Days Eight and Nine – Rest Days And Controlling Flash Spill With A Snoot

by John Downey

The last two days were a welcome rest from driving at Aregash Lodge in Awassa.  We were contemplating returning to Addis one day early, but after the first night’s rest, good food and just all around peace and quiet, we hung around for two.

Not only did it give me time to catch up on previous posts, but I also experimented with flash while photographing Colobus and Vervet monkeys, hyenas and vultures.  Using a 200mm lens and a camera-mounted 580exII flash, I first reduced output by about 1.5, or just enough for fill.  The shadows from the leaves and tree trunks are about the only signs of fill flash above, which also doesn’t mess much with the color balance of the background (set for cloudy rather than flash).

 

This shot of a Vervet monkey however, has flash spill affecting the tree branches and leaves, giving off the telltale harsh light of on-camera strobe at full power.  The image is sharp and the colors faithful but the light is blasting everything to bits. 

 

This one is much better.  Why?  Lower flash output and the application of a snoot around the flash head, which is nothing more than a tube that concentrates light and prevents spill to the sides.  I fashioned mine from a sheet of drawing paper and duct tape.  The dense tape doesn’t allow light to spill through the paper.  So, the only evidence of any flash at all here are the small catch lights in the Vervet’s eyes.  Foreground leaves are illuminated by rays of afternoon sunlight. 

The hyena and vultures here are also lit with -1.5 fill flash, but I pulled the snoot further back over the flash head (shorter snoot length and thus more spill to the sides) to provide catch lights in the eyes.  This took a couple of frames to get the light just right.  The color is faithful and no harsh light.  Doesn’t take much to illuminate a hyena’s eyes; nocturnal hunters, their pupils are large and reflect even the smallest amount of light.  The hotel staff put out restaurant scraps each evening to entertain tourists.

 

This final shot of a vulture in flight is a balance of -1 fill flash and a shutter speed of 1/100.  With a 200mm lens, this means I would have a tough time preventing camera shake (and thus blur) in the image.  However, after panning with the birds a few times, the flash was able to freeze some of the vulture (the head, feet, and some of the body) while I panned with it, but the wings were moving perpendicular to the camera pan and are thus blurry.  Wildlife images like this one are some of my favorites because there is a sharp center of interest, combined with a sense of motion.  If you want to see some pro wildlife photos, check out Natl Geo’s Michael “Nick” Nichols images.  He’s probably one of the preeminent wildlife photographers in the world today and imparts a lot of color and sense of motion that are hallmarks of his work. 

I hope you have enjoyed following the posts over the last nine days.  It was great to be outside every day, practice shooting, learn some new techniques and spend quality time with my family.  We will try to do one of these every six months and there will be plenty of images and techniques posted in between.  Hopefully, some of the tips I post will help you in your own photographic adventures.  As always, if you have questions or need advice, drop me a line anytime.

Keep making great images!

Cheers,
John

Advertisements