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06-22-2010, 08:35 PM   #1
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Shooting in dark underwoods - Flash or not or else?

I have been trekking in a few deep wood trails lately, and I most often than not find myself in situations where there is just not enough light, even during zenith time.
Here's that small wren or a kinglet happily flying from one tree branch to another, just a few feet away but the darkness of the deep woods (no pun intented) has me crank the ISO way beyond 1000 ... even that often is not good enough, so I go ISO1250--1600, with the K20D. Lens used is a DA*300/4. Yes I know, I should have a F2.8 lens but the budget doesn't allow that at this time.
Any experienced nature photographers out there to guide me properly as to: should I use a falsh unit and, if so, what would be the IDEAL settings?
I have some half decent shots but the resulting noise is rather annoying. I hate having to do lots of PP.

Any help would be appreciated.

Cheers.

JP

06-22-2010, 08:56 PM   #2
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There are no ideal settings when using a flash. You'll need to play with it and get comfortable using it.

Google "Better Beamer". It's a very popular accessory that is a fresnel lens that sits a couple inches in front of the flash head and can throw your flash about 30 feet. Lots of wildlife photogs use it for birding.
06-22-2010, 09:02 PM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by alohadave Quote
There are no ideal settings when using a flash. You'll need to play with it and get comfortable using it.

Google "Better Beamer". It's a very popular accessory that is a fresnel lens that sits a couple inches in front of the flash head and can throw your flash about 30 feet. Lots of wildlife photogs use it for birding.
Hi Dave!

Problem is: those very small birds are usually seen rather close, (albeit in dark underwoods) such as three to ten feet away only. A Better Beamer would be an "overkill", don't you think?
JP
06-22-2010, 09:06 PM   #4
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I wouldn't consider myself a nature photographer but I've done a fair bit of shooting on nature trails.
I generally don't like the look of normal flash on either foliage or animals, and there's usually no surface you can bounce off.
I usually use a DA 50-135 for such outdoor nature shots - the f/2.8 helps me avoid using flash as much as possible, and the weather-sealing has been a saver many times.
If I have to use flash,
a) I switch to slow-speed synch to capture as much available light as I can
b) Put the flash exposure compensation to -ve to reduce the power. That way I get a more subtle effect on the flash.
c) Using flash around wild birds will scare them off. Try to avoid that.


Last edited by kittykat46; 06-22-2010 at 09:16 PM.
06-22-2010, 10:37 PM   #5
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JP,
Perhaps you've already tried this, but i found that LR3 NR gave my K20 new capabilities in the low light arena. For live plays, i no longer hesitate to put my mode on TAV and let auto ISO take it up to 3200 iso. I even pushed one shot to 6400 ISO pp, and recovered it with Denoise4. I also use Gordon B Good's magenta removing software.

don't know if the results would be acceptable to a birder.
06-23-2010, 05:02 AM   #6
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Get a K-x.

Rainbow Lorikeet - 3200 ISO at f8, on a heavily overcast day.



Butcherbird , ANOTHER overcast day, 1600 ISO, f10


Magpie under shelter, 6400 ISO f4.5


I never use flash.

The NR solutions others have proposed will do the job of course but require quite a PP workload.
06-23-2010, 05:16 AM   #7
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for me the use of flash is one of the tools I always consider.

I have posted this shot many many times, but it serves as an excellent example of what can be achieved.



this was shot with my *istD, at ISO 400, with a SMC-Pentax 300mmF4 lens plus 1.7x AF TC.

I used TTL flash which the *istD supports, and shot with manual exposure, set to about -2 stops, with the natural light, the flash then highlights the subject and the background falls off into the dark shadows.

Depending on lenses and cameras, you can't always take this shot because only the *istD and DS support TTL flash, making older lenses very useful on these bodies.

I also use my other newer bodies (K10 and K7) with my sigma 70-200F2.8 and any combination of 1.4 and 2x sigma TCs with flash, in similar conditions.

Flash freezes the subject, with durations at around 1/1000. clearly you can't get the light for that kind of shutter speed any other way.

flash is also not that disturbing to birds, it is like lightning, or bright reflections.

As for equipment, I use Pentax flashes, AF500FTZ on the *istD and AF540FGZ on the K10 and K7.

I have better beamers for both, but generally don't use these on small birds. The chickadee was shot at almost the minimum focus distance for the 300F4, (about 15 feet) and at that distance, no flash focusing aid was needed to get the illumination. I use the better beamer for bigger birds like herons, where due to the size of the bird, you are naturally further away, and since flash falls off badly with distance, the better beamers help.

I also consider boosting ISO. You will note that my shot with the *istD was at 400 ISO not the base 200. I tested the camera when I gfot it and determined there was virtually no loss of IQ by shooting at 400ISO over 200, so for long lenses I shot at 400.

I have shot without flash up to 1600 ISO on my K10D and K7D and posted those results also. You shoot with what you have, if you don't have a flash handy, push the ISO, if you have a flash, use it.

Fast lenses don't alays make the shot, because you need to stop down for depth of field occasionally,, and best IQ is usually stopped down 1-2 stops, although my SIGMA APO 70-200F2.8 EX (non DG non macro) is a great performer wide open

Last edited by Lowell Goudge; 06-23-2010 at 05:26 AM.
06-23-2010, 10:24 AM   #8
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Hi Jacques,

I'll just echo everything that Lowell wrote, especially the part about flash not scaring birds away -- they don't even seem to notice it, in my experience.

I've used TTL, P-TTL, and manual settings, and although I like flash automation, P-TTL seems to struggle at any significant distance -- I think this is a combination of the preflash being too weak to get a reasonable meter reading, and the fact that the preflash detracts from the max power of the main flash. I'm thinking that P-TTL might work better at higher ISO settings to extend the range, but haven't really tried it. . . Higher ISO compatibility is something of a problem with TTL, but I've had some success shooting the DS and AF 500 FTZ shooting beyond the recommended ISO settings. I've also shot a bit with the flash on manual/max with a Better Beamer, and experimented with camera settings, but I've not enough experience to do this well. . .

At the distances that you're talking about, I would think that P-TTL would work fine, and even the popup flash might be useful -- especially at higher ISO, using slower shutter speeds to increase the ambient light contribution to the exposure.

My use of flash for birds is limited, so take this for what it's worth. . . but in my case, my first goal would be to get any acceptable shot, and I'd worry about the quality of the lighting only after I've gotten some experience using the flash.

That being said, I've used Topaz Denoise for a couple of years now, and v4 gives outstanding (actually amazing) results with the K20 and K-7 at 3200-4000, but it's very slow. . . luckily, I don't process a lot of pics right away though I take quite a few (I leave most of the PP of near duplicate poses for the winter, when I'm not shooting much)-- this might be an alternative. I've also heard that Lightroom 3 is very good for noise reduction, but I can't imagine it being better than TD4.

Scott

06-24-2010, 06:05 PM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by kittykat46 Quote
I wouldn't consider myself a nature photographer but I've done a fair bit of shooting on nature trails.
I generally don't like the look of normal flash on either foliage or animals, and there's usually no surface you can bounce off.
I usually use a DA 50-135 for such outdoor nature shots - the f/2.8 helps me avoid using flash as much as possible, and the weather-sealing has been a saver many times.
If I have to use flash,
a) I switch to slow-speed synch to capture as much available light as I can
b) Put the flash exposure compensation to -ve to reduce the power. That way I get a more subtle effect on the flash.
c) Using flash around wild birds will scare them off. Try to avoid that.
Yes, the flash would scare them off, I agree.
Maybe I shouldn't have asked the question in the first place, because, really, I went back to the same trail today and didn't even think of the flash.
I suppose I could take my other lens instead (f2.8), get closer and try that out. Why in the world didn't I think about that first, before asking around!
Thanks for the hint though; that technique can always be applied to other-than-wildlife photo.

Cheers!

JP
06-24-2010, 06:10 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by philbaum Quote
JP,
Perhaps you've already tried this, but i found that LR3 NR gave my K20 new capabilities in the low light arena. For live plays, i no longer hesitate to put my mode on TAV and let auto ISO take it up to 3200 iso. I even pushed one shot to 6400 ISO pp, and recovered it with Denoise4. I also use Gordon B Good's magenta removing software.

don't know if the results would be acceptable to a birder.
Hi Phil!

Sure, cranking up the ISO beyond 1250 (my max attempts up to now) would be ideal. How do you get this software for magenta removing? And, must you use Denoise or would another NR software work, such as NoisewarePro?
That way, I wouldn't be afraid to use ISO1600 and up.
Much better than to use the flash, as I can understand.

Cheers.

JP
06-24-2010, 06:12 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by rawr Quote
Get a K-x.

I never use flash.

The NR solutions others have proposed will do the job of course but require quite a PP workload.
I don't intend to buy a Kx, although this would likely solve some of the problems with high ISO shooting.
I appreciate your thoughts, and your pics are really good too!

JP
06-24-2010, 07:11 PM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by jpzk Quote
I don't intend to buy a Kx, although this would likely solve some of the problems with high ISO shooting.
I appreciate your thoughts, and your pics are really good too!

JP
K7 works well also, as you can see below ISO 1600 at 1/40th with a 500mm lens

but again, flash does not scare birds, they come and go as they please



To be short and sweat about it, I use what ever I can to get a shot. If I don't have a flash with me, I push ISO, and rely on shake reduction to do it, but for that to work, you need a steady subject like my heron, because regardless of ISO and shake reduction, at 1/40 if it were to move, you would see the image blurred.


Someone asked about removing the purple fringe, I did not remove the artifacts from my heron, which was shot using an SMC-K 300F4 plus 1.7x AF TC, but it is relitively simple to achieve with any good photo editor and the CA removal tools. the purple fringe tool does not do enough because true purple fringing from bleeding sensor to sensor has a very small impacted pixel radius, CA like in the shot Iposted needs a larger radius.

I use PSP X3 which has a very good tool.
Flash is best for shots of little birds because they move about and unless you are in bright sunlight, you cant get teh shutter speed to freeze them. Bigger birds don;t move as much so you can do other types of shots

Last edited by Lowell Goudge; 06-24-2010 at 07:25 PM.
06-24-2010, 11:06 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by jpzk Quote
I don't intend to buy a Kx, although this would likely solve some of the problems with high ISO shooting.
I appreciate your thoughts, and your pics are really good too!

JP
Thanks!

The K-x suggestion was said with a smiley, but the K-x does does indeed solve some problems when birding in poor light.

Another image contribution to the discussion: this pigeon was just emerging from it's nest deep in a thicket of bottle-brushes and grevilleas. It was cloudy and raining too, as you can see from the rain drops on the bird. Light was terrible. K-x @3200 ISO.

06-25-2010, 07:33 AM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by Lowell Goudge Quote
for me the use of flash is one of the tools I always consider.

I have posted this shot many many times, but it serves as an excellent example of what can be achieved.



this was shot with my *istD, at ISO 400, with a SMC-Pentax 300mmF4 lens plus 1.7x AF TC.

I used TTL flash which the *istD supports, and shot with manual exposure, set to about -2 stops, with the natural light, the flash then highlights the subject and the background falls off into the dark shadows.

Depending on lenses and cameras, you can't always take this shot because only the *istD and DS support TTL flash, making older lenses very useful on these bodies.

I also use my other newer bodies (K10 and K7) with my sigma 70-200F2.8 and any combination of 1.4 and 2x sigma TCs with flash, in similar conditions.

Flash freezes the subject, with durations at around 1/1000. clearly you can't get the light for that kind of shutter speed any other way.

flash is also not that disturbing to birds, it is like lightning, or bright reflections.

As for equipment, I use Pentax flashes, AF500FTZ on the *istD and AF540FGZ on the K10 and K7.

I have better beamers for both, but generally don't use these on small birds. The chickadee was shot at almost the minimum focus distance for the 300F4, (about 15 feet) and at that distance, no flash focusing aid was needed to get the illumination. I use the better beamer for bigger birds like herons, where due to the size of the bird, you are naturally further away, and since flash falls off badly with distance, the better beamers help.

I also consider boosting ISO. You will note that my shot with the *istD was at 400 ISO not the base 200. I tested the camera when I gfot it and determined there was virtually no loss of IQ by shooting at 400ISO over 200, so for long lenses I shot at 400.

I have shot without flash up to 1600 ISO on my K10D and K7D and posted those results also. You shoot with what you have, if you don't have a flash handy, push the ISO, if you have a flash, use it.

Fast lenses don't alays make the shot, because you need to stop down for depth of field occasionally,, and best IQ is usually stopped down 1-2 stops, although my SIGMA APO 70-200F2.8 EX (non DG non macro) is a great performer wide open
Thanks for the reply, Lowell.
So, next time out in the underworld of nature, I will take the flash and test a few shots. Plenty of small things other than birds to practice with out there. At least, I will have a better idea of what to expect if I ever need to use it for birding.

JP
06-25-2010, 07:38 AM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by snostorm Quote
Hi Jacques,

I'll just echo everything that Lowell wrote, especially the part about flash not scaring birds away -- they don't even seem to notice it, in my experience.

I've used TTL, P-TTL, and manual settings, and although I like flash automation, P-TTL seems to struggle at any significant distance -- I think this is a combination of the preflash being too weak to get a reasonable meter reading, and the fact that the preflash detracts from the max power of the main flash. I'm thinking that P-TTL might work better at higher ISO settings to extend the range, but haven't really tried it. . . Higher ISO compatibility is something of a problem with TTL, but I've had some success shooting the DS and AF 500 FTZ shooting beyond the recommended ISO settings. I've also shot a bit with the flash on manual/max with a Better Beamer, and experimented with camera settings, but I've not enough experience to do this well. . .

At the distances that you're talking about, I would think that P-TTL would work fine, and even the popup flash might be useful -- especially at higher ISO, using slower shutter speeds to increase the ambient light contribution to the exposure.

My use of flash for birds is limited, so take this for what it's worth. . . but in my case, my first goal would be to get any acceptable shot, and I'd worry about the quality of the lighting only after I've gotten some experience using the flash.

That being said, I've used Topaz Denoise for a couple of years now, and v4 gives outstanding (actually amazing) results with the K20 and K-7 at 3200-4000, but it's very slow. . . luckily, I don't process a lot of pics right away though I take quite a few (I leave most of the PP of near duplicate poses for the winter, when I'm not shooting much)-- this might be an alternative. I've also heard that Lightroom 3 is very good for noise reduction, but I can't imagine it being better than TD4.

Scott
Thanks Scott.
I suppose I should at least get a trial version of TDnoise and see for myself what it is capable of. I find myself shooting at higher and higher ISO these days, because I really need the shutter speed. Also, and because of that, I have "sort of" neglected my K7 in favour of my K20D for darker lighting situations.
If Denoise can work that well, I just might go ahead and take the K7 again "in the dark".

JP
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