In my never ending quest to get some good shots of the Warblers, here in Florida. I have been trying to use my flash. In a nutshell, most of these guys are in trees or bushes with little light or very uneven light. I have been trying to use my flash with my D800 and the newer 80-400mm or my 300f2.8 and a 1.7 teleconverter. My question is simply this. Does anyone have any advice or tips for this situation and equipment. I see a lot of people using the flash with a beamer. I too have the beamer. I guess I just need some practice and a little guidance. Any help? Thanks.
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#1. "RE: Birds and the SB910" | In response to Reply # 0
Arkayem Charter MemberWed 24-Apr-13 01:46 PM
>In my never ending quest to get some good shots of the
>Warblers, here in Florida. I have been trying to use my
>flash. In a nutshell, most of these guys are in trees or
>bushes with little light or very uneven light. I have been
>trying to use my flash with my D800 and the newer 80-400mm or
>my 300f2.8 and a 1.7 teleconverter. My question is simply
>this. Does anyone have any advice or tips for this situation
>and equipment. I see a lot of people using the flash with a
>beamer. I too have the beamer. I guess I just need some
>practice and a little guidance. Any help? Thanks.
I'm not an expert on birding, but my best bird shots have come from positioning the flash near the birds, and triggering it wirelessly from my camera. Then the flash will completely light the bird in its dark place. Wireless CLS will work for about 50 feet using regular TTL if you are very careful to aim the small round red IR window at your camera so the Commander has a direct line-of-sight path.
SU-4 mode will work a little farther than 50 feet, but then you have to set the power of the flash Manually on the back of the flash. TTL is usually best when the birds are moving around and changing distance to the flash all the time. Manual flash can work well if the birds are at a feeder, so they stay close to the same distance to the flash.
Russell MacDonald Photography
Nikon CLS Practical Guide
#2. "RE: Birds and the SB910" | In response to Reply # 0
blw Nikonian since 18th Jun 2004Fri 26-Apr-13 08:39 AM
There are two different reasons for using flash with birds. One is just basic light. The other, primarily for the more colorful birds, is to get the feathers to "pop." Most of the flashy feathers need a fair amount of light to be showy, but if you shoot those birds in the shade, they sometimes look dull to the point of unrealism, even if the exposure is correct. In those cases, even a small amount of flash (say, at -1 stops flash EV) will provide a remarkably better image.
For the first case, of simply adding light for exposure or fill purposes, a Better Beamer is often useful when shooting with long lenses (and 500mm certainly qualifies). All the beamer does is to concentrate the beam, so that it doesn't spread out as it travels further from the source. Thus the same flash pulse lights the subject at a further distance. There is not much to using the beamer; you assemble it and put the fresnel in front of the flash tube and go from there.
Like all flash, at least on Nikon, use TTL flash if you are using the flash as the primary illumination. Use TTL-BL if the flash is used for fill, with the primary illumination coming from other sources.
Brian... a bicoastal Nikonian and Team Member
My gallery is online. Comments and critique welcomed any time!
#3. "RE: Birds and the SB910" | In response to Reply # 0
Fri 26-Apr-13 03:19 PM | edited Fri 26-Apr-13 03:31 PM by nrothschild
I use a Better Beamer on an SB-800 with a Wimberly flash bracket on a Wimberly Gimbal. Using D300 (or perhaps D700) and mostly a 500/4 AFS working 700mm. I have a 300/2.8 but started using flash heavily after I got the 500 so I have not shot much wildlife flash work with that lens.
The first thing you need to do is make sure the beam is aligned to the field of view. At 500mm, the circle of illumination can easily fall outside the frame.
If you put a flash in the hot shoe, the flash is angled slightly down, presumably to center the circle of illumination at a distance of somewhere like 5-20 feet, which is a typical flash distance. That angle was not optimized for the distances we birders shoot, and certainly not at 500mm or more.
The Wimberly bracket can be configured to adjust that flash angle +/- 5 degrees, I think, or it can lock it dead level. At the start of each day I check that flash angle with a few test shots.
I would suggest you test your flash, with the beamer, using your 80-400. Go outside very early or late in the day, when a relatively wide aperture will give you a very LOW ambient exposure.
(edit: you want an exposure something like f/8 1/250s ISO 400. At the selected manual exposure, you want the ambient light to be at least 1.5 and preferably 2 stops less than the camera exposure, such that the flash illumination circle is blatantly obvious. If you stop down too much to underexpose ambient you won't throw enough light far enough for the test. Make sense?)
Shoot the side of a building, standing perpendicular to a wall (your house is good if you have a ground level wall). Use a distance consistent with the distances you typically shoot your birds (I suspect 35 feet or so???). Somewhere between 100-200mm FX the circle of illumination will be very obvious, no matter how off the angle is. That gives you an idea of how the flash is centered.
When you get that settled you can increase the focal length slowly, up to 400mm. THis will give you a better handle on the beam spread.
Don't forget that the flash should be set to 50mm focal length for best results. If you let it default to 200mm or so, as it likely will, you lose some flash power. With my SB-800 I lose a good half stop, the current flashes have a tighter max focal length pattern and will behave differently.
I use a full Wimberly gimbal because it will reasonably well balance a heavy long lens like my 500/4, on the gimbal, by lowering the clamp platform as low as possible.
A flash bracket that raises the flash will NOT balance on a side loaded gimbal like a Sidekick. That because the flash sits high, raising the center of gravity. The result is that the lens will either rise or sink, it will never stay level without locking down.
My whole setup is a system engineered to make that flash and flash bracket work. With a lighter lens like the 80-400 I am not sure it would balance well even in a Wimberly. Now, I use an extra extender on my Wimberly (getting the flash about 10" above the hot shoe). With a smaller lens you will probably want to only use one riser module, not 2 like I do. But you can experiment with that.
The Wimberly bracket can be used on a ball head if you are using Arca-Swiss clamps and plates. You may need a "double dovetail" plate like an RRS or Wimberly to do that, depending on your lens and plate, and etc.
All the above gets you a system that results in a well placed circle of light, which is critical at the distances we work. I can throw some light up to 150 feet, but certainly not at full effective flash power.
Exposure is a different can of worms. I do different things depending on the circumstances but typically I shoot iTTL flash, in Fp mode in case I have to shoot above 1/250s.
Interestingly, when shooting Warblers and other small songbirds I rarely get opportunities in full light. Most of my shots are a manual ambient exposure at 1/250s F/8 ISO 400.
I call that my "magic flash exposure" because it constitutes so much of my shooting. If the bird comes out in full sunlight I have to roll the shutter speed up to compensate. So I always have to be aware of my exposure meter as I chase birds.
I'm not sure if that is the best method or a method I would recommend, but that is what I do.
You might try shutter priority if you don't want to do that. If you are at 1/250s and the bird goes into bright light, you end with some ridiculous aperture like f/20 instead of a totally overblown image. But f/20 is probably a lesser evil.
If you shoot Aperture priority your shutter speeds will probably go too low in the shade, which is why I do not use it for flash birding.
I do most of my birding with a D300. That camera either does not work at all in "Auto ISO" mode with flash, or it does something I find nonsensical (I forget which). And in thinking about it, since there are two separate and distinct exposures I'm not sure how the camera would or could deal with it. But as I recall later bodies like the D800 may have better algorithms. I don't recall the details.
Some sort of Auto ISO would probably be ideal, assuming the algorithm made sense for this very niche flash application. But without that I just try to use manual exposure and keep up with the meter as I frantically chase my birds .
As a general rule, the more light on the bird the more you can reduce flash exposure compensation (FEC), and the better the results. If the flash is the main light source you cannot do that without getting a commensurately underexposed image.
As a result of this, I tend to reduce the flash level (with progressively greater minus FEC) as the light rises, and reduce the flash com as the light lowers. As best I can, time permitting.
In all cases I am usually at least -1/3eV FEC. I go as low as 1 1/3 and even up to -2 full stops when I just need a kiss of light to bring up shadows.
The biggest problem with flash is that a certain percentage of birds will not tolerate it and will flush after the first frame. I recently had one flush just on the pre-flash, such that my first image was an escaping bird .
I figure about 30% or so will not tolerate a flash. Feeder birds will quickly learn to tolerate it but birds in the wild are usually not giving us that opportunity.
If you are shooting with other birders, and especially other photographers that are not using flash, you may end up with serious political problems if you use flash and flush an important bird. Just a forewarning. And don't ask me how I know that . (happened recently on a fairly rare and important bird).
If you have a back yard, setting up some feeders is a good way to practice and develop a strategy. Especially if you can put the feeder near a tree, such that you get perching feeder birds in and out of the shadows, just like you find them in the wild.
my Nikonians gallery.
#4. "RE: Birds and the SB910" | In response to Reply # 3
#5. "RE: Birds and the SB910" | In response to Reply # 4
Fri 26-Apr-13 11:07 PM
You're welcome! Glad to help. Feel free to post back with any questions.
A couple things I did not cover on the beamer:
The beamer comes with a velcro shim that fits on the lower "elbow" joint. My instructions said to stick it there but did not say why I needed it . Mine is probably 8 years old.
If you are attaching the flash to the hot shoe and you need to raise the angle as I mentioned above, build a couple of velcro shim strips. One mating single layer strip, and a double layer. The double layer can be made by pressing two together at the self adhesive backing (or glued if your velcro strip doesn't have self adhesive backs.
The single or double layer should do it. You can make a 3rd layer with a single layer that mates to the double layer strip.
Check the shim at each outing with test flashes. I found some days it needed one and some days the other. Also the shims may compress with use.
Heed the warnings on the instructions and be very careful aiming the beamer anywhere near the sun. Unlike lenses, it focuses light well off axis. If it is aimed below the sun it will melt holes in the flash housing or IR lens and your flash will look like mine . I've melted holes while carrying it, by having it face the sun over my shoulder (as I show in my avatar).
My SB-800 only focuses down to a 100mm pattern. I think the later flashes like SB-910 focus down to 200mm or so? The beamer focuses to 250-300mm or so, and may have a good tighter optional pattern, so you may not get as much benefit with it. Not having a newer flash I can't go any further except to suggest testing it to make sure it is worth the hassle.
my Nikonians gallery.
#6. "RE: Birds and the SB910" | In response to Reply # 3
Wed 01-May-13 04:16 PM
Thanks Neil for that Information
As I stated on another thread I'm waiting for my 500mm and the flash bracket to arrive.
I thought I'd just stick the SB-800 on the bracket, dress it with the better beamer and I was all ready to rock and roll!!!!!!
BTW, how to you connect the flash to your camera? do you use a cord? (SC 29??)- I'm thinking of mounting it on a PocketWizard Felx unit to avoid cords ...... what do you think?
Thanks in advance!
#7. "RE: Birds and the SB910" | In response to Reply # 6
Wed 01-May-13 05:10 PM
I use the SC-29 cord and I would advise you to spend the money for a Nikon cord. I have beat mine to death for years and it still works. In a general way, aftermarket parts tend to be built to a price point and skimp on things like robust strain relief.
I'm not dissing any particular aftermarket cord. I have not used any. I'm just making a general comment based on my purchases of things like RF and corded remotes. I always got the robustness I paid for (not much!).
You almost surely will have to make an additional order to get this working.
You will need to mount your speedlight to the M3 tilt arm. I think that arm is machined to hold a Canon cord, similar to an SC-29, directly. Wimberly sells an FA-11 adapter that has the machining for the Nikon SC-29 cord.
I do not own any Pocket Wizard gear or any other RF flash communicators.
To get this out of the way - I would not use the Speedlight CLS wireless even if there were a way to directly connect the speed light to the M3 module. Mainly because of the fickleness of CLS flash communication in broad daylight where this is often used, as well as the position of the speedlight high over the camera, and about a foot in front.
Since Pocket Wizard uses RF there should not be a communication issue. However, you need to mate the device (with the hot shoe) that holds the speedlight in place to the M3. You would have to talk to Wimberly about that.
Personally, I would not use a Pocket Wizard, even if I owned one, for these reasons, all of which conspire to suggest the SC-29 is a better solution...
1. An SC-29 is 80 bucks. A pocket wizard setup is... too many hundreds of bucks for poor me to own one.
2. The cord, and more importantly, the speedlight hot shoe get tremendous abuse out in the field.
If you work trails that go through the woods, you have a very high profile and the speedlight tends to get caught on things. It tends to be out of sight and perhaps out of mind. This is why I suggest getting the real deal SC-29 (aimed at those that like aftermarket parts when it makes sense)
Honestly, I am amazed my SC-29 still works, and the speedlight hot shoe is still fully intact and functional. I've thought about buying a spare SC-29. I have a couple extra SB-800s so I'm covered there although I would be very unhappy to break one.
If something breaks, I suspect an SC-29 replacement is the cheapest "repair", relative to replacing a Pocket Wizard transmitter.
3. I think a simple wire with connectors on both ends is far more reliable than a complex contraption that uses a couple sets of batteries, and perhaps more stuff to set up.
It's mentally and physically hard enough just chasing birds, finding them, and not blowing the exposure, focus or adding camera shake . Personally I am task loaded enough. This is philosophical of course, and you may rightly feel differently and think I'm just a mental wimp ..
If you do badly catch the speedlight on a branch, and keep going, something may break. If it's the SB-910 then all the above was pointless . But no sense adding potential repair costs and unneeded complexity.
The one problem I have had with the SC-29 is that internal screws that hold the hot shoe plate to the SC-29 top have twice come loose. So if you hear something rattling around in the inside top unit, or the hot shoe plate seems loose, remove the 4 screws and lift the case piece off, and reinsert or tighten the screw, and the other 3 while you are at it.
I just had my second round of that. But it's only a 10 minute job every 50 outings.
Also, if you do not have some now, get some 2" wide self adhesive velcro - preferably a long roll. You will likely have to replace the velcro that mates the Better Beamer Fresnel lens to the side arms. And if you find a good cement to attach it more permanently, let me know. After several years of hard use this is almost a weekly job with me.
And if you find yourself relying on it like I do, a backup Fresnel Lens or two is a good idea too- they can split, and go brittle over time. NSN sells them for 10 bucks each. I replaced my original this year (with a pair) after it split in 3 or 4 places. It had also discolored, which is probably not good for the light. It was little used for 5 years or more so perhaps it was time that took its toll.
I'll be curious to know how relatively effective the Beamer is, verses just running the tightest possible pattern on the SB-910. How many stops you gain. I know what it does on the SB-800 but that light is inherently less efficient with these very long lenses, only focusing to 105mm.
You might want to reply with a list of Wimberly modules you bought, before you likely order that FA-11. I can make sure it all makes sense and nothing else is missing.
my Nikonians gallery.
#8. "RE: Birds and the SB910" | In response to Reply # 7
Thu 02-May-13 03:09 AM | edited Thu 02-May-13 03:09 AM by Fovea
You've saved me more than few bucks over the last few years and I think I owe you few beers
Thank you so much for your informative reply my friend!
I don't have SB-910, may be you've got that idea because I hijacked someone else's thread ... apologies to the original poster!
I have four SB800s and three SB600 units. I have Seven PocketWizard flex units, a PocketWizard mini with and an AC3 controller for each of those Nikon speedlights. So when it comes to PocketWizards there's no start up cost.
I did look at the FA-11 but decided not to buy it for couple of reasons. My order at the time, including shipping was very close to $1000, which was the tax free threshold to Australia and I wanted to try out the PocketWizards I already had.
I bought the Wimberley WIF6 side kick flash bracket(M1&M3?) and an AP-554 foot. I also bought the Visual Echoes VIFX4 extender as well.
I think I'll be asking you many many questions over the next few weeks.
#9. "RE: Birds and the SB910" | In response to Reply # 8
Thu 02-May-13 11:30 AM | edited Thu 02-May-13 11:42 AM by nrothschild
Yea, I confused threads and who started what and who is shooting what speed light:-). And apologies to Joe, but this info may be generally helpful and I suspect you are not the first one to think about ditching the SC-29 cord and I understand the motivation.
I just think it is a worse evil than the cord, which has never been a problem in the real world for me. I probably should have switched back to your Tripods thread. But we are here
If you walk trails like me, you may have a long term problem of destroying the Flex unit, depending on how tough you are, or careless, or frustrated, or whatever. But if you shoot out in the open at the edge of refuge impoundments, you may not have that problem. I focused on that long term issue but...
Here is your first challenge. This is the M3 bracket on which you must screw the Pocket Wizard Receiver:
Notice that the top of the bracket, just above the 1/4" thumb screw, is not flat. It steps down. That is where the bottom of the FA-11 mates to the bracket. The top of the FA-11 bolts to the hot shoe box on the SC-29 cord.
They didn't do that to force you to buy another $10 part. The beamer throws a light circle roughly 4-6 degrees in diameter, corresponding to a focal length of 200-300mm on FX. I do not recall the exact number I tested but it's somewhere in that region.
At 500mm FX, you need a light circle of 2.7 degrees. You have only about a 2 degree margin of error- that requires precision. If you exceed that, you either get no light at all, or uneven light, or in the field, as you chimp images, you get the uncomfortable sense that the beamer just isn't putting out the light it should.
It can be very confusing. I typically shoot a wide tree trunk in shade, or maybe a thick bush in shade, something that lets me do the equivalent of the wall test I mentioned earlier. But if you are on the edge of an impoundment (a pond, or open water), you may not have any good test targets. After getting the thing aligned properly you do not want it to shift or change. That is critical to the following.
Back to the M3. I do not know what the bottom of the Flex unit looks like, where it presumably has a 1/4" thread for attachment to light stands and etc. But I presume it is rather flat.
Your first challenge is simply getting it bolted to the M3. You might need to go to a hardware store and find a longer bolt because I do not think there is enough thread in the supplied bolt to securely attach to something laying on top of those steps. You may need to cut down a stock bolt to a precise length.
Now, somehow you have it bolted on. Your final challenge is alignment. Not only do you have to align the beamer vertically, for which the flash bracket is designed to do, but you also have to align the light horizontally.
The reason for the steps, and the custom FA-11 bracket for the SC-29, is that the FA-11 wraps around the SC-29 head such that the SC-29 must face directly forward. The FA-11, in turn, is nestled in one of those steps such that it is facing directly forward. Thus, with an SC-29 it is impossible to end up with a horizontal alignment problem.
With your Pocket Wizard, I think you will have quite a challenge setting horizontal alignment, and keeping it aligned horizontally, assuming you can even bolt it down at all.
And depending on the replacement bolt you use, assuming the stock thumb screw is not long enough, it may be very cumbersome to make fine adjustments and you may need to carry a tool to tighten and loosen that bolt.
Note: if, with the supplied thumb screw, the Pocket Wizard is "hanging by a thread", with only a turn or so of threads engaged, just remember you have about USD $800 or so sitting on top of that bolt and you do not want it toppling over while you walk the trails or whatever. At best you will be picking up your expensive bread crumb some time later since when walking the flash is usually behind your head, out of sight and out of mind.
Earlier in this thread, I suggested, for training purposes, to first use the beamer and flash bracket on a short focal length lens in order to visualize the size of the beam and how to do these adjustments.
When out in the field, you may not have such a suitable lens with you, and if you do, you will not want to be swapping lenses around just to get the beamer aligned. I can tell you from long experience that doing it at 500 or 700 or 850mm can be a challenge until you have done it a few times. It is easy to get "lost" and be unsure where the beam is actually aimed. Because of that, I think having to align that thing in two different axis will be problematic. I would not want to do that.
And finally, if you are going to use this on a Sidekick, be aware that it will be almost impossible to let go of your lens with the gimbal loose without the lens either tipping up or down.
The sidekick assumes that the foot is attached to the lens at the vertical center of gravity. Putting a flash 10" up from the lens will put the center of gravity well above the gimbal pivot, and thus you cannot balance the lens, except possibly when it is aimed perfectly straight forward. The lens keeps going in whatever direction it is aimed.
That extension arm will exaggerate the problem because it just offsets the center of gravity further.
That is why I went to a full Wimberly, and I have talked about this problem whenever discussing Sidekick vs full Wimberly.
As an aside, in the M1 manual they talk about the "beanbag setup", or sometimes they call it the "snow shoe setup" I think. You need 2 M1's. I have the pair, and I shoot from my car window from time to time on a beanbag, or on occasion from the ground or my vehicle hood on a bean bag.
That is a very effective solution to a couple of problems related to laying such a large lens on a bean bag, regardless of where you shoot it. I mention it because you are half way there with the first M1.
Attachment #1, (jpg file)
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#10. "RE: Birds and the SB910" | In response to Reply # 9
Sun 05-May-13 05:24 PM
Thank you so much again Neil
If nothing else has, the" $800 breadcrumb" has convinced me to conform
Your explanation about the M3 socket shape is very clear and detailed as usual - thank you!
I' found a brand called vello that I might try out. If I decide to buy that I'll post my impressions here
#11. "RE: Birds and the SB910" | In response to Reply # 10
Mon 06-May-13 03:05 PM | edited Mon 06-May-13 03:09 PM by nrothschild
Let us know how it works out.
One caution about the Vello, or any other 3rd party cord. The FA-11 is machined specifically for the SC-29 hot shoe head. The FA-11 will need to fit snugly in order to keep the alignment straight. And if the Vello is physically larger than the Nikon it won't fit at all.
As long as it doesn't fall apart while in use it is a cheap enough experiment assuming you can source it locally and avoid int'l shipping expenses. I looked at a few Amazon reviews and was surprised not to see complaints about build quality. Just because I expect that any time *I* try to save money
Edit: Vello seems to have made a different size hot shoe head for each camera make, and I guess that is a good sign. Hopefully they copied the size exactly. Maybe they have to in order to generally accommodate the flash brackets out there? I never made of study of that
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