Flash Light Photography

Copyrights Ganesh H Shankar, June 2007.

I have been thinking of using flash lights for nature photography - night time macro photography in particular. During my last trip to Western Ghats region I had some time to explore possibilities of using these different flash lights for nature photography. First I thought of using it like a strobe for night macro photography. Looking at evening light hitting white walls inside my house I also realized that some flash lights have very similar white balance. I confirmed it by comparing white balance of the evening sunlight and one of my flashlight side by side. Yes ! they seem to have remarkably close white balance. This resulted in trying them to simulate evening sun light too. The other use I had in mind was to use it to slightly highlight the foreground objects during long exposures after sunset. I tried all these new techniques during my last trip with reasonable success.

Let me share with you different experiments.

First, look at the image of the butterfly. Like to guess lighting conditions and image details ?!

6pm, no sunlight, some ambient light, used third flash light from the left in the image above as back light, f14, 1/25s. See how close this is to evening sun light ! Can you imagine butterfly is lit by a flash light ? Further, flash lights give us remarkable flexibility to control area to be lit ! This gives opportunities to explore different creative avenues. When doing macro, since subject to lens distance is relatively less the flash light can be held closer to the subject without seeing it in frame. This helps achieve spot lighting as in the case of image of this butterfly.

Now, look at the image of the tunnel spider. Hazard a guess on image details ? f4.5, 1/60s, yes you guessed it right, it is the last flash light using an LED bulb. One characteristic I really liked in this flash light is the very cooler white balance which helps convey the mood of night. Not all LED lights have this cooler white balance. Compare white balances of two flash lights below.

The other light has a very useful white balance - which is neither very warm nor very cool ! During my last trip I used this flash light for slightly painting forground objects during very long exposure night shots of for example 30s - like in moon rise image below.

If you closely inspect the image (click on it to see it large) you can see very slight details in leaves of the tree in the foreground. This image is a multiple exposure image - one at 1/60s and the other at 30s exposure. During 30s exposure I just painted foreground branches using white LED flash light. Without the use of this flash light I could not have created this natural looking image with subtle details. Camera flash is not convenient since even 3-stop under exposed flash output may create un-natural lighting in this case.

I also discovered another interesting way of using flash light - that is combining it with other flash lights or with the camera flash or with the ambinent light. The image below of the grass hopper is another example.

105mm f2.8 Micro, f16, 1/30s, built-in flash plus "evening light flash light" held at the front, no sun light on the grass hopper. If you look at the image it appears very realistically lit. Natural looking warmness adds to the image in my view.

Without the "evening light flash light" it will appear like the image on the above which to my taste looks cooler and not very interesting.

Possibilities does not end here. Different white balances can be achived by using different colored gels or color conversion filters (80/81 series for example) in front of the white LED flash light to simulate different white balances of naturally occurring sun light. I have not had time to expeirment with them yet!! One may argue that some of these can be achieved using photoshop. Not at all easy and definitely not all of it.

Thats all for now. If you intend to use this technique wish you good luck and have fun !!

You may click on each of these images to see them in larger size.

- Ganesh H Shankar

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