Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

July 14, 2011

Countering Flash

Filed under: Birds, Boyce Thompson Arboretum, comparisons, favorite places, light, technique — richditch @ 2:21 pm
House Finch

House Finch with flash fill

Nikon D300, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S plus TC20E (2x), G1325 tripod, SB-800 flash, ISO 800, 1/60th second at f/5.6, June 9, 2011

I’ve always been a natural light photographer by choice, and a reluctant user of flash only when necessary. The “hidden” water feature at Boyce Thompson Arboretum is one of those places where I sometimes use flash to save me from the terrible lighting conditions (excessive shade and horrible backlight). I had been testing out my D300 to see how well it worked at higher ISO settings, and one of my few cooperative subjects was this House Finch. But even at ISO 800 and wide open aperture my shutter speed was dangerously low, so I decided to take some shots with the SB-800 flash attached to the camera and set for fill.

This wasn’t a bad result: ISO 800 worked much better on the D300 than it does on my D200. The flash wasn’t overpowering and didn’t create noticeable hard shadows directly behind the subject.

But it did flatten the contours of the finch by eliminating the natural shadow on the belly and making the finch appear two dimensional.

House Finch

House Finch with subtle shadow

My answer to this issue was to add back a subtle belly shadow with some gentle burning in Photoshop.

I like to do burning and dodging in Photoshop on a separate layer using black and white brushes at low intensity, rather than use the built in burna nd dodge tools directly on the main image layer. To do this select the image layer and add a new layer from the pulldown menu at the top of the screen. Add a title like “Burn and dodge”, set it to soft light, and check the box to fill the layer with 50% gray. At this point the image should not change appearance in any way.

Next set your foreground and background colors to black and white (the default values). Then take a soft edged brush with the intensity set to 10-15% and use it to paint areas that need some tonal change. Black with darken; white will lighten.

For this finch I used a black brush and darkened the belly contour very slightly. It makes the finch look more three dimensional and it loses some of the artificial look created by the flash.

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