Building a custom flash support for macro photography
Updated Apr 20, 2006
Relying on natural light for macro photography can be limiting as there are times when you simply need more light then what is naturally available. Fortunately modern TTL flash units make working with electronic flash relatively simple.
Since I already had a Canon 550ex and 420ex, which I had been using for general multi-flash photography, I wanted a way to conveniently use the pair for macro photography. Dual flash brackets all appeared too bulky and complicated for practical field use. After some experimentation I didn't see a need to have both flashes be moveable.
Using an off camera flash for the main light with the on camera flash for fill gave nice results and the characteristics of the light could be altered simply by changing the positioning of the slave flash. Since I was using the 550ex and 420ex flashes I could avoid buying Canon's $50 off shoe cord and use the built-in IR communication of the speedlights.
The simplest solution was to mount the camera on a tripod, use one arm to hold the off camera flash in the desired position, and use the other arm to trip the shutter using a cable release. This gives nice results but has a few drawbacks. Here both arms are occupied which means I had to first put one thing down to do something else (like adjust the camera settings).
Novoflex sells some flexible arm solutions that provide what I was looking for but are expensive - a Novoflex Flash Grip Flash Bracket with Strap & Ballhead + Novoflex 18" flex arm are around $200. By purchasing an industrial flexible gooseneck arm direct from a manufacturer, using a $10 ballhead, and a cheap flash bracket, I could put together a very similar system for less than $50.
The flexible arm can be attached to a tripod or monopod using a clamp. I use the Bogen Super Clamp, but any adjustable tension clamp should work - spring clamps are generally not strong enough. For handheld use attach the arm to a cheap flash bracket (less then $10) or even directly to the camera's tripod socket.