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I'm thinking about making a macro photo setup with many light sources (up to 10). It's not viable to buy 10 flashes, even cheap ones. It's more viable to buy 10 cheap lights, but it would lead to such problems as overheating, less natural colors, potentially softer photos due to vibrations (from vehicles passing by, etc).

Another alternative that I consider is using flashes + mirrors as "flash-multiplexers". I never tried it and I'd like to read some opinions about my idea.

Here is an example of usage of multiple light-sources (cheap Ikea-like lights): enter image description here

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  • Curious why ten light sources? Aug 12 at 18:39
  • Curious too. How do you fit them between camera and subject? Otherwise, a lot of my at-home macro-photography is done near a wall mirror. But you can also use things like this.
    – xenoid
    Aug 12 at 19:15
  • @BobMacaroniMcStevens, to get a lot of shadows of different sizes, angle, hardness and intensity, so that little details of the subject are more emphasized.
    – Gill Bates
    Aug 13 at 1:44
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    @RossMillikan Mirrors can increase the amount of light from the flash that lands on the subject. Aug 13 at 5:02
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    @Rafael, added an example photo.
    – Gill Bates
    Aug 16 at 14:45

3 Answers 3

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Since you plan to take macro shots, a folded piece of paper just outside the frame might be a huge, soft light source compared to the object in the picture.

Here's an example: enter image description here

And the resulting shot: enter image description here

Note that putting light everywhere might result in a bland picture. You might want to experiment with black sheets of paper, in order to choose where the light doesn't land.

Before you buy any more equipment, I highly recommend you take a look at "The Best of Dean Collins on Lighting".

It's a treasure trove of information about lighting. There's an entire DVD with professional shots using only one light, and many DIY modifiers.

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  • @GillBates thanks. You can zoom in on droplets to see what the light setup looks light. The distinct shadows might simply come from the complex geometry of flowers. I think you could get a very similar result with a "softbox" (which doesn't need to be large, only close to the flowers), one reflector and one background. One portable flash and 3 sheets of paper might be all you need. Aug 14 at 8:46
  • This is probably fodder for a whole new question, but... What's the purpose of the card reflector at this location in this shot? It appears to be about 180° from the light sources, so it seems to me that the light would, more or less, just pass right by the coffee cup without really reflecting any back on to it? Curious if there was a noticeable difference without the reflector there.
    – FreeMan
    Aug 15 at 11:57
  • @FreeMan interesting question. There definitely was a difference with and without. I'll search my catalog to see if I still have a shot without. it helped soften the shadow on the right of the cup, reduce the contrast on the cup, and bring some saturation back. Aug 15 at 12:39
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    Interesting. I'm far from expert, but I wouldn't have expected that. Since your whole answer centers around using reflectors, I think finding a non-reflector image would add significantly to an otherwise already good answer.
    – FreeMan
    Aug 15 at 12:45
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    @FreeMan True. I'm on vacation, I'll look at my catalog next week. Another point is that the main flash is not pointing towards the cup. It misses it in order to feather the light, and hit the reflector more than the cup. Aug 15 at 13:43
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+100

Mirrors are going to make the light more of a point-source, as it's 'twice' as far away, therefore more parallel. You'd also have to be quite precise in their placement.

It would probably be cheaper, less prone to breakage & just as effective to use sheets of card, white or silver fabric reflectors or reflective "polys" [big pieces of polystyrene used as reflectors]. Each would be a diffuse light source, still further away than the initial flash, but far less directional.

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    Thank you for your post, good points, I'm going to bounty-reward it in any case.
    – Gill Bates
    Aug 14 at 7:39
  • If the mirror makes the flash "twice" as far away, does this also mean that the flash power diminishes by a factor 4? Aug 17 at 11:02
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    Yup. Inverse square law, twice the distance, 1/4 the power [plus a bit lost to the glass itself].
    – Tetsujin
    Aug 17 at 11:12
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Optically, a light in a mirror is the same as a light directly shining on the subject. As Tetsujin says, they will however, have a higher effective distance. Whether this is an advantage or disadvantage depends on the situation and your taste.

Also repeating points in Tetsujin's answer, but (hopefully) expanding: the purpose of mirrors is to reflect at an exact angle, and create coherent images of the things reflected. You just want a reflection; for most purposes in photography, a coherent image of the light source is not needed and in fact a drawback. Since mirrors are more expensive than most reflectors, you're spending money preserving something (namely, light sources that are close to point-like) that you probably don't want to begin with.

Remember that all sources are reflectors, mirrors are just image-preserving ones. A white sheet acts like a mirror and a lamp shade at the same time. You do have to make sure the albedo is reasonably high, and you do have the inverse square law applied twice, but other than that, any surface can supply illumination. Also keep in mind that two surfaces that both look "white" can have slightly different spectra as far as what albedos they have at different frequencies, and your camera doesn't necessarily see color exactly the same as your eye does.

If you want more professional reflectors, you can do a web search of "photographer reflector". Basic ones will be

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    It looks like something got cut off at the end of the answer. Aug 13 at 7:40

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