In my experience a standard speed light is a total waste of time for insect photography and using one leads to nothing but unusable photos and a lot of frustration. Taking photos of insects involves getting up close and personal to them and the lens will often cast a shadow over the insect, and using a speed light in the camera’s hot shoe will not illuminate the area. You could try and take the speed light off camera (meaning you’re going to have to carry around even more equipment – an off camera flash cord or some wireless flash triggers) but this is cumbersome and by the time the speed light is in the position the insect has scarpered, and you have missed the shot.
Even if you do manage to get the speed light in position before the insect disappears off the speed light is generally too powerful (even when the power is dialled right down) and will result in an over-exposed photo. Standard speed lights simply aren’t designed for taking photos of insects, and you need a ring flash instead.
A ring flash is low powered, which means you can get the light very close to the insect without over exposing the photo. The ring flash is attached to the end of the lens, which allows you to illuminate the subject without any possibility of the lens casting a shadow over it.
It is worth pointing out that a ring light is different to a ring flash, and it is important to you don’t confuse the two. A ring flash is a strobe and the burst of light is emitted when you fire the camera’s shutter. A ring light is constantly illuminated, unless the switch is in the ‘off’ position of course.
Ring lights are no good for insect photography as approaching an insect with a ring of light is going to send it scuttling off, or flying away before you can get close enough to take the shot. If you’re thinking “just turn the lights on when you’re in position and ready to take the shot” this is not possible and the subject will disappear as soon as you flick the switch.
A ring light is significantly cheaper than a ring flash (although you can pick up a proper ring flash for not much money) but there is a reason for this – ring lights are useless for insect photography. Trust me, I have been there and one that as when I first started out I thought I would save myself some money, scrimp and buy a ring light instead of a ring flash. Please don’t do what I did – buy a ring flash in the first instance.
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.