Sunday, March 1, 2015

More On-Camera Fill Part 2

Photo #1
I discussed some of the accessory flash options that are available should you need to add some speedlight magic to your outdoor photography. While the emphasis has been on accessory (hot shoe) flash options, you should also remember that most digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras have a pop-up flash that can help out in a pinch (Photo #1, left). Obviously, it's always available, but has some serious shortcomings. First, its proximity to the lens axis produces nearly shadowless lighting and some unflattering hot spots on your subject's face. Secondly, it's use is limited to the designated maximum flash synchronization speed, which in the case of the D50/D70/D40 class of Nikon DSLR means 1/500 of a second. Lastly, lenses significantly larger than the usual kit lens will cast a shadow on your subject. Granted, there are other uses for the popup, but I consider it the fill light of the last resort.

The second speedlight in the lineup (Photo #1, center) is the Nikon SB-30. Compact and versatile, it provides adequate fill light at short distances and has a very basic SU-4 (optical slave) capability. Due to its construction, it is impractical to attempt to neuter it, but may be workable if a MPEX Universal Translator is placed between it and the shot shoe. Right now my two Translators are hiding from me, so I can be absolutely sure this would work. (Update 3/03: It works!)

Last in the lineup (Photo #1, right) is a neutered Nikon SB-26. When used with an SD-8 battery pack, it really shines, allowing for rapid follow-up shots. And because I removed the Speedlight Ready contact, I can actually use Aperture Priority outdoors for some even lighting.

Photo #2
You can clearly see from the composite photo that the SB-26 places the flash tube higher than the other two options. At close range (under 7 feet) this should eliminate red-eye and, when used as a primary light source and even provide some "modeling" (giving a two dimensional photo the illusion of three dimensionality) by creating some visible shadows. But be careful. Even shoe mounted flashes like the SB-26 or SB-800 aren't tall enough to eliminate red eye at longer distances, even when used outdoors. In my enhanced photo of a roadkill-eating red squirrel (Photo #2), shot at a distance of about fifteen feet, you can see what could happen.

Photo #3
You can improve the modeling of your on-camera flash by raising it still higher. While this can be done with a flash bracket, there are inexpensive attachments that can help in this regard. The Gary Fong Lightsphere is commonly used for this purpose, but because of its "light everywhere" design, it's better suited for indoor shooting where you may actually capture some of the ricocheting ceiling and wall light to soften the shadows. But outdoors, the Light Sphere just wastes light. A better option is the Lumiquest 80/20 with an accessory silver insert attached (Photo #3). It attaches with adhesive Velcro (fuzzy side on the flash) or with a Lumaquest Ultra Strap. Some advise: add a rubber hair band to give the Velcro some help.

One other thing: The 80/20 (the Pocket Bouncer and the Ultra Soft are essentially the same thing) not only elevates the light farther away from the lens axis but also won't obstruct the sensor's view of the world. I've carried an Ultra Soft in my camera bag for years, but was always able to find a convenient wall as a bounce surface for my flash. Now, suitably armored and armed with a neutered SB-26 or SB-28, an SD-8 battery pack, and my trusty Nikon D70S, I'm ready to photograph some convenient windmills.