May 18, 2009 - In the Bushes Flashing Birds
In the ideal photography world, your subject would always be posed on something interesting, unobstructed, sidelit by the morning sun, in front of a glorious background, and you'd be shooting with an f/1.8 aperture at all focal lengths.
Generally speaking, I loathe on-camera flash. If you're looking for a deer-in-the-headlight look complete with red-eye and shadows in the background, it's all good.
Yesterday's bird outing was a struggle to shoot birds in dark ground cover, or hidden in the shade of leaves. The only way to do this was to use high ISO and open the lens up, a sacrifice of quality on two levels.
Today I decided to put my "Wannabe Better Beamer" into action. Reading about the Better Beamer
product, I was intrigued. Not wanting to order online and await delivery, I just had to build myself one. Using a cut 8x10 reading magnifier, a stapler, and some velcro, I soon had my first flash extender, for less than 10 dollars.
I returned to Toronto's High Park to see if I could find the warblers that eluded me yesterday.
The purpose of a flash extender is no surprise, to extend the throw distance of your flash. It's intended to provide fill, rather than completely lighting up the scene. It also helps project the light beyond a long telephoto lens, which would otherwise get in the way.
While I'm still not crazy about using flash for nature shooting, in shady situations it's a very useful tool to have at your disposal. Using this tool you're able to keep your ISO settings down, avoid noise, and lighten up your subject even if it's 100 feet away. I used it today with the flash exposure dialed down 1.5-2 stops to keep it less pronounced.
I still wouldn't use flash as my first choice, but when trying to shoot very small birds in the shade, the options are limited. This solution can also be useful on dark days.