“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.” — Ansel Adams

Joseph Balson

Cheap but efficient handmade macro ring flash diffuser

I love shooting macro. But not enough to spend thousands of dollars on macro gear.

So, I shoot macro mainly with a D3400, 18-55 AF-P, 70-300 AF-P and the amazingly good and cheap Raynox DCR-250 lens. When I don't forget it, I also carry a light tripod, but honestly, it hate walking with that thing, so most of the time I shoot hand held.

Lighting is definitely an issue with macro. You need to stop down as much as you can before diffraction kicks in to get the best possible depth of field. And you need fast speed to freeze the insect, or whatever you're shooting: even a soft breeze is enough to make a flower move like crazy. That means pushing the isos... And the noise. Problem is noise kills details and hi isos kill dynamic range. The only solution is a flash.

I tried the integrated flash, I tried the SB700 in remote mode. Not good or practical enough.

So, I started building a first diffuser out of cardboard, tinfoil and glue. It was extending the integrated flash and reflecting the light on the top, in front of the lens. That first attempt was no super bad, but definitely not very useful: the light was always to hard, creating harsh shadows and hard burnt details no matter the settings.

I built a second one, based on the same principle, but with a diffusing globe. That was quite better, with an obviously more diffuse light, but it was still too directional.

That wasn't working. I needed a ring diffuser. That was a little more complicated to build, but definitely worth it. I made it telescopic so I can use it with the zooms. The light is soft, coming mostly from the top, but also from the sides, and a little less from the bottom.


Made out of cardboard, plastic and tinfoil, it is very light, weighting no more than 3 oz. It therefore doesn't put any stress on the lens or the flash. I can walk with the camera and that diffuser and shoot when I see something interesting.
After using it for one year, it turns out it is of course not perfect. It is quite large, and the way I made it makes focusing shorter than 1.5 inch impossible.
I let you decide if it is working well enough:

All these photos were shot hand held with my handmade cheap macro diffuser extender ring.