The details are in the lighting

“Beauty is in the details.” If that be true, then the beauty is revealed BY the lighting. I have always said, “You can’t get a great image without great lighting.” So here we are.

I have previously stated the characteristics of lighting include Quantity, Quality, Color, and Direction. When we consider these qualities, we normally think of subjects that are three dimensional and opaque. Like the natsuke in the previous posting.

Sometimes in nature and through our detail-revealing macro techniques, another concept is revealed. Many materials are translucent, or semi-transparent. Here, lighting can create another characteristic through the technique of trans-illumination. This can be thought of as pushing light through the subject to reveal characteristics of its inner structures.

This technique is relatively simple. It’s another form of back lighting, the lively light. Sunlight can work, but I find that a secondary light source like a dedicated flash works perfectly and with more control.

In the example photos below of a Morning glory leaf, the upper image is made in the normal manner. Lighting is only from the lens side of the leaf. This is a revealing image. We can visualize the color, texture and some of the smaller details of the leaf, including the veins.

In the second image below, the sun exposure is still there. But in addition, I have added a second light source directly behind and close to the leaf and aimed right through the leaf toward the lens. This is a dedicated SB-800 flash triggered from the camera with a dedicated SC-28 sync cable. Care must be exercised to prevent unwanted flare from the flash entering the lens. Cardboard, matte board or a variety of other materials can be used to mask off the unwanted light. The intensity of this light source must be somewhat greater than the top light source in order to punch through the leaf substance. This is dependent upon the thickness and quality of the leaf material itself.

In the new, lower image we can now visualize much more. The color and “feel” of the leaf is still there. This comes from the front light. But we can now visualize many more veins with greater clarity. And smaller structures, called stomata, or small pores on the leaf surface used for transpiration, can now be easily seen.

Nikon D2Xs, Micro Nikkor 60mm F2.8 macro lens, SB-800 Speedlight.
Image size: 1.0X.

This technique of trans-illumination is valuable in macro photography. From a diagnostic or demonstrative standpoint, this technique as an adjunct to top, or front lighting and cross lighting for texture can be a very valuable tool. But considering all the possibilities, the technique can take us to ways to reveal information not possible in other manners of traditional lighting.

© Copyright 2011 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

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One response to “The details are in the lighting

  1. Really like your quote, I hope you don’t mind me using it now and then 🙂

    “Beauty is in the details.” If that be true, then the beauty is revealed BY the lighting. I have always said, “You can’t get a great image without great lighting.”

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