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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Using Flash for Small Mammal Photography

Edible Dormouse

Welcome to my new Blog. I understand that a blog is now vital for achieving improved search engine ratings so here goes.

Following one of the coldest winters in Wales for many years I couldn’t wait to head south to France for some warmth. A friend in southern France has an outbuilding where some Edible Dormice had taken up residence. As you may be aware they are truly delightful creatures and resemble a small squirrel. Of course you would not have wanted to be an Edible Dormouse during Roman times as they kept these little cuties alive in jars and fattened them up for eating, hence the name. One particular individual had become quite tame and would appear during daylight to feast on pieces of fruit which we placed on a work bench. Edible Dormice just love pears, nectarines and raisins.

I was most keen to try out the Nikon D300 together with several wireless speedlights so I built a natural looking set on the work bench. Being a dimly lit outhouse I needed to utilise flash as the main light source. I used 2 x Nikon SB800 speedlights mounted on tripods and set them to wireless function. My Nikon D300 plus a micro NIkkor 200mm F4 was also mounted on a tripod and hidden behind a hanging sheet of camouflage netting. An SB800 was positioned either side of the camera. A third speedlight – an older SB28 was mounted on a Nikon SU-4 wireless remote flash controller which was mounted on a Bogen Super Clamp attached to an overhead beam.

The SU-4 is an extremely handy gadget allowing incredible flash flexibility by turning most of Nikon’s older speedlights into wireless flash units. The SU-4 is powered by the batteries in the attached flash unit and has an effective range of up to 23 feet and weighs only 2oz! How could any Nikon photographer manage without one. In case they go out of production I suggest you rush out and buy 2 or 3.

You may have realised by now that I am a huge fan of Nikon. One of the main reasons is that I believe that Nikon speedlights remain the most user-friendly and versatile small flash units available being ideally suited to wildlife photography. However I would suggest to any prospective purchaser that they first of all throw away the far from user-friendly instruction book. Any instructions for use can easily be found on the internet.

Finally the “piece de rĂ©sistance” of the D300 camera body is that the pop up flash can be programmed to act as a command unit to trigger the 2 x SB800 speedlights wirelessly which then trigger the SB28 via the SU-4. In fact all these flash units are able to fire simultaneously.

Believe me, the whole system worked like magic and the Edible Dormouse appeared on cue. I only had to check the LCD screen and histograms on the rear of the camera to ensure I had the correct exposure. The camera settings were set to 1/250 second F11 – 14 on manual mode. The flash units were set to TTL. How did I ever work with flash on film cameras when I had to sometimes wait for weeks to see the results?