Wallet friendly accessories for macro photography

Purchasing a good camera, lenses and tripod can certainly exhaust your savings, but even after obtaining them the cost of accessories needed for macro photography can be discouraging. The good news is that many commercially available tools can be improvised with a bit of ingenuity and a little digging around the house.

The collection featured in this photo includes a hand made light diffuser, a reflector made from shiny pasteboard and foil, a wire sign stake, wooden clothes pins and a bunch of long pipe-cleaners. There is also an eye drop bottle which is useful for simulating raindrops on petals. Add a few plastic bags and a spray bottle and you have an excellent set of tools for macro photography.

Make your own light diffuser to reduce glare and shadows on your subject

A light diffuser is easy to make from a wire coat hanger and an old T-shirt, or pillow case. I prefer to use a pillow case, or a section cut from an old bed sheet, because the fabric tends to have a tight weave. Fabrics with a loose weave may create unwanted texture by allowing stronger light to pass through tiny holes. However, nearly any white material will work including thin white dish rags or a large sheet of matt-surface paper.

Make the diffuser by taking a wire coat hanger and pulling it out to form a diamond shape. Then cut your cloth so that it fits around the hanger with a little left over for flaps. Once you have the cloth cut to size, you can tape the flaps over the hanger with two-sided tape or glue them down with any household glue.

The resulting diffuser isn’t as handy to carry around as the commercial variety which curl up into a little satchel, but it does have a nifty hook that can be used to hang it from a branch or on a sign stake like the one shown in my accessories photo. I also find the hook handy for hanging the diffuser on the back of my camera bag when I’m walking around looking for interesting macro subjects.

You can see how useful a light diffuser is by comparing the images in this set.

The first photograph has deep, distracting shadows and extreme highlights that have blown out the surface detail on a few petals and leaves. These conditions were avoided in the second image by using a light diffuser.

Use a paper plate and some aluminum foil to make a reflector

Another useful item to have for macro photography is a small reflector to reduce shadows or throw fill-light into dim areas on the subject. Aluminum foil works well for creating strong light, while a white reflector is useful for creating soft light.

You can make your own reflector card for both strong and soft light by wrapping aluminum foil over the back of a glossy paper plate or a section of shiny pasteboard. The one you see in my accessories photo at the beginning of the article was made from a box that once contained a set of DVDs. The inner surface of the pasteboard was glossy white, so I simply cut out a panel and taped aluminum foil to the non-glossy surface.

You may also want to make some background cards to place behind subjects that are situated such that it’s hard to create a pleasing bokeh. These can be made by pasting blurry photographs on small panels of cardboard. I carry a 6” x 8” card with a different background on each side created from abstract photographs of leaves and grass.

The infamous 3rd arm

You can make up for only having one set of hands by carrying some extra long pipe cleaners, a few clothes pins and a wire sign stake.

I’ve found several types of sign stakes at a local hardware store, but I bought the one shown in my accessories photo because it has two rings that are handy for hanging my diffuser. Of course, the fact that it only cost $1.00 was also an incentive.

Long pipe cleaners are easy to find at craft shops and school supply stores and are very useful for steadying flowers on a windy day and for keeping intruding leaves and branches out of the way.

Clothes pins always come in handy too, so I usually have a few of these strewn about in my camera bag. I like the old wooden clothespins because they do less damage to plants and are healthier for the environment if I inadvertently leave one behind.

Bring your own rain drops

If you like the dewy effect of water drops on flowers, you can carry a spray bottle along to wet petals and leaves. The bottles sold with lens cleaning kits are particularly handy for this. Just be sure to rinse out all the lens cleaning solution before filling it with clean water. Sometimes a single drop of water in the right place creates a better effect, so I carry an eye drops bottle for this that’s been rinsed out and filled with water.

A plastic bag can save the day

Many of the subjects you’ll want to photograph will be so close to the ground that a normal tripod is impractical. A bean-bag can by a handy tripod substitute for these occasions, but even small bean-bags are heavy and awkward to lug around. You can remedy this by carrying a large re-closable food storage bag. Fill the bag with leaves, pebbles and anything else you find on location to create a pillow that’s firm enough to support your camera.

Re-closable bags are handy for so many applications that I keep an assortment of sizes in my camera bag. I also carry a tall kitchen-size trash bag to use as a drop cloth or as a rain cover for my camera bag.

Commercial versions of the accessories I’ve mentioned in this article are probably worth buying eventually because they’re often sturdier and more compact. However, being able to improvise low cost equivalents can help you get the photos you want when commercial equipment isn’t available.

Visit my galleries by clicking on the links below for examples of finished Macro and close-up artwork for which many of the above mentioned tools and techniques were utilized.


Flower gallery


Macro gallery


Smoke Abstract


Oil & Water Abstract

Wallet friendly accessories for macro photography

Richard G Witham

Joined February 2008

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Artist's Description

I’ve found that a light diffuser, as well as the other tools presented in this article, is essential for capturing detail on macro subjects – especially when photographing flowers with white or yellow petals.

Please feel free to favorite this article for future reference and to link to it with an authorship credit in my name.

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  1. Copyright © Richard G. Witham 2010 all rights reserved
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