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on Jun 4, 2013 in Wildlife Photography

Flash is just Part of the Photo


OK, you made the choice to pull out the flash (congrats) and you have all the numbers dialed in and you’re getting the results you want (perfection!). That in itself doesn’t make all things rosey! Not even in fact, you still gotta do that thing, storytelling. Here’s one of my favorite birds of the tundra, the plain ‘ol Dunlin. The plain ‘ol Dunlin is anything but plain in its breeding duds, it’s spectacular! While I didn’t find any of its nests this trip, we did find some of these gorgeous little birds on a dark and cold morning. So whole set up (which we were getting faster at setting up after all the practice) came out: Gitzo 5561SGT w/ Wimberley Head(w/ RRS Quick Release mount attached) is the Nikon 800f5.6 AFS (w/TC800-25e) and with the SB-900’s (powered by SD9) light going through a BetterBeamer all being held to the head with a Wimberley F9 Flash holder. And after that, many when they see that image appear on the LCD sigh and think the photography is all done. But it’s not! The top photo is BORING!!! It’s a colorful bird in horribly gray water. I wouldn’t put that on my wall. There’s no life to the photo, there’s no character, just no storytelling.


How do you tell the visual story? Oh man, that’s a more difficult question to answer than how to use the flash as far as I’m concerned! Why? Because we all tell stories differently. For me, I have this long past history of working with Dunlin in Churchill at the nest. I remember all to well all the time watching them land in the grasses and then spending hours determining where they were going to “mouse” to which would be the nest. Than with that info, trying to get the photo of them on the nest. Now if all of this is Greek to you, it means you have some basic biology to learn and that’s the best answer to the question, how do you tell the story? Knowing basic biology helps in so many ways and storytelling is one of the biggest. So the bottom photo to me is much more entertaining, much more eye pleasing and more of a storyteller. Dunlin are always in the water, 365 because that’s where they have to feed. But they are only in breeding plumage for a short time and that time, they are in the grasses. And in the grasses, the viewer gets the hint of why they have the dramatic plumage change. So while the flash brings to life to those colors, I feel you gotta tell the story of why those colors.