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on Jun 4, 2013 in Wildlife Photography

The Kiss of Light

DBSGY0449

What do you do when you’ve gone to the Arctic to photograph birds and it’s snowing? That one little element, light, is just not happening. You can’t stay in bed, you gotta do something about it and that something is, flash. I hate flash! It’s a royal pain in the ass to set up and lug around, I don’t care how you do it. But, what are you going to do, you need the light. Well, we had that situation more than once so the flash was dragged out. First understanding why flash. If you look at the photo above, the Yellowlegs looks dull. Yes, you could fix this in Photoshop and very easily these days but for me, that is just not an option. I want to do it in camera so than you have to ask what’s the problem that you want to fix? The issue is the color cast, the bluish-dull light on the Yellowlegs. This is caused by the overcast, clouds, snow increasing the color temp beyond AWB ability to deal with it. You can shoot AWB A3-A6 which will warm up the scene, but it’s not the same as good light. If you want to bring in that kiss of light to bring to life to the subject and you want to do it in camera, than you’ve got to bring in that flash. Damn!

DBSGY0455

The reason I’m bringing this up because when I posted the above photo, I received some emails asking how I got the “bright” Yellowlegs on a snowy day. The mechanic of the shot is 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 just listing all that stuff is a pain, setting it up is murder when your hands are numb. OK, I’m over that so now it’s time to actually make it all work.

Fist, be sure to set the zoom on your flash to 50mm. Next is to Align the flash beam with the subject. The F9 flash holder wants the flash to be pointed straight out but we’re focusing 20-25′ right in front of us. You have to point the flash DOWN to take the narrow beam we’ve created to hit the subject. You want learn the position back at home when it’s not mission critical by setting all this up (oh boy) and focus on a wall 20-25′ away and then take photos adjusting the flash until it hits the point you focused. Lastly, you need to set the ambient / flash exp comp. The D4 / D600 / D7100 rock here because they have Custom Setting e4 which permits the ambient exposure to be separate from the flash. Since I use that, all I did was dial in -1 on the SB-900 and shoot. And here’s the rub, it’s easy for me to say, it might be hard for you to do and that’s normal! Flash is a pain and I hate it but it’s a tool we gotta embrace for those times when it’s the only answer. In the final application, the viewer can’t see the flash, the photo doesn’t look like flash was used. We want the flash to just remove the color cast, the dull look. We don’t want to look like the subject is in the headlights of a vehicle. That melding of light is what all this hell is all about!