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Topic : Photographic

Article 12 bullet 21 December 2006

Black-throated Wattle-eye action

by Guy Upfold

It’s difficult to photograph any bird in low light and Black-throated Wattle-eye presents even more problems with its black and white plumage because under-exposing the white plumage leaves the blacks without detail and over-exposing slightly leaves no detail in the whites.

Black-throated Wattle-eye

Female Black-throated Wattle-eye just before landing with a green catterpillar (1/30 s at f18)

Flash photography in forest or undercanopy conditions does have advantages and can allow for some very exciting photography where you can capture things you would not be able to freeze in sunlight or bright light conditions.

Black-throated Wattle-eye

Female bird trying to snatch a faecal sac from the male bird (1/30 s at f16)

‘High Speed Flash’ photography works on the principle that all natural light is cut out completely so only flash light is used to light the subject. Natural light is cut out by choosing a low ISO rating eg 100, and small aperture eg f11. Ideally you need 4 to 5 stops more flash light than surrounding ambient light to avoid double image problems. Set the flashes to a low power (ie high speed) and this will give the necessary fast burst of light that will freeze the bird in action. The speed of the flashes will vary from flash to flash but in order to freeze a small bird like Wattle-eye, the flashes need to be able to have a burst of light about 1/8000th to 1/20000th of a second. The shutter speed is usually governed by the camera and most cameras will not sync at a higher speed than 1/250 th. 

Black-throated Wattle-eye Black-throated Wattle-eye

female bird feeding the chick and male bird hovering while delivering to the female (both at 1/30 s at f16)

The main disadvantage of high speed photography is that the flashes need to be on a really low power (= high speed) and so to get the correct exposure at a low ISO rating and small aperture you either need to have them really close to the subject, or you need to have a lot more flashes to get sufficient light. Setting the flashes at higher speed (lower power) means that you need to place this light source (the flashes) closer to the subject, which usually means that they need to be placed separately on tripods ahead of the camera.

Black-throated Wattle-eye

female bird delivering an orange moth to the chick (1/30 s at f18)

Fortunately this Wattle-eye pair didn’t mind me fiddling fairly close to the nest and as long as I was in the hide, they ignored the close proximity of the hide and flashes. For these photos I used 4 Sunpak 622 flashes. Three were used to light the bird from the front, side and top and one to light the background 2m away so the bird didn’t have a totally black background.

Black-throated Wattle-eye

female bird with wings spread delivering a damselfly (1/30 s at f18)

Once set up and with exposures correct all you need is time, patience and REALLY fast reflexes to catch the bird doing what you want it to do!



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