Blacklit??? « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART


What’s Up?

I enjoyed my visit to Gatorland and made more than a few good images. I gave more than a few free lessons and sold a few books and CDs. Got back to ILE at 12:30, swam–the pool is up close to 80 degrees–and took a relatively short nap of 80 minutes. I took a 56 degree ice bath, hit the sack at 9:30, and woke on Friday morning at 3:30am. After working for an hour, I shut off my bedside lamp and slept until 6:45am. Progress.

I learned on Thursday of the tentative sales of Sam Hogue’s Nikon D4 body, Nigel Boon’s Canon 70-200 f/2.8L IS II lens, and Jim Keener’s 7D Mark III. Where are all the Nikkor lens buyers? You can see all of the current listings here or by clicking on the Used Photo Gear tab now on the the left side of the second yellow-orange menu bar.

600 IIs

I still have a Canon 600 II in excellent plus condition for a Canadian buyer at a ridiculously low price. Many folks are curious so here’s the story: the Canadian dollar is very weak. You can purchase a 600 II cheap. But to legally bring one into the US requires that the lens be declared. My understanding is that the duty is a large one, so large that the very low price is negated. All interested buyers are invited to contact me via e-mail to learn more.

Right now it looks as if KW Mcculloch will be purchasing Bill Moore’s as yet unlisted near-mint 600 II for $9499. The good news is that I have another fine 600 II in the queue. If you are interested in that one, please shoot me an e-mail.

The Streak

Today’s blog post marks 122 days in a row with a new educational blog post. As always–and folks have been doing a great job recently–please remember to use our B&H links for your major gear purchases. For best results use one of our many product-specific links; after clicking on one of those you can continue shopping with all subsequent purchases invisibly tracked to BAA. Your doing so is always greatly appreciated. Please remember: web orders only.


This image was created on Thursday morning (on virtually no sleep) at Gatorland in Kissimmee, FL with the Induro GIT 304L/Mongoose M3.6-mounted Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM lens, the Canon Extender EF 1.4X III, and the mega mega-pixel Canon EOS 5DS R. ISO 400. Evaluative metering -1/3 stop: 1/500 sec. at f/10.

High speed synch flash at +1 to light the shadowed side of the bird with the Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT and the Canon OC-E3 Off Camera Shoe Cord.

One AF point to the right and two up from the center AF point/AI Servo Expand/Rear Focus AF as framed was active at the moment of exposure. The selected AF point fell on the center of the green lores just forward of the eye. Click here to see the latest version of the Rear Focus Tutorial. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Blacklit breeding plumage Great Egret


What the heck is blacklit you ask? It is a photograph featuring a strongly backlit–often white or light-toned subject–set against a totally BLACK background.

Blacklit Subject Primer

1-Choose a perspective where the bird is strongly backlit and the background is in deep shade with no sunlight on it at all.

2-Having the sun directly behind the subject intensifies the effect of the backlight; in today’s image the sun is coming from the left and behind.

3-The best exposure is one that yields only a very few blinkies in the rim light at most.

4-Using lots of flash to light the shaded side of the subject is an option.

Using Flash for Blacklit Subjects?

In #4 above I used lots of flash to light the shaded side of the subject: TTL +1 stop. Zero would have been a bit better as some of the images in the series looked slightly over-flashed.

Better Beamer Question

I had my Better Beamer with me. And the Integrated Flash Arm for my Mongoose M.3.6 . Why should you NOT use a Better Beamer in strongly backlit situations?

Missed Opportunity…

Though there were about 20 photographers in early, only one person photographed this bird and its mate, but she was at all not in position to come up with the black background… Remember, the two big secrets to becoming a better nature photographer are attention to small details and the ability to see the light…


This is an unsharpened 5DS R eyeball crop of today’s featured image

5DS R Eyeball Crop

I would love to hear what you think of the sharpness and image quality based on what you see in this super-tight crop.

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22 comments to Blacklit???

  • avatar John Patton

    Hi Artie,

    Curious about the answer concerning the Better Beamer. Several others have guessed what I was thinking. I use the Better Beamer a fair amount and the only problem I have had is the effect it has on birds eyes when used for tight head shots. I think it is a reflection issue from the back of their eye.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Answer in the comments and also in tomorrow’s blog post: March 10. a

      ps: As for the flash eye problem, are you not using a flash bracket?

      • avatar John Patton

        Yes, using a flash bracket that has the flash seven inches above the enter of the lens. Went back and looked at the images with the eye problem and it appears all were made at the edge of light…before sunrise and after sunset. Looking forward to the answer.

        • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

          There are two possible factors; the first is more likely. As light levels fall, the pupils open wider so that the light from the flash hits the retina behind the eyeball. This is what causes red-eye, flash-eye, steel eye, whatever you wish to call it.

          The only way to prevent it is to get the flash well off of the lens with a long cord or a radio trigger.

          The second phenomena is much rarer and is caused by a very low angled sun; in these cases the sun hits the retina and causes sever red-eye. This only happens when the sun is just above the horizon. I have only seen it two or three times in 32+ years. Red-eye without flash!


  • Hi Artie, is the eyeball crop 100% or greater? The Beamer may cause some ghosting?
    Also, can I ask how the 5DSR does at higher iso’s?

    Thanks, Lee.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Defining what and what is a 100% crop is beyond me. I cropped the optimized TIFF to 800 pixels wide and it is presented in Word Press at 800 pixels wide. That’s all that I know.

      A Better Beamer does not cause ghosting. I am not seeing anything that I would call ghosting. It is comparable to the 5D III at the higher ISOs though I have not used those extensively. a

  • avatar Bobby Perkins

    Because you’ll cook your flash! Great graphic shot Artie. Love it!

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Please explain what you mean by “cook your flash.” a

      • avatar Bobby Perkins

        The Sun, through the Fresnel lens of the better beamer like a magnifying glass will burn your gear if pointed toward the sun. Rather quickly too.

  • avatar James Saxon

    Depending on the distance to the subject the Better Beamer concentrates the light a lot tighter than just the flash without and that results less light falloff which would overexpose the main subject which is the bird.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Sorry, though true sometimes, it is not the answer to the question that I asked… a

  • avatar David Peake

    Thinking about this again, the flash question, should you not use it when there are significant areas of the subject that will be lit by both flash as well as sunlight when the sun is not directly behind the subject. You would have difficulty calming the rim light blinkies and have to underexpose the shadowed side too much for a good image.
    Just a thought.

  • avatar Dane

    The Better Beamer could throw enough light into the background to defeat the pure black that highlights the subject, and likely producing a mottled background, possibly even adding a shadow of the subject.

  • avatar Wtlloyd

    Regarding the eyeball crop, it reminds me not to solely judge an image from a 100% view! The full portrait is a stunner, incredibly sharp, but you wouldn’t guess it would be so just looking at the raw crop of the eyeball.
    I’m gonna guess the Better Beamer will throw too much light onto the unlit background.
    Brushing up on flash use for Namibia, Artie? πŸ˜‰

  • avatar David Peake

    Hi Artie
    I don’t know about the flash question.
    But the crop of the eye is extraordinary.
    It’s almost a macro shot. It would be tricky to get something this good from three feet away with a 180 macro. You might have to stand in the alligator pool. Probably a health risk./:-)
    Once again a great subject,image, composition, by a great photographer with some great gear.

  • I would be cautious about using a Better Beamer in a strongly backlit situation because if the beamer lens were aimed at the sun you could quickly burn a hole in your flash.

    The sharpness of the eye in this post is as fine as some other really large crops you’ve posted with this camera. It does have superb capabilities for capturing really fine details.

  • Artie,

    The image quality and sharpness level of the tight crop is just amazing considering how tightly this is cropped. Really shows off the capability of the 5Ds in capturing fine detail.

    I love the “blacklit” composition.