Photos of the Week – May 28 2021

This week, I went against form and did some flash photography. I bought a flash set up years ago and have used it maybe 5 times since. For a variety of reasons, I just enjoy using natural light more than flash, and I also don’t like carrying any more equipment around than I need to. However, some of my favorite macro photographers, including Clay Bolt, Piotr Naskrecki, and Thomas Shahan, show very clearly how fantastic flash photos can work – and there are times when natural light isn’t cooperative.

I was watching some YouTube videos this week, dreaming about equipment upgrades, and was inspired by a very simple flash setup Thomas Shahan was using. He was just using his on-camera flash with a diffuser made of a paper towel and some clear plastic. It looked like something I could do, so I made my own modified version and tested it. Here are some of the results.

This was my first attempt with the flash. This little hover fly was hiding in the shadows of our prairie garden and I was able to illuminate it and get a photo. Nikon 105mm macro with flash. ISO 200, 1/250 sec @ f/20.
This harvestman was in our backyard prairie garden and was patient with me while I fiddled with my technique. Nikon 105mm macro with flash. ISO 200, 1/250 sec @ f/16.

It seems like it’s been cloudy for the last month around here. One nice thing about a flash is that I can still get insect photos when the natural light is too dark to work with otherwise. I still don’t understand a lot about how to get the most out of flash photography, but if all I have to do is carry around a small flat piece of cardboard and paper towel, I should be able to get some practice.

This little fly had a bubble of regurgitated food dangling from its mouth. I know some flies do this to attract females (?!) but I don’t know if that’s what this one had in mind. Nikon 105mm macro with flash. ISO 200, 1/250 sec @ f/16.
Rain drop on spiderwort – with flash. It’s not my favorite photo in the world but I wanted to see what the flash did with water droplets. Nikon 105mm macro with flash. ISO 200, 1/250 sec @ f/16.
Our friends’ young son has been seeing little beetle larvae like this in their backyard for a while. I told him to catch one and bring it over. I photographed it and submitted it to Bugguide.net, where we got confirmation that it is a lightning bug larva. In this case, I used a paper towel for the stage and for the flash diffuser. What a great invention…! Nikon 105mm macro with flash. ISO 200, 1/200 sec @ f/25.
Here’s the basic frame of the diffuser – combination of cereal box, wire, and tape. Very complicated… I’m not sure the wire is even necessary, but I wanted to be able to adjust the angle of the diffuser and didn’t want it to get floppy in the wind or after repeated uses.
Here’s the full set-up on my Nikon D7100 camera. The diffuser wraps around the macro lens before I attach it to the camera and is tight enough to stay upright. So far so good.

I don’t think this is going to change my general approach to photography. I’ll still use natural light when it’s available. But it might be pretty handy to have this little diffuser in my bag when I find a cute snake, leaf hopper, or jumping spider on a cloudy day and want to make a portrait…

This entry was posted in Uncategorized by Chris Helzer. Bookmark the permalink.

About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.

3 thoughts on “Photos of the Week – May 28 2021

  1. Very cool! One layer of paper towel? I’m tempted to ask the brand as a joke, but it actually might matter ;)

    Kim Sosin https://kimsosin.com

    On Fri, May 28, 2021 at 8:49 AM The Prairie Ecologist wrote:

    > Chris Helzer posted: ” This week, I went against form and did some flash > photography. I bought a flash set up years ago and have used it maybe 5 > times since. For a variety of reasons, I just enjoy using natural light > more than flash, and I also don’t like carrying any more e” >

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