Macro photography on a tight budget

I haven't been a contributor to DT for very long so I am still working out what sells and learning new techniques or improving existing skills.

I can see a lot of macro photography when browsing the portfolios. Macro photography is appealing to me because it avoids the problem of getting model releases (which currently prevents me from uploading some of the shots I have).

So I thought I would give it a go even if the resulting photos do not sell. At least I would be learning from the experience.

But how do they get those closeup macro shots with a pure white background and perfect lighting of the subject?

After some investigation and reading the DT blogs I found (at least part of) the answer :- a lightbox!

But lightboxes cost money! I dont really want to spend much money on something I am just starting to learn.

So I thought why can't I just get a large sheet of white cardboard, put the subject I want to photograph onto it and add a light source? I tried this and found that the light I was using was too 'yellow' so i went out and bought a 'daylight simulation' bulb (low cost). This provides a much whiter light which appears more natural in the photo. After several photos and downloading onto my PC I found that it was very difficult to get the lighting right. After much thinking and scratching of head I worked out that most of the light was 'radiating' out across the room rather than lighting my subject. So I decided I really needed to use a lighbox, but that brought me back to the subject of cost.

I noticed a blog on DT that referenced a website with instructions on how to make your own lightbox and decided to do exactly that! I got a small box I had lying around and cut a hole in one side where the camera lens will go. Then on the top of the box where the lid is I taped on a single sheet of A4 printer paper (remember its a small box). I also taped some A4 paper onto the inside surfaces of the box to reflect the light (in theory). Then using my daylight bulb I shone the light in through the paper on top. This works much better that just the sheet of cardboard.

However I am still not 100% happy with the results. I think I need a 100watt bulb (I am currently using a 60watt bulb) to provide a brighter light. Also I think I need a better lamp as the one I am using currently doesnt have a 'shade' so not all of the light is being directed where I want it. Also I think it might be worth adding a second light source so I can light the subject from the sides to provide a more balanced exposure.

Some more experimentation required I think. At least i am having fun along the way!

Photo credits: Krzyssagit, Yakobchuk.

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May 01, 2008


Rebecca, my main lens is a Sigma 28-300mm which is a good general purpose lens but its not very good for macro. I have a Nikon 18-55mm which is better for macro and focuses much closer but I find it best if I focus manually.

May 01, 2008


hey, im just wondering, i have a d50 as well, and just getting used to it as only got it a few weeks ago. my lens is also 55-200 - do you use a different one for macro shots?

April 26, 2008


I found the temperature control in PSP but I ignored the automatic setting because I prefer to have more control. If its gets too blue I just switch to RGB control mode and manually reduce the amount of blue. I have many macro photos in the queue waiting to be approved so assuming at least one gets through (!) I would appreciate your comments.

April 26, 2008


Adjusting the colour temp in Raw is a one click fix in almost all raw processors. You will be amazed. There is room for fine tuning too. Depending on the subject, I sometimes take the slider left towards yellow to warm it up just a very tiny bit, because sometimes the one click makes things just too blue. Raw will also give you more exposure latitude, and will virtually eliminate artifacting in high contrast areas (like where black meets white) that you get from just shooting jpegs.

April 25, 2008


wow, a great few tips in that blog for me!!! i have not done many macro stock images, but i am very interested in doing them - thanks!!

April 24, 2008


you are so serious for your photos. :)
maybe you can change the backgroung from white to other color, like red. yellow...
:) maybe it can become more difference with others.

April 24, 2008


I always shoot in RAW format but hadn't thought of adjusting the colour temperature. I'll go and find that in my favourite editor, thanks for the tip!
When you say use the flash and bounce it off some card, are you suggesting I do that instead of using the lightbox or aswell as? I only have the on-camera flash.

April 24, 2008


Try shooting in RAW format. So even if the lighting is a bit off in coluor temperature. You can use a RAW editor to adjust the colour temperature to get the perfect white. You can also try bouncing your flash head off a white card board to the side of your subject instead of using a light bulb. You flash head will yield better results. If you can shoot with an off camera flash, then you can try this. Read my blog on food photography.;)_art26071

April 24, 2008


Yeah those are the instructions I have been looking at although I have used them as a general guide only - I am not following them exactly.
Different backgrounds other than white are a good idea and I will be trying that as part of my experiments. Like you say its especially a good idea to contrast with your subject.

April 24, 2008


Hi all. Here is the link:

Good luck, wish you the best. Remember to pay close attention to how the light is introduced. the light is diffused using a cloth of sort so that you can avoid sharp reflections on the subject.

Have fun.

April 24, 2008


Hey, I laughed imagining you messing around with boxes, paper and bulbs... because I've gone the same way too! Could you please share the website address where you found the instructions?

Anyhow, why white backgrounds? As you've said, there are a lot of pictures using that technique. If I want to use macro or a close up, I much prefer using a) a distorted background which colors contrast with the subject or b) set up a nice background. It's not always possible but then again it is a decent option ;)

Good luck!

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