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Old 09-05-2008, 12:05   #1 (permalink)
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Macro photography tutorial

Macro tutorial

Remember that I’m not a specialist. I’m not a professional photographer. What is written here is my private way to do macro shots and it’s possible that there are other ways but I don’t know them or I don’t use them.

And remember – my English is not perfect, so if you see some grammar mistakes please forgive me. If something is not clear enough – please do not hesitate to ask me.

If what I’m writing is obvious for you then maybe you know some tricks that could be helpful for others (including me). Share your experience.

Marco photography

I was thinking about writing definition here but let’s just say I’m going to tell you how to do photos like this one.



Equipment

Camera

Any digital camera with zoom 10x or better. More manual settings you could access -better it is.
Any DSLR camera.

Lenses

For macro photography you need special lens. There is no way you could make good macro using “naked” digital camera or DSLR camera without macro lens (or good zoom lens). I know – I was trying with my Fuji FinePix 9500 for about 2 months. DSLR lenses for macro photography are sharpest on the market.

For digital camera – Raynox DCR-250.
For DSLR camera – any lens with that magic word MACRO on it.

DSLR macro lenses – examples:
Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM
Canon EF 180 mm f/3.5L Macro USM
Nikon AF Micro-Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D
Nikon AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED
Nikon AF-S Micro NIKKOR 60mm f/2.8G ED
Nikon AF Micro-Nikkor 200mm f/4D IF-ED
Sigma 50mm f/2.8 EX DG
Sigma 70mm f/2.8 EX DG
Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG
Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG IF HSM
Sigma 180mm f/3.5 EX DG HSM
Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro 1:1 AF
And some more.

Also you could use Raynox DCR-250 on any macro lens for DSLR camera – DOF will be very shallow but you’ll have almost microscop.

Other equipment

Here it is – diffuser. You could buy one or make one by yourself. Below are photos of my own diffuser – I was using it with Fuji FinePix 9500 and after small adjustment I’m using it with Canon EOS 40D. Construction tips – empty box after some sweets with hole for flash and with two layers of tissue at the other end. Aluminium foil inside for greater light transmission.
What for do you need it? Simple – with macro photography you need as much DOF as possible. Using F11 on digital camera or F16-22 on DSLR camera is normal. And then you don’t have enough light. Using “naked” flash gives very strong light and too many reflections. What we need is soft light from flash hidden behind diffuser.

My diffuser - it's not about how it looks but how it works.


You could type "home made diffuser" in google and you'll find some other ideas how to make this very important component for macro photography.

Macro flashgun
If you have enough money in your pocket and macro photography is taking 90% of your time when using camera then you could buy one of those:
Canon MR-14EX Macrolite
Canon MT-24 EX Macro
Nikon R1 Close-Up Speedlight
Nikon R1C1 Close-Up Speedlight
or any other special flashgun for macro.
Using professional flashgun is of course best solution but also expensive. So it's your choice - home made diffuser or ready to use professional flashgun for macro photography.

Tripod/monopod – I’m not using it at all. Bugs and insects are too fast for it. Before you’ll prepare yourself they are gone. But tripod could be useful when you make photos of flowers, they are usually very patient and if there is no wind they stay still.

People are using many different tricks for macro photography – water sprayers, paper clips (to keep some grass leaf still when making photo of some insect on it), dead flies (yes – you could feed spiders or other “deadly” insects to make some great photo), small bottle of honey (to feed butterflies and other hungry beasts out there). But I’m not going to write about those things. Be creative. Think what you may need before you go hunting.

Camera settings

For both cameras (digital and DSLR) you should use manual settings. Only then you know what is happening and you control it.

White balance
If you choose right one you’ll have natural colours. However I like to use cloudy setting even when it’s sunny day. Colours are a little bit darker and contrast is better. But you have to experiment. Try not to leave this option to AUTO – you are smarter then camera.

ISO and Exposure time
Higher ISO you have faster shutter speed (shorter exposure time) you could choose. For digital cameras I recommend to stay at ISO200 or lower if possible. For DSLR – well it depends form your camera quality. I was testing my Canon EOS 40D on ISO400 and there was no noise at all.
Exposure time - from 0.0125 and shorter. When you have ISO100 and exposure time on 0.0125 and camera tells you that picture will be too dark – leave exposure time as it is and try changing ISO to 200 or even 400 (DSLR). If it’s still to dark go back to ISO100 or 200 and use flash with diffuser. Leave exposure time on 0.0125 but if your photo is too bright change it (make it shorter). You’ll have to experiment with those settings. Main point here is to keep balance between ISO (to keep it low so there will be no noise on your photo) and exposure time (to keep your object still=sharp, because you are trying to freeze that moment).

F number (DOF setting)
In macro photography we need as much details as we can get. So F number should be starting from 11 (if possible). Bigger the number is more details we’ll have in focus. The only problem is that with higher F number we need more light. Again – you’ll have to experiment. What I was doing for last 10 months was keeping F numer at 11 all the time and trying to find balance between ISO and Exposure time to get enough light. With my new camera I’ll go for F 16 or F 22 – I’ll experiment.

I'm telling you people about details - but sometimes it's not only about details. You could try some art photos with really small DOF. This photo below is with F 2.8 - i think it still looks quite interesting.



AF/MF
Ok – it’s time to forget about auto focusing. There is no such a thing like AF in your camera . Now when you are hypnotised it’ll be easier to explain why. DOF in macro is very shallow. It’s like 2-5 millimetres. So switch your camera to manual focusing and moving your body find sharpness on your object. And when I’m writing about moving I mean really small moves.
Important note – on digital camera with Raynox DCR-250 use maximum zoom, on DSLR camera keep your macro lens for 1:1 magnification (like max zoom). Of course if object is big (like huge ugly spider) we could change zooming to keep all object in frame.

Technical advice

Just one thing – it’s always better to make photo too dark then too bright. There is nothing you could do with overexposed photo. Details are lost. Underexposed photo is easy to correct in any software. This tutorial is not about software so I’ll leave it (maybe for another tutorial) but remember about this simple rule.

How to approach those creatures

There is no problem with flowers so I’m not going to write anything about them. The problem is to take a good photo of insect.
We are huge for them so they are afraid of us. Sensitive to light and vibrations they will run away if you scare them. So move as slow as possible and try to keep your shadow far from them.
You need to be patient.
Also you need to be ready for sacrifice – lay down if you have to, crawl if you have to, don’t be afraid to sit on the ground if you have to. Taking macro photos is dirty work. It’s simple – if you want those great macro shots you have to be close to those insects, you have to be one of them. Ok – maybe I’m going too far with it . Just try to be there with them.
If you see some interesting insect and he is running away from you do not hesitate to follow him. Butterflies make me sick sometimes – 20 minutes chase through some meadow and no single picture because this lovely creature decided to go over the hedge. Yes it’s frustrating – but hey, do you want some nice photos or not? So be ready for long hunting – in macro photography you need time. It’s great fun spent with nature.
And it’s very helpful to know something about them. I have Pocket Nature publications about Insects and another one about Butterflies and Moths. I know where to go and where to look for them. My friend knows where they sleep, what they eat, when and where they are active. Very useful. But even without any knowledge you’ll find them everywhere around.
And again – be creative. Train yourself on flowers (they don’t run), in your garden, go to Botanic Garden, take apple with you and give it to butterfly (I’m not joking).
And last thing - there is no need to be affraid of them. In nature it's simple - if you don't attack you wan't be attacked (generally). Spiders don't bite without a reason. You could keep them in your hand if you want (I don't like it) and untill you do something strange there is no risk. Insects are not interested in you even when you are there. Only few of them will really enjoy your presence - mosquitos, ticks and other bloodthirsty creatures. But you already know that.

Action

Ok – so you are there, with your camera and you know what to do with settings. Take your time and make as many photos as you can – more then half of them will go to the bin, rest will be just fine, and 5-10 should be brilliant. It’s perfectly normal.

Composition
Taking macro of insects is like taking photo of your best friend. You don't want to cut his legs or hands . If it's portrait you'll have to, probably also this insect antennas. Use zoom to correct your composition. At the beginning of your journey to insects world - try to keep them in the center. When you'll be experienced with settings and other things you'll have time for composing your frame like an expert. Rules are the same like for any other photography - if your insect is looking right give him more space at the right so he is not looking on picture frame. If your insect is looking left - give him some free space to look at on the left. Below are some examples.

Good composition


Bad composition


Background
In macro photography background will be always blurred. It's because of small DOF. But you could still manipulate a little bit with background. It's blurred but it gives you some colour. So imagine that you have some nice insect sitting on the grass and there is some stick behind - brown stick. Green grass, insect and brown colour at the back - sounds interesting (example below). When I'm saing about background it's more about background colour. Insect on the grass and yellow flower behind also sounds good. So if you have a choice - green grass and green background or green grass and yellow background it's more interesting to choose that second one. Of course it depends - if your insect is yellow it won't look good on yellow background (but i've never seen yellow insect). Anyway - background is blurred and you may think it's not important but it is. Sometimes few millimeters movment makes a big difference.



Good luck !!!

I hope it's everything you need to know about macro shooting for now. Above is my way to do it. Every single photographer will have his own way - it's based on experience. I wish you good hunting and remember - practice and you'll be macro photography master. It's great fun, it's addictive, it's frustraiting, time consuming - but you'll like it. If you have any questions please ask.
And about training - find guy like this one below. They are slow so you'll have time to practice your skills.



My equipment:
Canon EOS 40D + Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 F2.8 Macro USM lens
Fuji FinePix 9500 + Raynox DCR-250 lens
home mage diffuser
and nothing else for macro photography

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macro photography tutorial
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Last edited by marcinklysewicz; 10-05-2008 at 01:58.
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Old 09-05-2008, 14:26   #2 (permalink)
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Re: Macro photography tutorial

A good little tutorial! Thanks!
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Old 09-05-2008, 14:57   #3 (permalink)
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Re: Macro photography tutorial

Great tutorial and of great interest to impulse buyers like myself.

Thanks!
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Old 09-05-2008, 14:59   #4 (permalink)
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Re: Macro photography tutorial

Brilliant Marcin, that's going to be really helpful! thank you!
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Old 09-05-2008, 15:10   #5 (permalink)
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Re: Macro photography tutorial

Thanks for taking the time to put that together Marcin, I am sure it will be very helpful to people looking to enter the fascinating world of macro.

Lovely stuff,
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Old 09-05-2008, 16:06   #6 (permalink)
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Re: Macro photography tutorial

A great tutorial on Macro Insect photography.

One other thing that can be of aid if your subject is suitably non moving is focusing rails, these can greatly help getting focus and composition spot on, when going in really close.
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Old 09-05-2008, 16:38   #7 (permalink)
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Re: Macro photography tutorial

Many thanks for the great tutorial Marcin, Rep Points duly added
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Old 09-05-2008, 18:06   #8 (permalink)
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Re: Macro photography tutorial

Excellent Macro Tutorial !!! Makes me want find some bugs to shoot now with my Sigma 105mm macro lens now

If I had a Digg account, I would have "dug it"
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Old 09-05-2008, 21:13   #9 (permalink)
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Re: Macro photography tutorial

Brilliant tutorial, thank you so much Marcin for taking the time to give us an insight into how you do your macro photography, it was very generous of you to do that in such detail I certainly found it extremely clear, concise, and very illuminating, and I shall be following your instructions to a T, so that I can begin to improve my macro photo's. Maybe one day I'll get as good as you

I look forward to seeing the picture of your diffuser.
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Old 09-05-2008, 21:31   #10 (permalink)

PLEASE NOTE

I TYPE USING CAPITALS DUE TO A DISABILTY

THANKS FOR YOUR UNDERSTANDING
 
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Re: Macro photography tutorial

GREAT TUTORIAL, VERY WELL PUT TOGETHER.
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Old 09-05-2008, 22:55   #11 (permalink)
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Re: Macro photography tutorial

I'm glad you like it.

chrisa could you please use another words or describe what you mean by "One other thing that can be of aid if your subject is suitably non moving is focusing rails" - i don't understand what you mean. it's my english - sorry.

i've just added my diffuser photo.
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Old 09-05-2008, 23:27   #12 (permalink)
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Re: Macro photography tutorial

It's not your English Marcin, I don't know what "focusing rails" are either

A couple of questions :

What is your diffuser made of?

Do you use minimum aperture, or the next stop up? Some say results are better if you don't use maximum or minimum aperture, but go to the next stop, and I just wondered what your thoughts on this issue are.

Do you use single shot, or rapid fire? Or maybe both?

I'm interested that you do not use a tripod - as you say, they're just to quick for that kind of setting up. It just goes to show that sharp images can be obtained without a tripod, I'm impressed.
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Old 10-05-2008, 00:13   #13 (permalink)
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Re: Macro photography tutorial

Sorry Marcin - only just had chance to read this.

We've had some great tutorials on Pixalo but this is a contender for the best. You've covered so many important issues and your photos show that you are a master of the art.

You've also shown that it isn't necessary to spend a fortune to achieve fantastic results, and that is an encouragement to newer photographers as well as those who can't afford to buy into expensive gadgetry.

(P.S. Focusing rails - It's often easier to move the camera backwards and forwards rather than altering focus on the lens, as Marcin pointed out. If you're using a tripod, instead of the normal head you can mount the camera on a slide or rails, and move it precisely by turning a wheel. )
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Old 10-05-2008, 00:54   #14 (permalink)
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Re: Macro photography tutorial

silkstone thank you for explanation about focusing rails. yes it could be helpful but again - for doing this you need time (i gues) and when you are taking photos of insects you don't really have that extra time and they are moving (grass is moving to the left and right not only back and forward) so it's easier to use hands and nothing else. but i think if there are good conditions you could try to use some equipment like focusing rails especially with flowers or in studio.

charlotte diffuser is made of empty candy box (cardboard), there is aluminium foil inside, water proof tape for cover (and to hide ridiculous colours), and 2 layers of tissiues at the front.

i use single shot. but i'm considering using burst (6.5 photos per second in my new EOS 40D) to catch for example starting or flying beatle.

set up your camera to very short exposure time and move your camera during taking shot - it'll be clear and sharp. tripod is needed for long exposure, so you don't see hand shaking (no blur on photo), but if you use short exposure time tripod is usless. even when your hand is shaking there is no sign of it on the photo. remember about time freezing - sport photos. all those fast cars and motorbikes should be blured but they are not, time was stopped because of very short exposure time. and because of very short exposure time we need extra light from diffuser.

now i need your help so i could understand your question. by aperture you mean F number?

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Old 10-05-2008, 01:14   #15 (permalink)
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Re: Macro photography tutorial

Quote:
Originally Posted by marcinklysewicz View Post
now i need your help so i could understand your question. by aperture you mean F number?
Yes
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Old 10-05-2008, 01:26   #16 (permalink)
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Re: Macro photography tutorial

Charlotte there is all section about F number in this tutorial . for macro photography i recommend F 11 or more. in digital camera F 11 is usually max. in DSLR it could be even F 32 but then you need professional macro flashgun like Canon MR-14EX Macrolite or Canon MT-24 EX Macro or Nikon R1 Close-Up Speedlight or Nikon R1C1 Close-Up Speedlight. by the way - i'm going to edit tutorial to add this information .
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Old 10-05-2008, 01:29   #17 (permalink)
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Re: Macro photography tutorial

Fine read Marcin,
very good instruction for me as I have just now made about 3 trips to the ground for the bugs. Will post some soon,,thanks for sharing.
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Old 10-05-2008, 01:35   #18 (permalink)
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Re: Macro photography tutorial

I know you told us about using f/11 or more in the tutorial, but I was asking if you always use the smallest aperture (biggest f/number) that your lens allows ... I think you've answered "yes" to the question now though

I was going to ask you for a bit more detail on using flash as well ...
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Old 10-05-2008, 01:42   #19 (permalink)
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Re: Macro photography tutorial

Sorry - now I understand what you mean. The answer is NO - I'm not going to use F 32 on my camera because I don't have that professional macro flashgun. Also I've experienced that for my digital camera - Fuji FinePix 9500 - F11 was really enough (even when it was max that I could get at the same time). Sometimes I'm using F9 or F6.5 but only when I don't have enough light. The problem is that when you use F6 (for example) your DOF is really small and it's very difficult to find sharpness on your object. It's possible but why not to make your life easier with F11 or more.
My advice - take like 5-10 photos of some small flower and try different aperture. You'll see the difference and you'll know how to set up your camera for macro.

ready to hear you question - but I'm going to sleep now, so answer will be here tomorrow.
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Old 10-05-2008, 03:58   #20 (permalink)
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Re: Macro photography tutorial

brilliant tut - thanks Marcin
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Old 10-05-2008, 05:48   #21 (permalink)
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Re: Macro photography tutorial

Excellent tutorial
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Old 10-05-2008, 09:01   #22 (permalink)
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Re: Macro photography tutorial

fabulous tutorial Marcin,, it almost makes me want to try shooting macro............
( and i thought nothing would make me want to do that)

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Old 10-05-2008, 11:03   #23 (permalink)
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Re: Macro photography tutorial

Re using the minimum aperture (max f-number) - that's not usually a good idea because most lenses suffer from diffraction effects at the smallest aperture. If the lens goes down (or up ) to f/32, it's usually better to stick to f/16 or f/22 even if you do have a macro ring-light.
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Old 10-05-2008, 13:06   #24 (permalink)
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Re: Macro photography tutorial

silkstone i'm new to DSLD camera and there are many thing i want to try. but for now i'll stick to f11-16 and my diffuser. next step will be to buy some macr flashgun - but not in next few month i think.
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Old 10-05-2008, 14:26   #25 (permalink)
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Re: Macro photography tutorial

Marcin - The results you are getting now are so good that I'm not sure if an expensive ring-light would really make much improvement. Although the ring-light does illuminate all around the lens (of course ), it is still quite a small light source and it's possible that the large diffusers you are using now may soften the shadows rather better. If you can borrow one it would be worth trying before you spend lots of money.
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Old 10-05-2008, 16:57   #26 (permalink)
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Re: Macro photography tutorial

I don't have enough experience to be entitled to an opinion on any photographic subject, but I won't that stop me. Brilliant job and the last shot is even more so.
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Old 10-05-2008, 18:30   #27 (permalink)
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Re: Macro photography tutorial

A most enjoyable tutorial which has given me the urge to try out your techniques within the limits of my camera.
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Old 11-05-2008, 09:27   #28 (permalink)
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Re: Macro photography tutorial

silkstone that is what i'm going to do - try before buy. there is some second hand macro flashgun in my local shop for only £30. i hope i'll borrow it for small session next week. it's for canon but some unknown company - i just want to see how it works. (poor quality i gues - £30 for second hand when new ones are for around £100)
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Old 11-05-2008, 15:16   #29 (permalink)
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Re: Macro photography tutorial

I have to try and not use my bankcard now to buy that macro lens Cause I really would like to give it a go.

Fabulous and very helpfull tutorial Marcin. Thanks very much
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Old 11-05-2008, 19:36   #30 (permalink)
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Re: Macro photography tutorial

My you are very popular Marcin !! I agree with everyone !! I don't have a large flash, could I just put some tissue over my built-in flash on my D300 Nikon camera ? I will try it and if it suceeds will post some pics ! thanks for the great tutuorial ! nice of you to share !
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