Are You in the Dark About Flash as Main Light?

great-egret-chick-getting-fed-from-below-_y9c4373-gatorland-kissimmee-fl
Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO lens with the 1.4X II TC, 37mm of extension and the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 400: 1/100 sec. at f/18. Manual flash at 1:2.

In the “Vice Grip” image above a large Great Egret chick is begging for fish and refusing to let go of momma’s bill. The nest was in the shade, the two extension tubes and the telecoverters were soaking up valuable light, and the aperture was f/18. The correct manual exposure would have been about 1/4 second at f/18, yet the image is not only sharp but bright. What gives? I was using two related techniques: Flash as Main Light along with Manual Flash. And I am betting that fewer than 1 in a 100 photographers have the knowledge to use these valuable techniques.

If you are ever in a situation where there is seemingly not enough light for photographing at a reasonable ISO setting, then Flash as Main Light and Manual Flash should be in your arsenal…. Basically you are setting a shutter speed and aperture combination that would result in the image being black if the flash does not fire. You can learn to use both Flash as Main Light and Manual Flash in “The Art of Bird Photography II” (916 pages on CD only): https://store.birdsasart.com/shop/category.aspx?catid=32

For the very few folks who know how to use these two techniques here are a few tips that are not in the CD book:

  1. Do not use a Better Beamer: while it will increase your flash output it will force you to use a smaller aperture to give you the right exposure and this will often bring up unwanted background detail.
  2. Using an external battery pack when using Flash as Main Light is pretty much mandatory. If not, you will drain your flash head batteries in short order.
  3. Unless you know that you will be photographing only for an hour or two be sure to bring at least an extra set of four batteries for your flash head. Using Flash as Main Light puts a huge drain on your batteries. Better yet, if your external battery using re-chargeable AAs, bring an additional eight batteries for it.
  4. Remember: if you change your distance to the subject you will need to adjust either the Manual power setting, the aperture, and/or the ISO setting.
  5. Remember also that you can in some situations use the shutter speed to lighten or darken the background (usually the former). If your shutter speed is between 1/60 second and the highest synch speed of your flash the shutter speed will have no effect on the exposure of the subject.
  6. Lastly: it is best to set your Drive Mode to single frame to eliminate the occasional black frame.
roseate-spoonbill-chick-darker-w-bill-open-_w3c4874-captive-orlando-fl
Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO lens with the 1.4X II TC and 37mm of extension. ISO 400: 1/80 sec. at f/8. Manual flash at 1:8.

On Sunday past Denise Ippolito and I took my two older grandkids, Sam and Maya Egensteiner, to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. We did not bring any lenses…. It was cloudy and overcast, a great day to visit this theme park. As we entered, I saw pink. There were two spoonbills right next to the fence around an enclosure. Investigating, I was stunned to see a nest with two week-old Roseate Spoonbill chicks in it. It would be a tough photographic situation with a 3-4 foot high bamboo slat fence and a leafless bush in front of the nest but I knew that by using flash as main light and working tight that I might be able to produce some nice images. We returned on Tuesday morning and photographed until noon. After dropping Denise off at the airport I figured that since parking and admission were already paid for that I should return for another few hours. So I did. Visiting the park is expensive but you would never see a nest like this in the field in Florida unless you were working with researchers as this species nests in thick mangrove cover (and then the situation would likely be even darker).

As always you can click on each image to see a larger, sharper version.

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3 comments to Are You in the Dark About Flash as Main Light?

  • I’ve been practicing using my flash as main light and fill and trying to control the background with my shutter speed. Among several problems I’ve been having is black frames in between frames. I’ll try checking my drive mode.I plan to buy The Art of Bird Photography II soon, Thanks

  • Wow! Very nice new site.

    I gotta say, that spoonbill chick has a face only a mother could love. ;-) (Still a great photograph.)

    • avatar birdsasart

      Thanks. Peter Kes of Switzerland deserves all the credit. He suggested the template, imported all of the old posts, and is getting me up to speed. I gotta say it looks and reads 1,000 times better than the old one!

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