Black out macro photography
When I saw this technique on Youtube and researched into how it was done, I just had to invest in a flash and get going with it! It is a powerful and intriguing type of photography that is actually quite simple to achieve.
Since getting to grips with this style, I have completely fallen in love with it! Because it is more art than photography, it allows for a lot of experimenting. My favourite bit is that the image is so far from what the naked eye sees that it immediately draws in the attention of the audience. You can see a dead leaf hanging from a branch but you never see it quite like this.
This is one of the first shots I took and only after taking it did I notice the shell inside!
I have had a few people ask me how I do this, so I thought what better way to explain than with a blog. I headed out yesterday to Moorlands, a local Yorkshire Wildlife reserve to get some pictures to go with it!
A gorgeous location and what better time than Autumn to take these pictures!
I have included photos of the equipment that I used to achieve my shots. Photos that are highlighted in green are ESSENTIAL, you cannot achieve this type of photography without them, and those highlighted in red are NOT ESSENTIAL, but will make your life a whole lot easier if you have access to them!
Perhaps the first thing I should say about this is that there is no real ‘right’ way to do this, it’s all about experimenting and achieving the look you want!
Anyway, let’s crack on with the basic ‘how to’. The first thing you need to do is obviously find your subject. Objects that are stand alone often work best for this, basically you want as little distraction around it as possible. If there are objects within close proximity, they will catch some of the light from the flash and you won’t achieve the full blacked-out look. There are obviously ways to overcome this in the edit, but if you can achieve it in camera – all the better! For example, see below, when there are leaves in the background they catch some light so are visible, but when I move just a little to the right, there are no leaves in the background so I can get the full blacked-out shot I want.
On the left, leaves in the background caught some light, whereas on the right, there weren't any leaves, so I achieved the blacked-out look.
Now you have your subject, let’s talk about settings. In the equipment photo above, I highlighted my tripod green and red, because ultimately you could achieve the shot without one, but it is SO MUCH EASIER with one.
Firstly, you want to get your tripod set up, and frame your shot. Once you are all framed up, you are going to want to swap your camera to manual focus and get your image pin sharp. Once you are happy with your shot, you want to adjust your settings so that if you take a picture without your flash, your shot will be completely black. For me, I usually put my ISO on 100 (lowest sensitivity to light so makes sense, but also lowest chance of noise for my camera), put my shutter speed to 1/125 (this is the fastest my flash will sync to) and then my aperture to whatever it needs to be to get that full black image. At this point, if you were using live view (makes focusing easier if you do) you are going to want to turn this off - my flash won’t fire if the camera is in live view (yours may of course be different). When you have reached this point, let the fun begin!
I will always start with the same technique (see photo below), this just happens to be my go to, you will see this lighting technique throughout photography as it results in some beautiful shadows. Then from here on in, it’s all about experimenting: change the power of your flash to give different looks, hold your flash at different angles, from below, above or behind, some will work, some won’t, but different techniques will work with different subjects!
I hope you understand the diagram, if you're shooting straight at the object, put your flash 45º on the x and y axis!
On the left, the flash was behind, but on the right, I used the classic 45º - let me know which you prefer in the comments!
Experiment with thin objects to get this kind of look if you place the flash behind!
An unexpected shot from some tiny water droplets on my lens!
Once you have your shots, there can be very little work to do in edit! I tend to drop shadows and blacks but highlights, exposure and whites depend on the power of the flash as to whether I bring them up or down. I add a bit of clarity, but I am very careful not to overdo it and finally bring down the saturation a little bit. I may also fire it over to Photoshop just to remove any distractions, random branches that distract from the photo. See below, I took out some of the rogue needles that would otherwise distract from what I want to be the main part of the image.
If you have any more questions about this technique drop me a message on Instagram - @samkitephoto or on Facebook – Sam Kite Photography.
Thanks for reading,