Flash for Wildlife

When you think of flash photography, wildlife photography might not be the first use that you think of. Most commonly it is used in portraits, still photography, product photography and even light painting for landscapes just to name a few common uses. In wildlife photography the flash is not for illuminating the subject as much as it is for filling in the shadows and getting the light to accentuate color, especially in birds.

The effects of using flash should be subtle and although there is not a lot of color in this example of the Tufted Titmouse, you can see how the flash fills in the shadows and produces a catch light in the eye. Again, subtle, but make a big difference in the final image.

In this image of a Northern Blue Jay, you can see the vivid blue come alive and this is due to the reflective properties of the feathers acting like a prism. The bright blue hue of a blue jay can be an eye-catching sight set against the dreary, drab backdrop of winter. In actuality, though, blue jays aren’t really blue. Instead, the blue appearance is a trick of science, an optical illusion of sorts.

Whereas a cardinal, for example, gets its red plumage from red pigment, blue jays don’t have any blue pigment. In fact, blue pigment is rare in nature. Instead, the pigment in a blue jay’s feathers — melanin — is brown, but we perceive it as blue because of a phenomenon called light scattering

Light scattering is similar to the effects of a prism. A blue jay’s wings contain tiny pockets made of air and keratin, the same protein that makes up our hair and fingernails. When light hits these pockets in the blue jay’s feathers, all of the colors of the wavelength except blue are absorbed. The blue wavelength is refracted, which is what allows us to see the feathers as blue in color.

However it works with the science of light refraction, flash provides the opportunity to really highlight the beauty of many animals in our natural world.