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by Landon Starnes on Wed Feb 10, 2010 1:14 pm
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Landon Starnes
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Location: Texas
Hello Everyone,
Yesterday I received my Canon 580EX II flash and am now looking for some advice on basic settings to set for photographing birds in overcast light and such. I have seen so many great images here on NSN where flash was used but you could barely tell becuase it looked so natural! So I want to try and achieve that look. :) I also ordered a Better Beamer from the NSN store and it should be here any day.
Any advice on using the flash or resources to read would be appreciated!
Thanks in advance for your help! :)

by ajhand on Wed Feb 10, 2010 1:53 pm
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It's hard to give exact settings because individual cameras and flash units vary. What works best for My 1DII and 550 EX won't work the same with m 1DIII and 580EX. But for a basic bird on a stick on a cloudy dark day, I shoot AV and might dial in minus 2/3 stop compensation on both camera and flash. If that looks too flashed I'll cut back on the flash another 1/3 stop, and probably go to only minus 1/3 for the camera setting. It's basically trial and error, but somewhere in that range.


by DonS on Wed Feb 10, 2010 2:15 pm
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As AJ said, you will want to shoot some test shots. You may find anywhere from -2/3 to -1 2/3 is good for your subjects on a particular day. For the Better Beamer, the zoom should be manually set for 50mm.

I shoot in manual and then examine both histograms. Sometimes the RGB histogram will show a blue or red channel overexposed, yet the luminosity histogram will show everything fine. If your camera body will allow you to display both histograms in the review mode, you may find it helpful.
"Take your passion and make it happen!"
Don Saunders

by Steve Ting on Wed Feb 10, 2010 4:07 pm
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You've already received some good advice, but I thought I'd add a few more thoughts.

I would recommend shooting with your camera in manual mode. This will give you more consistent exposures with the flash. It's often a good idea to take a few test shots before turning the flash on to check your in camera exposure. Then turn on the flash. There are two ways to set your flash for fill flash.

  • You can use ETTL with your flash set at approximately -1 to -2. Check the in camera thumbnail and the histogram after shooting a couple of shots and then adjust accordingly. This is the best way to set your flash if your subject distance is unknown or variable.
  • The second way is to use manual flash exposure. This will give more consistent results than when using ETTL. This works best when your subject distance is known and consistent. The flash should be set to equal approximately 1/2 the distance to your subject. Check the distance gauge on your lens to get the distance to the subject, then check the setting on the flash press by pressing the shutter halfway, you will see a little black bar underneath the distance scale on the back of the flash. Adjust the flash power to get the reading you desire.
  • To maximize flash output, keep your shutter speeds at or lower than the high speed sync setting of the camera 1/250 for many cameras, 1/300 for the Mark III and IV. You will have to vary aperture and or ISO to keep the shutter speed down.
  • If you need a higher shutter speed then you will need to shoot in high speed sync. See article link below
  • The Better Beamer will give you approximately double your flash output. You don't need to change anything when shooting ETTL, but when shooting in manual flash mode set your flash to equal 1/4 the distance.
  • Practice with stuffed animals of different tones and different settings to get a feel of it.

The above settings are for fill flash. If your subject is in the shade and background is in the sun, or similar light scenario then you will be using Flash as Main Light.

When shooting with Flash as Main Light
  • Your camera exposure will be for the background. Take a few test shots to check your background exposure. (approximately 0 to -1 EC)
  • The flash exposure will be for the subject. For ETTL - your flash will be ~ 0 FEC - though this is variable depending on the tonality of the subject and the ambient light.
  • For Manual Flash the distance on the Flash should equal the distance to the subject (1/2 the distance when using the BB). Depending on the amount of ambient light on the subject, you may need to decrease the Flash Power.

For more reading try the following articles in the NS archives
High Speed Sync
Better Beamer

Another very useful resource for learning flash is Strobist. While the site is devoted to off camera flash, the principles and techniques discussed are very informative.
Website - Steve Ting Photography

Last edited by Steve Ting on Sat Apr 24, 2010 1:27 pm, edited 4 times in total.

by Landon Starnes on Wed Feb 10, 2010 8:10 pm
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Thanks for the excellent suggestions guys! I will just play around and experiment until I get things right. Thanks again! :)

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