Flash for Bird Photography
Seems like it has many different names. Some call it a flash, others a speedlight, and some call it a strobe which complicates things even further because big studio lights are commonly referred to as strobes. I am talking about that thing that is usually made by the camera manufacturer (and a few third-party like Vivitar), usually works in concert with their camera brand and are powered from batteries. For the purposes of this narrative I am going to call it a flash.
Flash is also a very useful tool in bird photography. You may be asking yourself why would one need artificial light in a genre where you almost exclusively shoot outdoors during the daytime? That is a great question because almost all the time you don’t need a flash but most of the time you probably want a flash, maybe you just don’t know it. First of all the proper use of flash in bird photography is not to illuminate the subject but rather to enhance the main light which is usually the sun. Proper use of a flash will soften the shadows of harsh sunlight which will make a softer image. Softer in light not focus, in fact the proper use of flash also enhances the edge detail and helps freeze motion both of which helps the image to appear sharper and in focus. Another thing flash brings to the table is placing a catch light in the eyes of the subject.
So wow, that is all stuff that I am trying to accomplish 24/7, I should be using a flash all the time. It is true that the more one uses a flash the less they will regret it but, it is a real pain in the rear to have the device on board all the time and functioning. Still, everything considered, everything really is better with flash.
I will be the first one to admit to not using a flash enough of the time but those times I do I am pleased with the results. For best performance I think you need to have a device that can operate in a TTL or ETL (through the lens) system that automatically adjust the light according to the camera’s light meter and can be manually adjusted or powered down on top of that. That sounds kind of complicated but most camera manufacturer flashes work that way.
It is easy to think of as “Camera metered minus 1 to 2 stops of light” and you are in the ballpark.
Now you may be thinking that all the birds I shoot are way beyond the reach of my flash. That can be true but there are a few considerations. First, if you are a couple stops under on the power and shooting with a wide aperture like f4 that flash of light is going to carry a lot more distance than the light you would be using as a main light in a people portrait. Second, there is a cheap little device called the “Better Beamer” which is a flash extender. This unit concentrates the light and extends light way out to distances that make a flash very useful. I will explain more later.
Flash has its limitations though, things like heat, recycle time and shutter speed limitations not to mention the expense and hassle of mounting the unit off camera. Yes Virginia, just like every other situation you need to get the flash off the camera to make it work at its best. More on that later.
Be sure to tune in next week for part 2 of proper use of flash in bird photography and thanks so much for stopping by today.
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