I tried to explain a principle of macro photography to someone a while back and I don’t think explained it adequately. I am going to try to explain it now, but it will take a few posts, and I may have to go “old school” to explain it.
The principle is this: One way to avoid totally black backgrounds while taking flash photographs of small creatures is to move the flash back from the subject. You still have to have something behind the subject to be lit by the flash, but if you move the flash back you have more latitude for non-black highlights.
So here is what we are trying to avoid:
Black backgrounds can be dramatic, but in this photo the background does not help so much.
This is what we are shooting for:
You will notice that the background is mostly dark green, with some out-of-focus yellow from another flower adding a little interest.
And here is me a number of years ago, doing some old school macro photography.
The homemade contraption on the flash has a small Fresnel lens, which allowed me to concentrate the flash. With this setup I could achieve f/16 exposure with ASA 50 speed film. That is not a long telephoto lens—it is a single focal length macro lens (135 mm I think) with a set of extension tubes. The subject would be in focus about six inches from the front of the lens, and I would get about a 1:1 magnification. The camera is so big because it used medium format film—it is a Pentax 67, and I used slide film—the picture was considerably larger than that of 35 mm photography.
I deliberately moved the flash back from the subject so that the out-of-focus highlights would be lit by the flash.
The knee pads are essential for macro photography.