I have used fill flash with wildlife photography in the past, usually under controlled settings. I use fill flash 90% of the time when I photograph at my wildlife model workshop at Triple D Game Farm. But I find I don’t usually do it when photographing in the wild. I am not sure why, but I think part of it is carrying all that extra gear into the field just seems like too much work! I tend to be an equipment minimalist, owning only 4-5 lenses and never carrying more than 3 with me on a trip. So the thought of packing flash equipment on a trip is not something I relish.
But this year I am doing a trip to Alaska in March to photograph eagles and I have begun to think I may need additional light if the weather does not cooperate. I took my flash equipment with me to Washington State when I photographed eagles in January, but I was so caught up in the excitement of photographing, I did not take the time to use. Now I am sorry I didn’t.
I spent several weeks in Florida in January/February and knew I was going to be at Wakodahatchee Wetlands, Delray Beach, Florida photographing birds often. I have spent a lot of time in this location, so I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to practice my fill flash techniques. I do have some new equipment and going back to the same location multiple times gave me a great opportunity to try it out and experiment with my settings.
I was using my Nikon D850 with my Tamron 150-600mm lens, by Flashpoint Zoom Li-on R2 TTL (which is the Adorama Branded Godox V860II speedlight); and MagMod MagBeam Wildlife Kit (click on link to purchase with a discount). The flash was a new acquisition for my Nikon gear. One of my favorite features of the flash is its rechargeable Li-ion powerful battery that is good for more than a thousand flashes on a charge.
I found that having the fill flash allowed me to get many images I could not have made without the additional light. I have photographed thousands of images at sunrise in Wakodahatchee in the past and have always silhouetted my birds against the morning sky, and the birds were black without detail. With the flash I was able to expose for the ambient light of the sunrise and fill in a bit of detail on the birds.
I also found that I was able to get much more detail when photographing the birds in the shade with the flash than without. The flash also helped bring out colors in birds, especially the Glossy Ibis, Purple Gallinules and Swamp Hens.
I experimented shooting the flash in both manual mode and adjusting the output and in i-TTL mode adjusting the output and found there was no difference that I could see. I had the flash set for high speed sync so I could get fast shutter speeds since I was not using the flash as the main source of light. I wanted the flash to fill in the shadows and have the camera expose for the ambient light.
Here are some side by examples of images without flash and images with flash.
1/800; f/6.3; ISO 3200: 280mm no flash
1/800; f/6.3; ISO 3200: 280mm; flash i-TTL -2EV
1/640 sec; f/9; ISO 250; 550mm; no flash
1/640 sec; f/9; ISO 250; 550mm; flash on manual ½ power
1/640 sec; f/8; IOSO 500; 600mm; no flash
1/640 sec; f/8; IOSO 500; 600mm; flash Manual ½ power
1/640 sec; f/8; ISO 500; 600mm; no flash
1/640 sec; f/8; ISO 500; 600mm; flash Manual Full Power
1/800 sec; f/8; ISO 800; 600mm; no flash
1/800 sec; f/8; ISO 800; 600mm; flash Manual ¼ power
1/640 sec; f/8; ISO 800; 600mm; no flash
1/640 sec; f/8; ISO 800; 600mm; flash Manual Full Power
1/500sec; f/8; ISO 200; 500mm; no flash
1/500sec; f/8; ISO 200; 500mm; flash Manual Full Power
1/640 sec; f/8; ISO 125; 180mm; no flash
1/640 sec; f/8; ISO 125; 180mm; flash Manual Full Power
As you can see in every instance the flash helped the image. You can bet I am going to give it a try in Alaska next month!