Creating Light on a Dark Winter Day

February 18th, 2016

Earlier this week I went to Newport, Oregon to photograph a Mountain Plover. The weather forecast was for 10 to 25% chance of rain, but I knew if I was creative I could get a reasonably good image, as long as it didn’t rain too much.

The first thing was to understand that Mountain Plovers usually don’t run away, they’ll squat or “hide,” so getting close by moving slowly, staying low, etc. wasn’t going to be an issue. Here’s what the day looked like. You can see the band of gray sky, and general overcast/dull light the day had to offer. You can also see that I used an off camera flash and Better Beamer Flash Extender. The Mountain Plover is just in front of the camera lens, sitting in the sand trying to stay out of the wind and conserving energy. The tripod has it’s legs fully splayed, so it rests on the ground. I got as low as I could for these shots.

 

Iphone photo at 1/400 of a second, f/22 and ISO 22 no flash.

iPhone photo at 1/400 of a second, f/22 and ISO 32 no flash.

 

Here’s one of the images I created with the off camera flash.

Mountain Plover at 1/125 of a second, f/5.6 adn ISO 5000 with the Canon 5D Mark III and a 600 mm lens.

Mountain Plover at 1/125 of a second, f/5.6 and ISO 500 with the Canon 5D Mark III and a 600 mm lens.

By getting low to the ground I was able to not only get close to the bird, but also I could eliminate the background gray sky. The Flash unit with the Better Beamer also had a 1/8 power CTO (color temperature orange) gel on it. You can see how to set this up in a previous blog posting. The CTO gel warms up the light from the flash, without the CTO gel the light would be a daylight (or blue tone) light. The CTO gel creates an overall warm feeling for the image. The image now looks like it’s from a warm beach in nice afternoon light, and doesn’t look like the drab winter day it was.

 

Mountain Plover 1/200 of a second at f/5.6 and ISO 640. Canon 5D Mark III and a 600 mm lens and a 1.4 Extender and a 25 mm Extension Tube.

Mountain Plover 1/200 of a second at f/5.6 and ISO 640. Canon 5D Mark III and a 600 mm lens and a 1.4 Extender and a 25 mm Extension Tube.

 

More tips on how to do this:

The flash unit was set to -1 or -2 stops for two reasons, one it’s a light colored bird which reflects more light (don’t blow out or overexpose the whites on the sides and belly) and the closer the flash is to the subject, the lower power needed to get an accurate exposure.

I then made adjustments in camera (Exposure Compensation).  I shoot in AV or Aperture Priority Mode, so I added or subtracted light as needed to get the Histogram I want. I like to get the exposure data into, or close to halfway into the fifth section of the Histogram (on the right) of my Canon cameras.

There were also a group of four Snowy Plovers around and here’s an image of one of them. For the Snowy Plovers, I had to adjust the amount of light, so the images were not over-exposed. I decreased by 1 or more stops – subtracting light with Exposure Compensation.

 

Snowy Plover, 1/200 of a second at f/5.6 and ISO 500. Canon 5D mark III with a 600 mm lens a 1.4 Extender and a 25 mm Extension Tube.

Snowy Plover, 1/200 of a second at f/5.6 and ISO 500. Canon 5D Mark III with a 600 mm lens a 1.4 Extender and a 25 mm Extension Tube.

 

By adding external light and a little creative flash gel, I could make some pleasing images of the Snowy and Mountain Plovers.  I got the idea of adding CTO gels to my bird photography images while reading a Joe McNally book.  He’s the master of off-camera flash; I just applied his techniques to photographing birds. The big lesson I guess is even though it might be winter and gray skies in the Pacific Northwest, it’s still possible to create and make beautiful images.

 

Enjoy   Thanks   Tim

One comment on “Creating Light on a Dark Winter Day

  1. melissa says:

    Great post Tim and lovely results with the flash

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