anywhere around the ring and angled as well, I have also made some diffusers out of thin opaque (pringles lids) plastic which I attach with elastic bands, these work well and soften shadows considerably.
the items also comes in a very nice storage/transit bag to keep all your bits together, I use it on a Canon 100mm Macro lens.
ebay link;
https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Yongnuo-YN24EX-Macro-Master-TTL-2pc-Flash-Head-Speedlite-4pc-Rings-for-Canon-UK/323328874052?epid=918061583&hash=item4b47e71644:g:Tg4AAOSwWWtazu09
Philh04 Plus
12 1.7k United Kingdom
13 Jul 2018 11:49AM

Quote:It is not clear what the size of what the OP wants to photograph is, but if it is 6 or more inches tall these are a bit larger than what many understand as macro (about 2 inches or smaller) and where ring flash are beginning to run out of power.

Agree, I didn't go into any specifics on size, but all these units do not have the power to provide a decent amount of illumination for larger subjects and of course the further from the subject the closer they become to on - axis point sources.

Quote:3/ for a static subject (like that of the OP) a good tripod and some reflectors (those from Jack the Hat are very affordable) make good modelling without harsh shadows easy.

Especially if you have a north facing window, very affordable from Am@zon too, even cheaper is some scrap white card and if you need a bit more reflectance crumpled up silver foil... Don't forget black gobo's too, sometimes you need to remove light. I tend to use two differing settings depending upon the subject, our dining room has large bifold doors which face north, or in my studio I can use strobes with large modifiers.
The important thing in all lighting scenarios is that light illuminates and shadows define...

Quote:4/ some on the course were using Nikon or Canon twin flash units which can be angled and rotated on a ring attached to the lens. These are better for modelling than ring flash. The downside is current prices are around 650 Nikon and over 1,000 Canon, with the probability they will be updated to LED in the near future.

Yes they are expensive for units that really do have a limited use, in addition I find they still need extra diffusion to increase the size of the source, I use the Canon version on my optical bench macro set-up along with the MP-E65, it has third party diffusers added which increase the source to about 3in x 2in and even used close to the subject I often find I need to add scrims (the heads and control unit are not mounted on camera or lens).

So yes, the easiest (and cheapest) option for the OP's turned wooden bowls would be window light with reflectors and black gobo's.

Would you believe, Len and I in virtual agreement Smile
LenShepherd, pink and Philh04

Many thanks for your very detailed and helpful responses. I shall read up on how to get the most out of my current flash set up (this includes the guidance and advice you have all given!), talk to other users and keep practicing. There's quite a bit I can do by way of constructing a collapsible frame with a neutral background to enhance the bowl pictures: they might only be for my records but if a job's worth doing and all that!!! I'll let you know how I get on but nothing much will happen until September as it get's far too hot in the workshop at this time of year!!

With thanks to all and very best wishes, Graham.
banehawi Plus
14 1.8k 3901 Canada
14 Jul 2018 1:20AM
Assuming you will shoot the bowls indoors, why use flash at all? Light with two table lamps as desired ( experiment) and put the camera on a tripod and use a long shutter time as dictated by the light as ISO 100.

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