How To Use Flash As Fill In Low Light For Birds Photography

by -45 views

Learning to use flash finer is a very important and, at times, undervalued aspect of nature photography. Flash has many unlike applications for photographing wild fauna; from providing a touch of fill light, to using it as your main source of light, or getting creative using off-photographic camera techniques. While undoubtedly there is something very charming about the await of overnice natural lighting, certain situations can call for the use of wink. Whether to remedy a challenging lighting situation, or to create lite all of your ain, taking the fourth dimension to learn the benefits of bogus light can help take your photography to the next level.

It’south very important to keep in mind the impacts that human being presence tin accept on wild animals. Using flash has never been scientifically proven to damage wild fauna, however information technology is upward to you to use your discretion and keep the animal’s well being in mind, kickoff and foremost. Using wink with particularly sensitive species or situations should be avoided altogether.

Offset, permit’due south take a look at a few examples of the various means in which we can apply flash.

Fill Wink

Using your flash as a fill up light ways that you allow ambient light to enter your camera whilst also supplementing the lighting in the scene with light from the flashgun.

Sometimes we’re faced with hard lighting conditions that crusade undesirable shadows on our subjects. Selectively brightening your subject using fill flash can vastly improve your image past balancing the lighting. Some photographers may argue that this same effect can be easily achieved in post production. In reality, fifty-fifty with today’southward sophisticated cameras, in that location is no manner to replicate the consequence that proper utilize of fill flash can provide. Brightening shadows significantly using editing software can introduce unwanted noise and make things look unnatural.

flash with wildlife before
This photo of a Carmine-headed Barbet was taken without flash.

In this state of affairs, I was dealing with some backlighting which wasn’t providing a lot of illumination on my main subject. Using a much brighter exposure to lighten the bird would’ve resulted in an overexposed background. Instead, I set my photographic camera to properly expose for the background and used a impact of fill flash to fifty-fifty out the lighting.

flash wildlife photography examples
Using fill flash, the shadows are filled and the bird is brought to life in the paradigm. 1/200 second, f/4, ISO 640.

Hither, a lot more light was falling on the background than on my subject. Fill flash provided a not bad solution to this challenging lighting situation.

flash wildlife photography examples

fill flash wildlife photography
1/8 second, f/7.ane, ISO 1000.

In addition to balancing the light, using fill flash can bring life to wildlife photos shot in dull conditions, and as well help fifty-fifty out harsh midday light, allowing you lot to extend your shooting time.

Things to Avoid

A common mistake made when using fill flash is not allowing enough ambience low-cal to enter your photographic camera and relying too heavily on flash to provide light for the whole scene. Fill flash is meant to supplement the ambience calorie-free and illuminate your subject, non the background. Notice how the background in this image appears unnaturally night whereas the bird is properly exposed. Besides much flash was used and not enough ambient light was let in to attain a balanced exposure.

fill flash wildlife photography

Superlative Tip:When using fill flash, exist sure to enable “High Speed Sync” on Canon cameras or “Auto FP” on Nikon cameras. This will ensure your camera is able to surpass its normal sync speed, enabling you to use the faster shutter speeds sometimes necessary when shooting outdoors in daylight.

Master Light

At that place are some situations when nosotros but exercise not have any ambient calorie-free to work with. That ways that flash volition illuminate our subjects entirely. Depending on where yous are in the globe, there are ordinarily an array of interesting, photogenic creatures that come up out at night. An understanding of flash tin open up up a new earth of possibilities after the sun has gone down.

Here are a few images of nocturnal creatures photographed using flash as the only source of light:

black banded owl
Black-banded Owl, Ecuador

jess findlay flash
Red-eyed Tree Frog, Honduras. 1/160 second, f/16, ISO k.
jess findlay owl
Northern Saw-whet Owl, Canada

Remember, when there is no ambience light available, adjusting your shutter speed will not touch the exposure. To conform the exposure, you’ll demand to change either your ISO, aperture or flash power.

It’s VERY important to limit use of wink on nocturnal subjects. Their eyes are very sensitive to light and may be susceptible to disturbance in the event of excessive flash use. Taking just a couple frames and using a depression flash power and loftier ISO to lessen your impact is highly encouraged.

Further Reading: “Does Flash Photography Harm Animals?“

Creative Lighting

Being able to suit the ability and angle of your light source allows for total creative control. Enough of time studying how to operate your flash and some experimentation tin lead to some really interesting and unique results that aren’t possible with natural light.

creative flash in wildlife

Here I set my exposure for the moon and lit this map tree frog with a diffused, off-photographic camera flash.

backlit ants wildlife flashgun
1/250 second, f/xiv, ISO 800.

Experimenting with backlighting tin yield some interesting results, such every bit with these leafage-cutter ants.

Farther Reading: “Backlighting in Macro Photography“

hummingbirds flashes
one/200 second, f/11, ISO 320.

Though an avant-garde and much more gear intensive technique, the results of using multiple flashes on very depression power for flying hummingbirds are pretty astounding! This is a buff-tailed Coronet.

using flash with wildlife jess findlay
1/fifteen 2nd, f/8, ISO 4000.

Assuasive in just a little ambient calorie-free while flash froze the activeness gave a cool blue cast to this wintry prototype of a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.

Which Mode is Best? Manual vs Metered Flash

Knowing when to use flash is the first of import footstep to master. The next pace is learning to properly operate your flash and utilize the correct mode for whatsoever given state of affairs. Let’s explore the two.


Manual mode allows yous full command by irresolute the output of light from the weakest (typically 1/128) to the strongest (1/one). Rarely will y’all discover yourself using a flashgun at full power, and adjusting a wink’south power will change the await of the resulting photo.


  • Allows yous to select the exact calorie-free output
  • Output stays locked and does not change once set up


  • If your subject comes closer or moves farther away, you volition need to adjust your settings
  • Does not react and adjust based on changing lighting atmospheric condition


When using ETTL/iTTL manner, a split second before your photograph is taken, an invisible pre wink is sent out and reflected back to your camera. Your camera quickly gathers the data from the pre flash, such as subject distance and tonality. Together, using that information combined with your camera settings, the flash determines an appropriate flash power. While you can’t choose the exact wink power, you lot can adjust the intensity by using the flashgun’south exposure compensation.


  • Automatically detects the distance and tonality of your subject to determine output
  • Intensity tin be tweaked easily using the flashgun’s exposure compensation
  • Detects changes in lighting conditions and compensates


  • Does not allow you to select exact light output
  • Inconsistent, especially if your subject area is passing through variable surroundings

Sometimes when photographing wildlife, you simply do not accept the time to fine tune manual settings. Information technology is advisable to have your flash set up to ETTL (Canon) or iTTL (Nikon) style simply in example something unexpected pops up. Flash exposure compensation prepare to -2 is a good identify to start.

If you do have time to get your settings completely dialled in, manual fashion will provide far more than consequent results and let for complete control over the look of the photograph.


There are a range of flashguns available for both Nikon and Catechism, either made past the respective brands or third-party manufacturers. The Nikon SB-900 and Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT are the latest flashgun models and will do you lot proud.

Flash Accessories

Flash Bracket

Flash brackets are actually important to have in your arsenal, especially if you’re using a telephoto lens. This elevates your flash off the camera, preventing unwanted eyeshine known every bit “steel centre” and the flat await caused by direct lighting when mounted on the hot-shoe. Flash brackets are bachelor from brands such every bit Custom Brackets and Kirk.

flash bracketMany consider the Wimberley Gimbal Head to exist the best wild fauna photography tripod head on the marketplace. If you lot’re using a gimbal caput and plan to apply flash for your photography, be sure to option up a Wimberley flash bracket too. They are available with mounts that attach to either the gimbal itself or the Wimberley lens foot.

Make sure to besides purchase a flash sync string or a wireless transmitter to attach to the wink so that it will burn remotely.

Wink Diffuser / SoftBox

flash accesories

While a fleck bulky, for those serious about using flash, peculiarly for macro photography, this is a actually valuable piece of gear! This will help to soften the light and produce professional quality lighting. Await for the packable variety that are approximately 20cm in length. I would recommend the Lastolite Ezybox Speedlite.

High Capacity Batteries

batteries flashgun

If yous splurge on a nice flash, you might as well spend a footling actress on some nice rechargeable batteries as well! Not simply will these amend the performance of your wink, only they volition end upwardly saving you lots of money before besides long. Await for batteries with a capacity of at least 2000 mAH. The larger the capacity, the longer they will final and the faster your flash will recycle. Ownership a charger with an 8 battery capacity is a adept thought for longer trips. My recommendation are the Powerex Imedions.

I hope this introduction to using flash for nature photography has been helpful. Please ever remember that the welfare of your subject should always come before your photo. Wink doesn’t necessarily accept an effect on an animal when y’all use it, but there are of course exceptions. Use your sentence for each situation and always remember to go on your wild animals photography ethical. Best of luck with your photography!


Posted by: