Flash and bird photography

Well, we’re still in lockdown and I’ve spent the last week redecorating my computer room. I also took the chance to read about using flash with bird photography, especially with respect to fill flash. So the object was to use natural light for the main exposure and flash to help remove some of the shadows and add a catch light. I used a Better Beamer on a Canon 430EXII flash, attached to the hot shoe of a Canon 7DmkII with a Canon 500L mk1 lens. I would have preferred to get the flash off camera to reduce the ‘steel eye’ (animal equivalent of red eye) but it wasn’t possible. Camera set to Av and iso400. The light wasn’t that good, so the aperture was at f4.0 to get a reasonable shutter speed. Flash was set to high speed and 1/32 power. This allowed for multiple shots because the flash could recycle very quickly. So here are some of the shots I managed. Only a couple of them had ‘steel eye’ which required a bit of photoshop. So the question is, was it worth it?

7D2_9829.jpg

Goldfinch, Carduelis carduelis

Canon EOS 7D Mark II 1/640 s. f/4 iso400 EF500mm f/4L IS USM

7D2_9817.jpg

Dunnock, Prunella modularis

Canon EOS 7D Mark II 1/500 s. f/4 iso400 EF500mm f/4L IS USM

7D2_9808.jpg

Greenfinch, Chloris chloris

Canon EOS 7D Mark II 1/320 s. f/4 iso400 EF500mm f/4L IS USM

7D2_9800.jpg

Robin, Erithacus rubecula

Canon EOS 7D Mark II 1/125 s. f/4 iso400 EF500mm f/4L IS USM

7D2_9781.jpg

Blue Tit, Cyanistes caeruleus

Canon EOS 7D Mark II 1/400 s. f/4 iso400 EF500mm f/4L IS USM

7D2_9774.jpg

Bullfinch, Pyrrhula pyrrhula

Canon EOS 7D Mark II 1/250 s. f/4 iso400 EF500mm f/4L IS USM

7D2_9771.jpg

Bullfinch, Pyrrhula pyrrhula

Canon EOS 7D Mark II 1/320 s. f/4 iso400 EF500mm f/4L IS USM

The real question is what do they look like compared to not using the flash.

So here are a couple of shots taken 2 seconds apart and processed in Lightroom and Photoshop using the same settings

With Flash

7D2_9838.jpg

Bullfinch, Pyrrhula pyrrhula

Canon EOS 7D Mark II 1/400 s. f/4 iso400 EF500mm f/4L IS USM

Without Flash

7D2_9841.jpg

Bullfinch, Pyrrhula pyrrhula

Canon EOS 7D Mark II 1/400 s. f/4 iso400 EF500mm f/4L IS USM

Other than giving a catchlight and a bit more detail in the shadows, there doesn’t appear to be a great difference. Personally, I’m happy with that as less is more. Too big a change would probably look false and not natural, which is the look I want.

© 2003-2021 Kevin B Agar

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4 comments on “Flash and bird photography
  1. phil roberts phil roberts says:

    Your final comments sum up what i would have said.
    The flash photos look like bird recognition photos from a book.
    Very nice but look posed.
    The flash free is more natural and my preference.

  2. Leedscot Jock says:

    Interesting comparison, thanks for posting this. Considering you were using a 500mm lens and the flash was on-camera, how close were you to the birds and how much effect do you think the flash had given the presumably significant distance? GN of the flash might be of interest too.

    • Kevin Agar Kevin Agar says:

      Hi Jock, thanks for looking and commenting, it really is appreciated. The distance to the birds was 6 metres and the GN of the Canon 430 EXii is 43. The actual effect of the flash is very small but just enough to slightly improve the images IMO. Whether it’s enough of an improvement to be worth the effort is questionable.

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