Monday, October 22, 2007

Hummingbird Photography Part 3 High Speed Flash.

Now that we have a basic understanding of Hummingbirds, and have them coming to a single spout feeder on a regular basis were ready for taking pictures.

Flash stops wing motion on this Rufous Hummingbidrd

The best way to get good depth of field and freeze the motion is with multiple high speed flashes, now don't think that just because your not willing to acquire five flashes and do a complicated setup means that you can't take good Hummingbird pictures, there are other techniques that can be used and we will get into them in later parts of this article.

First some flash basics.

Flash duration is quicker than shutter speed, so when using high speed flash what you are doing is using the flash duration to freeze the motion.

Closer the flash is to the subject, brighter the flash at the same power setting.

Closer the flash to the subject greater the light fall off.

Flash duration examples.

Nikon SB-800
1/1050 sec. at M1/1 (full)
1/1100 sec. at M1/2 output
1/2700 sec. at M1/4 output
1/5900 sec. at M1/8 output
1/10900 sec. at M1/16 output
1/17800 sec. at M1/32 output
1/32300 sec. at M1/64 output
1/41600 sec. at M1/128 output

Nikon SB-600
1/900 sec at m 1/1
1/1600 sec at m 1/2
1/3400 sec at m 1/4
1/6600 sec at m 1/8
1/11,100 sec at 1/16
1/20,000 sec at 1/32
1/25,000 sec at 1/64

Flash sync speed on modern cameras is 1/200 to 1/250 sec. some cameras and flash have an fp sync option but this is not what you will use for this since it is a reduced output setting that uses flash pulses, its not suitable for this type of setup and freezing motion.

As you can see even at full output the flash duration is up to four times quicker than flash sync speed, we will be trying for the 1/4 to 1/8th range.

At 1/8th power there won't be enough light so what we do is put the flashes closer, two to three feet away and use more of them, I think five is a good number, more can be used.

Basic setup.
f flash flash


flash flash


So thats two flashes on the background two at 45 degrees on the feeder and one on camera to trigger the other flashes and light up the gorget.

The background should be minimum five to six feet behind the feeder so it will blur out, we will get into background details later. If you have six flashes use one for a back light.

What we want in a flash.

We want Manual power control, optical flash trigger, decent battery power, four AA's, fast recyle time.

Sync cords can be used also but there a pain but I do use a combination of optical triggers and sync cords.

You can also use radio triggers, they have become inexpensive and don't rely on line of site, since this was first written that is what I have changed over too.

Flash and camera compatibility, older flashes and modern cameras don't mix very well and you can damage your camera if the trigger voltage is not compatible, so only use the manufactures recommended flash in the flash shoe or attached with a sync cord, when using optical triggers you don't have to worry about this since there is no direct contact with the camera.

Now you can go out and buy five of your camera manufactures flashes for example Nikon, SB-800 has built in optical slave called SU-4 compatibility, full manual control, sync socket, very nice flash but very expensive, it also has ittl fully automatic capability, but we wouldn't use it in this application because it uses preflashes for metering and communication and which will startle the bird and you will get a bunch of strange positions.
Photographing hummingbirds Anna's example

Now what about the SB-600 its costs less but it doesn't have optical slave capability, so this would have to be added.

Probably the ideal flash is the Nikon SB-26, there available used for $80-$100, full manual and built in optical slave, four AA's, perfect flash for this application.

Going down the scale, look at Vivitar 283 and 285, the 283 will Need the VP-1 module and a optical slave added, the 285 will need a optical slave.

Optical slave triggers.

These are sensors that detect the flash pulse and trigger the flash they are attached too, they can be attached to the flash with a hot shoe or sync socket.

Features to look for in an optical flash trigger, sync socket, swivel hotshoe, you want to be able to put the trigger pointing backwards from the direction the flash is pointing, this is very important or they can be a real pain, build quality, I like the ones that are filled with epoxy since you will drop them since there small and the flimsy ones will just break.

Wein is a top quality brand but I have bought most of mine on ebay.

High end trigger would be Pocket Wizards, there radio communication, really not needed for the short distances used here but if you have them already they should work great.

Just too update the flash information, SB-600's or SB-700's in manual su-4 mode and radio triggers would be a good way to go.
Laser trigger and studio lights hummingbird photography

You can also use studio lights like Einstein E640, they have a short duration mode, not all studio lights have the short duration of flashguns so they are not suitable.

The picture above was taken with the E640's and a laser trigger. Einstein's run the same price as a top end Nikon SB-910 and you don't need batteries, you plug them into the wall, you can run them off a battery back if your not close to power.

Light stands.

You will need something to mount everything on, light stands are the easiest to work with, just small light ones will be good for this application, you can use tripods, any one will work, you can buy hot shoes with 1/4" threaded socket in the bottom, these come with a sync cord attached also and these can be used for attaching optical slave triggers, your flash might have even come with a small stand that has a threaded hole, I use my older tripod heads also and there great for getting the exact angle.

There are fully adjustable flash brackets that are made for light stands also and these are ideal.

I also use quick clamps to attach flashes onto the lawn furniture, step ladders etc.

Camera settings, start at 1/200s, f11, iso 200.

You want to set the aperture so that if the flashes didn't fire the scene would be dark, if you shoot in the shade you can use a lower aperture, but you are so close and they are so small, to get a decent depth of field try for f11 to f16.

That covers the basics, I kept it brief and will gladly fill in any details, feel free to ask any questions.

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