Better Beamer Basics « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Better Beamer Basics

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I photographed the bill and breast feathers of this Dalmatian Pelican at Lake Kerkini, Greece on Monday afternoon with the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II lens, the 2X III TC, and the EOS-1D Mark IV (hand held at 365mm). ISO 400. Evaluative metering +1 2/3 stops: 1/125 sec. at f/16 in Manual mode. From the boat. Fill flash at -2 stops with the Better Beamer.

I used flash here to help sharpen the image. I knew from experience that I needed to stop down for additional depth of field to get the feathers sharp at close range. I rested the bottom of the camera on the gunnels and the barrel of the lens with my left hand. The great four-stop IS on the 20-200 II helped me to produce a very sharp image at a relatively slow shutter speed.

Better Beamer Basics

The Better Beamer, developed many years ago by my friend Walt Anderson of Chicago, is a device designed to roughly triple the output of your flash when using telephoto lenses with focal lengths equivalent to 300mm or longer. (Your calculations should include the multiplier effect of your camera.)

Using the beamer will increase your flash output 2 2/3 stops and allow you to photograph at greater distances with smaller apertures. It folds flat, sets up quickly and easily, weights just 2 1/2 ounces, and holds the Fresnel screen in place with no sagging or flopping.

Most importantly, using a Better Beamer reduces battery drain and allows for faster recharging. If you own a Better Beamer and are working with a long telephoto lens, not using the beamer makes zero sense as you are simply wasting battery power. Your flash is designed to shut off when the desired exposure level is reached. A Better Beamer concentrates the light from the flash thus allowing the flash to shut off faster. Less light is wasted than if you were not using a beamer. (The beamer offers approximately 300mm lens coverage so with longer lenses you are still wasting a bit of light.)

BIRDS AS ART currently offers six different models that fit virtually all Canon and Nikon flash units as well as the flashes of a variety of other brand flashes. You can learn more here or call Jim at the office at 863-692-0906 with your flash head dimensions to find the right Better Beamer for your flash.

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Here I am using the Better Beamer on my 800 on a cloudy day in San Diego. This image is courtesy of and copyright Becky Field.

I often receive e-mails from folks asking how to use the Better Beamer. After I read their e-mails it becomes apparent that they simply do not know when and how to use flash. The beamer just gives you a more efficient tool. If you are filling a bucket with a hose and the bucket has a shut-off device that stops the flow of water when the bucket is full, it does not matter if you are using a thin hose or a thick hose. All that the Better Beamer is is a thick hose….

First I offer them the basics of using flash: I often use flash (and thus the Better Beamer) on cloudy days and in overcast conditions to help eliminate the usually blue color cast, to render the bird’s feathers a bit sharper, and to add a catchlight to the subject’s eye or eyes. And I sometimes use flash on bright sunny days to reduce the shadows and even out the lighting. (Note: on sunny days I may set the flash to zero or even to +1 stops yet I will still be using the flash as “fill.”)

In each of these situations I am using flash as fill. I first set the correct ambient exposure and then reduce the power of the flash from 1 to 3 stops by dialing in -1, -2, or -3 stops (or something in between). I use very little flash, -3 stops for example, when working at very close range. If the flash fails to fire, the exposure will be fine as you have set the correct ambient exposure.

Most intermediate photographers will want to learn to use flash as main light when working in very dark conditions such as at a swallow nest under the eaves of a house. If the flash fails to fire the image will be black. At times, advanced folks may opt to work in Manual flash mode either when working with fill flash or with flash as main light.

At his point I gently suggest that if they wish to learn to use flash that they consult the “Flash Simplified section in The Art of Bird Photography II (916 pages on CD only).

If you don’t know how to use flash and you purchase a beamer, you still will not know how to use flash 🙂 Once the beamer is in place, you use flash as you always would. Nothing changes. The beamer will simply let you work with flash more efficiently and save you lots of battery power. I tell them that I would love to rewrite the whole thing section on flash for them and teach them how to use flash from the ground up but that I simply do not have the time. Plus, I like to sell a few CDs every now and then.

Shopper’s Guide

Below is a list of the gear that I used to create the image above. Thanks a stack to all who have used the Shopper’s Guide links to purchase their gear as a thank you for all the free information that we bring you on the Blog and in the Bulletins.

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II lens. Man, I am loving this lens on my shoulder with the 2XIII teleconverter.
Canon EF 2X III TC. It seems that the new 2X (the EF 2X III) is noticeably sharper than the old one (the EF 2X II).
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV professional digital camera body. The very best professional digital camera body that I have ever used.
Canon 580 EX II Flash

And from the BAA On-line Store:

Delkin 32gb e-Film Pro Compact Flash Card. Fast and dependable.
Better Beamer

17 comments to Better Beamer Basics

  • andrew

    Hey Bill Richardson. Yes, I can confirm that setting the flash zoom to wider angles makes the Fresnel screen focus the light tighter. I think it has something to do with the distance the screen sits from the head of the lens, but through experimentation by firing off at a wall, the better beamer instructions are correct. In fact, it seems to be better at 24mm than it is at 50mm.

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      My understanding from the manufacturer is that if the Fresnel is precisely 6 inches from the front of the flash that the flash Zoom should be set at 50mm. That after extensive testing. artie

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  • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Yeah Mark, You actually do need to read and study and practice… Heck, I never liked doing that in school….

  • Mark Theriot

    Now yer talk’n!
    “The only way to turn what I know about flash into a book would be to make it a picture book ”

    J/K! Yes you’re right, I’m looking for an easy way out! I went and took a look back – APB II, and the only thing missing is me practicing!

    Best regards,


  • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Mark, Much of what you are looking for exists as part of ABP II. The problem is that rather than mastering the simple basics of fill flash, flash as main light, and using manual flash, folks are looking for some magical recipe when it is actually pretty darned simple…. The only way to turn what I know about flash into a book would be to make it a picture book 🙂

  • Hi Artie,
    Thanks for all the good info. I am the owner of 1 and 2 as well as digital basics – worth it’s weight in gold!

    Would certain subjects lend themselves to a deeper dive – like nature flash photography? Myself, and i’m sure others, would love a book / ebook on it. I suspect there are more than a few of us aspiring nature photographers that have never used flash but are recognizing the need and benefit of it. A primer on flash focused around this specific photographic topic would be awesome!


  • Denis Westphal

    I recently purchased “The Art of Bird Photography II. I am enjoying it. Totally worth the investment. Your section on flash photography and your Better Beamer basics in this Blog has been very helpful. I am finally becoming more comfortable using a flash. Waiting patiently for your new release of digital basics.

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks for your kind words Denis. Assuming that I have the promised plug at my World Traveler Plus seat on my British Airways flight to Orlando midday on Monday I should get a ton of work done on the update.

  • I like the sharpness and the strong diagonal line of the bill.

  • Glen Fox

    It would be wonderful if you WOULD rewrite the whole section on the use of Flash and teach us from the ground up. The more I shoot, the more I know I need flash, but my knowledge of “how” is next to nil. There is also the whole subject of “when” to use fill flash.

  • Artie, thats a very neat composition. Well seen. And excellent flash work as well. Surprised that 1/125 was sufficient on a boat.

  • Thanks for the refresher Artie. Quick question on battery packs – what do you use? I’m looking for a pack in order to recycle my flash faster and go a bit longer in between flash battery changes. From the image above, it looks like you have the pack wrapped around a leg of your tripod….

  • Bill Richardson

    Nice commentary. I have been told to set the flash to wide angle rather than telephoto to get the best effect from the BB. This seems counter-intuitive. Comment?