Here’s a technique for close-up photography which could save you hundreds of dollars. It’s possible to get results as good as a ring flash using only a sheet of white paper!
One of the problems in close-up photography is to get good, even lighting. This is especially difficult when the lens-subject distance gets quite small (which is often the case with many macro lenses with a focal length of 50 – 60 mm or less). For such situations a ring flash is a godsend. It fits around the lens so that the flash tube and reflector cover the whole circumference. The result is an incredibly even and uniform lighting, with almost no shadows. The only problem is, they are expensive.
There are many available alternative designs for the DIY enthusiast, making use of materials such as milk bottles, plastic pans, cooking foil, etc. But there is one design which is totally minimal: all it needs is one sheet of ordinary photocopier or laser printer paper (and a camera with a pop-up flash). Here’s how to make it.
Take a sheet of paper and fold into three (as if it was a letter you were about to put in an envelope). If you started with an A4 sheet, for example, after folding it should measure roughly 10 cm by 20 cm. Now open it out again. Take your camera, place it face down on the paper in the very centre, and draw around the lens with a pencil. Cut along this line to make a circular hole which will enable the paper sheet to slide over the lens. Now fold the top and bottom thirds forward at an angle of about 45 degrees.
To use it, activate the pop-up flash. This will be sitting behind the top third of the paper. When the flash goes off, the subject will be hit by light passing through the paper, a much greater area than the very small point source of light which is the flash tube. What’s more, quite a lot of the light from the top third of the paper will reach the bottom third and be reflected back onto the subject from below. The overall effect is very similar to the results achieved with a ring flash.
It only really works for close-up photography. It’s too fiddly for outdoor photography, and there is too much light loss for larger subject distances (such as portrait photography).
Note: for a very small ‘point-and-shoot’ camera it might be necessary to use a much smaller sheet of paper. But that’s the beauty of this digital age! Experiments cost nothing!
There is a higher resolution example of just how well this works in my gallery. You can see a close-up picture taken with the “1 cent ring flash” here.