Gear – Honl Portable Softbox

Honl Traveller 8 Softbox by Heather Angel

Honl Traveller 8 Softbox attached to speedlight ready to use

It is no secret that I have used Nikon cameras for over four decades; currently I use the superb Nikon D4 bodies. Rather than list all my gear here – which evolves from year to the year – I intend to feature selected items and explain why I find them useful.

While I would never venture outside without a reflector and a diffuser – sometimes two each of different sizes – a portable softbox is invaluable as an outside light modifier, especially when taking moving subjects. I have been using the Honl Traveller 8 Softbox for two years and this lightweight accessory is brilliant for infilling shadows and for boosting available light without it appearing to be an obvious flashlit shot.

Before this came on the market, we all used the Sto-Fen Omni-bounce, which does not give such a wide spread as the 8 inch (20 cm) diameter circular diffuser panel on the Honl Traveller 8 Softbox or double that with the Traveller 16 Softbox. The smaller version is quite big enough for close shots. It has a softer light than any clip on diffuser and so casts softer shadows on the subject, helping to perk up the definition of macro shots. It weighs a mere 3.7oz (105g) and folds flat in most camera photopacks.

Indian horse chestnut flowers taken with a Honl Traveller 8 Softbox, to gain more depth of field on an overcast day with intermittent wind.            ISO400 1/250 sec @ f/13

The black background was not created by using a flash, simply a dense shadow early in the morning.

© Heather Angel 2013


Photography – Shooting in the Rain

Rain Photography Tips by Heather Angel

As raindrops fall onto a non-wettable lotus lily leaf, they are channelled into distinct lines along the dips in the leaf.

This post was inspired by a recent photo workshop I ran at Kew Gardens when it rained for much of the time. After I pointed out raindrops hanging from the umbel of large Aralia flowers, all the group were inspired to look at subjects in a new way. Several people admitted as we wrapped up, they were amazed how much they found to photograph in weather they would normally not bother to their camera out of a photo pack.

So, if you are a fair weather photographer, hopefully the rain photography tips may convert you to consider bringing out a camera (with adequate protection) in light rain. Then it is perfectly safe and you can get more original shots of the natural world than remaining a fine weather photographer. There is always a small towel stashed into my photo pack, for mopping up any surplus water on the camera.

How to protect a camera in rain

A thick plastic bag (check no safety holes present) slipped over the back of the camera is secured around the lens with a rubber band – making sure not to restrict an external focusing ring, if there is one. Useful in light rain and possible to cut hole in base to secure a tripod.

Two ways to protect the camera. Left: in light rain, a hat umbrella is useful for working on the hoof with a short lens or a macro lens – here the 70-180mm Micro- Nikkor. Right: An umbrella held over a camera on a tripod in heavy rain.

Use a waterproof rain cover to protect the camera with a long lens in heavy rain falling at any angle. Be sure to get one that fixes securely so it does not flap around (will scare animals and let in rain). Available from

Left: Rain enriches natural colours of lacebark pine bark to produce a more vibrant image.
Right: Same tree (different crop) in dry weather.

Raindrops provide several options – most simply, straightforward shots of rain on petals, leaves or feathers. Whereas, drops captured on spiders’ webs on hairy stems or caterpillars viewed against a dark backdrop can appear to sparkle like jewels.

A Laysan albatross chick hunkered down during rain on Midway Atoll.


Raindrops caught on hairy stem and sepals of red poppywort, Meconopsis punicea, Sichuan, China.

Use raindrops as natural miniature fisheye lenses. You will need a macro lens with a magnification of at least life size, better still,  get in even closer by adding an extension tube. Then you will see how the drops encapsulate a flower close behind them, a tree or a building further away.

These raindrops each reveal an inverted image of Kew Palace.

After rain stops, mammals twist their head back and forth to remove surplus water. Try a slow shutter speed to streak the water radiating from the body. Any animal that emerges from water – including bears, otters, monkeys and dogs – do this. Because it is all over very quickly, you need to anticipate the shot by selecting continuous motor drive.

I waited 30 minutes for this lion to rotate its head to remove surplus water after heavy rain fell in Botswana.

Why not give it a try? You will surely take some exciting and more original images than is possible on a sunny day.

© Heather Angel 2013


Photography – Macro – Focus stacking

Focus stacking by Heather Angel

Focus stack of African glory lily (25 frames)

If you have struggled to gain extra depth of field you need for some three dimensional shots, have you considered focus stacking?  This a perfect way for revealing fine details.  I began taking stacks three years ago and have done hundreds.

While it is possible to take a stack outside, by refocusing the camera slightly further away for each shot, without a focusing slide it is difficult to gauge the distance between each shot remains constant.  This is why I prefer to work indoors and mount the camera on a focus slide / rail.

Focus stack (21) of gentian taken in the field with a focus rail

For a perfect stack ensure the following:

• manual focus is selected

• subject is static

• lighting is constant

• camera is advanced in fixed increments

Essentially mount the camera on a focus rail. I use the Really Right Stuff Macro Focusing Rail but cheaper models are available; you just need a 2-way one which moves forwards and backwards, not a 4 way one. and focus manually on the nearest part of the subject. The camera is then moved forward at equal intervals so a series of focus slices are taken.  Decide before you start whether this is ½ or a full turn of the focusing rail advance knob and mark it with white adhesive tape in two places so it is easy to judge a full turn and half a turn. In essence it is a scaled down version of a CT scan. The number of frames needed will depend on

• the magnification used

• the depth of the subject

It can be anything from 10-40 frames and my record is 72 for a very deep tubed flower!

Common toadflax focus stack (33)

When you get towards the end of the stack, carefully check (by enlarging the image on the camera’s LED screen) that the last essential part is sharp.  This is important for flowers which have pockets at the back.  After downloading, the stack of partially focused images is blended into a single focused image using a software programme

such as Helicon Focus or Zerene Stacker  A free 30-day trial versions can be downloaded for both.

Screen grab of the chocolate vine focus stack in progress. Image numbers on left, left image being added to stack. Right image shows stack building up.

Two more things to remember before you start

• check the camera battery is fully charged, because you may not be able to remove the camera easily once it is mounted on the rail.  If so the stack will then have to be aborted

• check if using a flash it does not need recharging because this could upset the set-up too

A word of warning – focus stacking can become very addictive!

Completed focus stack (22) of the chocolate vine (Akebia) – a shrub from Japan and China

© Heather Angel 2013

Photography behind the scenes – Action Still life

A behind the scenes look at Photographing action still life in the studio –  Photography and retouching by Giles Angel

A multi-part composite image produced using the Triggersmart Flash Trigger and high speed flash

This action still life shot of a fragmented cake topper was a private commission for a friend’s wedding. There is some obvious irony in this shot, sinces they did split up before getting back together, but are now happily married.

I decided to use the Triggersmart Flash trigger. The precision timing ensured I gained a much higher proportion of useable images than if I had simply guessed when to press the shutter. Otherwise many more images would have been exposed too early or too late. So, it was a good time saver on the shoot. Here’s how I did it with behind the scene shots.

Here is the studio set-up using the following gear  Nikon D3 tethered to a laptop. 1/500th F18. Two Einstein E640 flash heads set to 1/7000 flash duration. A Triggersmart Flash Trigger set to infra red beam and 2 Pocket Wizards.


Close-up set up showing gear and lighting set-up

LIGHTS – Two lights here are Einstein E640 flash heads. One overhead with a large softbox the other on the left as a fill to create some side light and shadow on the subject.

TRIGGERSMART BOX – This controls the sensitivity of the infra red beam and amount of delay when triggering. For more details about Triggersmart see

RECEIVER AND TRANSMITTER – One sends the infra red beam and the other receives it, as soon as the connection is broken this sends a message to the box and triggers the flash or in this case the shutter.

REMOTE TRIGGERS – These are Pocket Wizard flash triggers. Not the cheapest on the market but have a good range and you can change the behaviour of each to receive or transmit or both.

The Triggersmart is rigged to the camera shutter rather than the flash, (extra cable required) so my hands are free to drop the cake topper through the infrared beam.

The infrared transmitter and the receiver were simply placed either side of my target surface. Sensitivity was set to high, so even the smallest fragments could trigger it. The time delay was short as I wanted the flash to trigger immediately after the beam was broken, at the point of impact with the target surface.

On top of the camera you will see there is a wireless flash trigger which fires the studio flash heads as the shutter is released.

For a speedy review of each image, the camera was shot tethered to a laptop, which can be seen on the bench far right in the middle of the image above. This not only saves time chimping the camera’s LED screen, but also clearly reveals any imperfections on the enlarged image.

Images were edited in Adobe Bridge before being taken into Photoshop for comping.

A large number of shots were taken and the best elements from each were comped together in Photoshop for the final image.


The layered Photoshop file with separate exposures masked in and out for different parts

One to One or Two to One Macro Photography tuition with Heather Angel

The Magic of Macro

Paua shell from New Zealand taken inside a Cubelite to eliminate reflections

“I wanted to thank you so much for yesterday’s wonderful session; it passed all my expectations and I so enjoyed the day!  The aspect of your teaching that really resonated with me was your ability to listen to what I wanted to do on the day and then tailor your program to meet my specific needs; thank you!”  PB

Heather has been taking macro shots of the natural world for over four decades. Her forté is devising the best way to light each macro subject.

The key features we cover during the day are listed below, but this is not cast in stone. Let us know if you would like the programme fine-tuned to meet your own particular interests and experience. For example, we can discuss histograms, how to edit images and also cover focus stacking if this is of interest.

Who will benefit from this photography tuition?

Anyone who enjoys working with macro subjects and wants to discover new ways for photographing them will enjoy this tuition day.  The emphasis will be on lighting – much of it involving inexpensive ways for getting the best possible shot.

Slipper orchid lit by windowlight plus a reflector and rimlit by back flash

Key Features

  • Laptop presentation of lighting techniques
  • How to meter difficult subjects
  • Outdoor lighting – reflectors / diffusers / fill-flash
  • Creative use of depth of field
  • Check out backgrounds
  • Careful composition
  • Work with window light
  • Work with LED lights
  • How to shoot focus stacks
  • Work in professional studio with fibre optics


When the weather is unsuitable for working outside, window light is ideal for some subjects; alternatively LED lights, flash or a lightbox can be used during the day or even at night. Various set-ups will be available using all these light sources plus studio flash and fibre optics to photograph a range of macro subjects.

At the end of this day, you will have a clear understanding of how to achieve the best results for lighting macro subjects using your digital SLR – outdoors or inside.

Fallen maple leaf in a puddle on an overcast day


Arranged to suit


Lunch will be provided, please advise if you have any special dietary requirements

What to bring

  • Camera
  • Macro lens
  • A longer lens – a telephoto zoom would be fine
  • Tripod
  • Reflectors and diffusers – if you have them;  they will be available for you to use before you buy any
  • Flash – if possible not one that pops up on the camera. Don’t buy one for the day. Nikon users can borrow a flash if necessary.
  • Macro focusing rail (only if you have one, not essential)

About Heather

Heather is a professional Photographer, Author, Lecturer and Special Professor at Nottingham University

Heather’s Photography website


One to One Macro tution
£300 +VAT per day
£200 +VAT per half day

Two to One Macro tuition
£160 + VAT per person per day
(TOTAL £320 +VAT for the day)

If you want to bring a few of your plant images – as prints or digital files – Heather will be happy to appraise them.

How to book

Go to CONTACT tab

Email Heather’s office stating which One to One topic of interest, preferred month and if any days of the week are NOT possible.