Cheryl Tarr, Decatur Chapter
In our newsletters, we feature short profiles of GNPA members from across the state. In this issue, it’s Cheryl Tarr, of the Decatur Chapter.
When did you join GNPA?
I joined in 2016. Photography has been a hobby since childhood, but in 2016 I wanted to hone my skills and become a better photographer. I joined GNPA because I love nature photography.
What is your occupation?
How did you get into photography?
I selected a little point-and-shoot camera as a reward for delivering newspapers when I was about 10 years old. My parents recognized my passion for photography and bought me a “real” camera in high school that took 35mm film (a Yashica Electro) and I used that in my high school photography courses. I moved up to Olympus SLRs, and then I went digital in 2006 when I bought a Nikon D70s with money I had saved for something else. I have upgraded considerably from there.
What are your favorite photography subjects?
Flowers top the list: I love their expressiveness and I love to capture their interactions with each other. Abstract impressionism makes my heart sing and beautiful light reflecting from water will stop me in my tracks. And rendering the big landscapes of the Colorado plateau in black and white is something I don’t get to do often enough!
What are your favorite places to shoot?
My favorite local spots are Arabia Mountain, Sweetwater Creek State Park and my back yard. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been a special place since I camped there with my family as a child. Any of the desert environments of the Southwest are high on my list, and I’m looking forward to traveling out there again in the near future.
What would be your photographic “dream trip”?
A three-week rafting trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.
Which camera body and lenses do you use most often?
I have a Nikon D850, and my Lensbaby Velvet 56 lens spends a lot of time on it. The Lensbaby Sweet 50 optic is another favorite. I am also very fond of my Nikon 70-200 mm lens for flower photography and intimate landscapes.
Have any photographers inspired you?
Of course Ansel Adams, Wynn Bullock and Edward Weston were among the photographers who inspired me when I was in high school. David Muench was also an early inspiration for landscape photography. These days it is Kathleen Clemons for flower photography, and Guy Tal, Colleen Miniuk and Wayne Suggs for landscapes. Guy Tal in particular inspires me because of his unique style of capturing mesmerizing abstracts and intimate landscapes in an environment where most people are shooting the big wide landscapes of Utah.
What’s your favorite part of belonging to GNPA?
GNPA is a welcoming and supportive club. I’ve learned a lot from many different members!
Something interesting about you that most people do not know:
I worked at the National Zoo in graduate school and my PhD work was set in the Hawaiian Islands, where I did genetic analyses of endangered birds for conservation management. On several trips I was helicoptered in to the remote rainforest on the slopes of Haleakala Crater.
Where are you from?
Tell us a little about the photos you have provided:
Reaching For The Light: Yellow daisies on Arabia Mountain seemingly reach for a sunlit meadow. Taken with a Nikon 70-200mm telephoto lens.
Gossamer Sunflower: A white sunflower captured with an iPhone 11 Pro using “Average Camera Pro,” an app that does in-camera multiple exposures.
Tickle Me White: A cheeky fern frond tickles a trillium growing along Tremont Road in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Captured with a Lensbaby Velvet 56 on a Nikon D850.
Photo by Lauren Brandes
5 Tips For Photographing Children In Nature
By Marcia Brandes
Does this happen to you? At an outside event or gathering, do friends or family members (perhaps even strangers) notice your camera and – assuming that you must know about photography – ask you to take their picture? Of course, you know what to do if you’re photographing a landscape, animals or flowers, but what about people?
If you want to be prepared for this situation the next time it arises, here are five tips to make the human animals in your photos look great, too.
1) Set your focus on faces. We know to focus on the eyes of birds and animals, but they don’t wear sunglasses or hats. Try to angle your subjects so they aren’t facing into the sun and squinting, and ask them to remove those dark shades if possible, especially for closeups. Watch out for hats casting shadows on faces in bright sunlight; if you have a flash, use it to brighten any faces in shadows.
Canoeing at the Chattahoochee Nature Center.
Photo by Marcia Brandes.
2) Don’t crop out the feet or hands. Torso and headshots are fine, but stopping at the ankles looks weird. Let’s have our subjects fully grounded if we’re going for full body shots.
3) Children, like other wild animals, are best photographed at eye level. My knees creak and I may need help getting back up, but my shots will be much more engaging if I go to the trouble of squatting down for the little ones.
Planting at Armand Park Photos by Marcia Brandes
4) Both you and your subjects should relax and have fun. This isn’t formal portraiture; these shots are preserving memories of good times. Mix up the shots – some can be with everyone smiling at the camera, but be sure to get the action shots too, just as you would with birds and wildlife.
5) If people don’t want their photos taken, leave them out of the picture. Most people are accustomed to having their pictures taken or shooting selfies for the world to admire, but not everyone. In our shoots for the Conservation Committee, we’ve found that people at volunteer events, like tree planting or picking up trash, love to have their pictures taken. They ask for us to take their photos, and they want the world to see their children helping and having fun doing it. But we always ask permission to take photos of children.
Friends of Georgia State Parks cleaning a beach at Jekyll Island.
Photo by Jenny Burdette.
Using your skills on people in nature can be especially rewarding, just as you delight in photographing birds, insects, animals and flowers. Practice with friends and family. You’ll make a lot of friends who will be very glad to have you there! If you are unsure about photographing people, we can pair you up with a more experienced photographer at one of our future events. We have many opportunities with our conservation partners to photograph people having fun and working to keep Georgia beautiful.
Marcia Brandes has been a member of GNPA for seven years and is the current chair of the Conservation Committee.
Northern Parula. Photo by Michelle Hamner
Georgia Audubon’s Birding Missions
By Michelle Hamner
As a frequent user of the hashtag #shi**ybirdpics to describe my own (lack of) nature photography skills, I’m a great admirer of those who can create in-focus, well-framed photographs that somehow convey the personality of their avian subjects. The bird and nature photographers that I have met possess some of the deepest wells of patience imaginable (much deeper than I can claim), which they use to hone their craft. Some of my most enjoyable outdoor explorations are with my quite-accomplished nature photographer friend, Marlene. We balance each other well, I think; her by documenting the birds we see, me by helping to keep her “on” the bird we’re tracking through the canopy.
The past 18 months of Covid-19 lockdowns, social distancing and postponed events have, understandably, sent many of us outside looking for a bit of respite from homes that now double as offices and schools. At Georgia Audubon, we saw membership numbers spike in 2020 as people across the state discovered and rediscovered nature and, in particular, birds.
Birdwatchers and nature photographers, ranging from the casual to the obsessed, have long shared common ground. A curiosity in our surroundings drives us to add just one more feeder to the backyard, or to test out just one more lens.
Eastern Meadowlark in Coweta County. Photo by Michelle Hamner
Georgia Audubon has been fortunate to enjoy the support of bird and nature enthusiasts, including amateur and professional photographers, from our founding as the Atlanta Bird Club in 1926, incorporation as an independent chapter of National Audubon known as Atlanta Audubon Society in 1978, and finally through our expansion to a statewide organization known as Georgia Audubon in 2020.
As part of our commitment to tackle conservation concerns affecting the state’s birds and priority habitat types, Georgia Audubon’s staff and board of directors recently adopted a new strategic plan. Over the next three years, this plan will guide our work to not only protect the natural resources that birds and other wildlife need across the state, but also to bring the wonder of birds and nature to new audiences, especially to communities that have been historically excluded from outdoor recreation opportunities and important environmental policy discussions.
Primary among our concerns are the ways in which climate change and increased development are affecting key habitat types and communities across Georgia. Climate-exacerbated events such as warming, drought and flooding are changing landscapes faster than birds can alter their own behavior to adjust. The recent Climate Report by National Audubon indicates that if we are unable to mitigate current warming trends, Georgia’s own state bird, the Brown Thrasher, will be extirpated from the state completely over the next several decades. What’s a state to do when it loses its own state bird?
Due to our decades-long success at local community-building through our membership and partnership structure, Georgia Audubon has a great advantage when it comes to raising public awareness of these issues (and others). In particular, partners such as members of the Georgia Nature Photographers Association have been invaluable by allowing us to use their own landscape, wildlife, community and bird photographs for more impactful story-telling.
Magnolia Warbler. Photo by Michelle Hamner
At its core, Georgia Audubon is a science-based organization looking to make a large-scale conservation impact across the state. But its strength lies in our ability to communicate broadly, and that hinges on our ability to make birds and nature accessible and relatable to people of all backgrounds and skill levels. So whether it’s joining one of our free public field trips through a local park or nature preserve (www.georgiaaudubon.org/field-trips), tuning in to an online webinar introducing participants to nature photography, or participating in our six-week-long deep-dive into ornithology through our Master Birder program, there’s a place for all at Georgia Audubon.
We welcome GNPA members who may wish to learn more about volunteer photography opportunities at Georgia Audubon, as well as from members who are interested in assisting us with additional opportunities to reach the public with our stories. As someone who only in the past six years came to truly appreciate (and slightly obsess over) the diversity of birds found here in Georgia, I know firsthand the difference that helpful mentors in the field played in welcoming me to the flock. I hope you’ll join us so we can strengthen our mission to protect Georgia’s birds.
Here are a few opportunities GNPA members may wish to explore:
- Join Georgia Audubon as a member. Enjoy $5 off an annual membership with code GNPA. georgiaaudubon.org/joinrenew
- Interested in sharing your nature and bird photography with Georgia Audubon to help us spread the word across Georgia? Contact Dottie Head, Director of Communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Join one of our free public field trips. Our field trips are suited for beginners and experts alike and generally operate at a “birder’s pace.” Most field trips offer great photography opportunities in the field, with many of our members always looking to compare notes with fellow nature photographers.
- Stay up-to-date with all of our current workshops at
By working together and learning from one another, we can do an even better job of understanding and protecting the birds we love in Georgia.
Michelle Hamner is the Director of Development at Georgia Audubon, a position she has held since 2015. She lives and primarily explores in Fayette County with her husband, two sons, and three short-legged dogs. She is also part of the Georgia Audubon Travel Program team, organizing and leading small-group birding trips to regional, domestic and international destinations. Michelle’s “spark bird” that got her hooked on birds is the Sandhill Crane, and her favorite birding destination is the Georgia coast. Every now and then, she says, the stars align, the lighting is just right, and she manages to capture in-focus photos of birds with her Nikon COOLPIX P900.
Mountain Laurel along the Chattahoochee River. Photo by Tom Wilson
By Tom Wilson
I’ve been photographing the Chattahoochee River for 20 years, and although I love all the different units that make up the recreation area, my favorite is West Palisades.
Located just within I-285 and just east of I-75, this portion of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area is a beautiful place to visit any time of year. But right now, during May, might be the best time to explore its beauty.
One of my favorite photos I’ve taken of this area was in May 2007 (it was featured on the Park’s 2012 annual pass). I took it when the Mountain Laurel was in bloom across the river next to the bluffs. I made the photograph right from the access adjacent to the bathrooms and just upriver from the small boat ramp. The bluffs are beautiful, as are the “Devil’s Racecourse” and the Thornton Shoals sections of rapids upriver of the bluffs, and Thornton Shoals on the downriver end. The area is also particularly good for wildflowers, starting in late winter and lasting through spring.
Great Blue Heron with his catch. Photo by Tom Wilson.
This section of the river and its surrounding landscape offer a wide range of photo opportunities, so I always hike down to the river prepared for almost anything. I remember one morning on the river when I saw 11 Great Blue Herons at one time. While in this area, I’ve made landscape photos, macro images, telephoto pictures of birds – you name it. In fact, I have never hiked down to the river without finding some nice opportunities for landscape photographs. This is also a particularly good place for photographing people enjoying the river (I’ve included one of my photos of two kayakers, which now appears on one of the park’s brochures).
This area can be accessed from the Akers Mill Parking Area. Turn onto Akers Drive SE off of Akers Mill Road and drive up the hill until you see the National Park sign on your left. Turn left there and follow that road down to the parking area. For a map of the trails, visit the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area website, click on “maps” and scroll all the way down for the West Palisades Unit Map.
Kayakers in the Chattahoochee River. Photo by Tom Wilson
You will need a pass to use the parking area. To learn about fees and passes, go to the same Chattahoochee NRA website, click on “Plan Your Visit” and then “Basic Information” and “Fees and Passes.” This unit will also soon be included in the National Park Mobile App, which you can download from the App Store.
Anytime I’m photographing rivers, I always have my tripod and a polarizing filter with me. The tripod is helpful because it allows me to shoot at slow shutter speeds, and the polarizer removes glare from the water and the vegetation. You may want to watch out for the usual polarizer issues, such as uneven polarization of a blue sky, but it’s definitely worth having one with you.
A view of East Palisades, taken from West Palisades, on May 3, 2021. Photo by Tom Wilson.
Make sure to pack your normal hiking gear, such as water, snacks, rain gear, sunscreen, bug repellant and any other essentials. If you have your cell phone with you, I believe you will even be able to see an indicator of your exact position by using the National Park App. I spoke to a Ranger today who told me that you should have a facemask with you in case you encounter a situation where it’s needed, and of course you should be social distancing. There is a restroom available by the river that is usually open during warmer weather, and it includes a station for filling water bottles.
No matter what type of nature photography you prefer, chances are you’ll find some great opportunities at this hidden gem.
Hellebore Bud, taken with LensbabyVelvet 56 lens, 1/4000 shutter speed, ISO 400.
By Jamie Konarski Davidson, New Life Photos
In the world of flower photography, styles of interpretation run from documentary to artistic to abstract. Each approach has its place and purpose. And there is no “mutually exclusive” clause that says you, as the visual artist, must use only one style.
Of course, the technical aspects of photography are important. A clearly defined subject in a well-composed and well-exposed frame matters, no matter what photography style you prefer. So knowing how to achieve a technically correct image is vital. Once you are comfortable in the technical aspect, you can veer in the direction of your own creative vision. Knowing how to operate your camera without a litany of “whoops,” fumbling or fiddling will help you find your way in all areas of photography, not just among the flowers and gardens.
Snow Drops, taken with Tamron 28-300 VC lens, f/6.3, 1/160 shutter speed, ISO 250, on tripod.
For starters, it helps to create a goal for your image. If you know what you want to achieve, that vision will help guide your choices. For example, if you want tons of detail, choose small apertures (f/8 – f/22). If you prefer shallower depth of field and selective focus, choose wider apertures (f/1.8 – f/8). Depending upon your goal and closeness to subject, you may need to make adjustments. If you’re uncertain, use multiple apertures and focus areas. Experiment with exposure compensation to find just the right look. Stepping out of “auto-everything” gives you control over the results. Each choice hinges on your goal. So be the driver behind your images.
Recognizing Your Style
We all have leanings in how we approach our subjects. Sometimes, they are led by profession (i.e., conservation) and other times by personality (left/right brain). My style, especially with flowers and gardens, leans strongly toward the artistic and interpretive zone. Yet, I’m not averse to the documentary image. Photography is my passion and therapy, and my images reflect that.
Orange Tulips, taken with Nikon 24-200 lens, F/4, 1/320 shutter speed, ISO 160, on tripod.
With three macro lenses and a roller bag full of Lensbabies, I embrace getting close and discovering hidden gems within blooms. I tend to get “lost in the folds” of florals, and must remind myself to take reference images so I can later identify the flowers as they evolve from macros into abstracts that celebrate colors, shapes, lines and textures. There are times when all I can say is that the subject is a flower, but the “big picture” escapes me. If this happens to you, start the habit of taking the reference photo before you start or before you leave a subject. An environmental portrait never hurts.
The Intentional Approach
There are times when we’re in a field of flowers or gardens that overwhelm our senses. Awestruck, we don’t know where to start. When this happens, stop. Settle down, be where you are and take it all in. Don’t just plant your camera and tripod somewhere and start mindlessly shooting. Open your eyes and mind. In the middle of that ocean of blooms, look for the one that holds your attention.
Before you start shooting, ask yourself, “Who’s the star? And the supporting characters? And why?” Move around your subject. Find the best angle and perspective. Where do you need to be? What lens do you need? How do you make the light work for the subject? What gear do you need? Gather your tools, and now, begin connecting with your subject. (Keep in mind, this approach applies to more than flowers).
Peony and Iris, taken with Tamron 90 VC lens, f/3.3, 1/1000 shutter speed, ISO 100, handheld with Vibration Control on.
When I identify the “star” and the “why,” I usually work from the “big” (smaller) picture inward. I’m likely choosing a macro lens, making sure I have diopters ready to add, along with my tripod, diffuser/reflector set and small flashlight or Litra cube with diffusion dome. Most of these accessories fit inside the diffuser case, which I attach to a belt loop or my camera bag with a carabiner. And I nearly always use a circular polarizer for my flower and nature photography. The only time it’s off my lens is when I’m indoors or the light is so low that it’s not helping to temper glare and sheen off my subjects. By the way, a macro lens is awesome but is not required for flowers. Telephotos and wide-angle lenses work as well.
Pharsalia Yellow Peony, taken with Nikon 24-120 lens, f/8, 1/50 shutter speed, ISO 250, on tripod in shade with gold reflector.
If I don’t have a “star” in mind, it’s entirely possible that I’m “crap-shooting” and will go home with images that elicit a “What was I thinking?” reaction. Time in the field with beautiful flowers is precious and therapeutic. I want to see emotional impact in the frame. And while all images won’t “speak” to me, there’s always one that stands out. Remember that a slower pace allows for more depth in exploration. More frames in the camera do not guarantee success. More time with your subject almost always does. Slow down. Don’t leave before the party starts.
We Are ‘Mostly’ In Control
My perfect world for flower photography would look like this: The skies would be bright overcast; all the flowers would be in their best condition (though I am drawn to broken petals and bent blooms); there would be no wind; and the rain would only come before I arrived, so I’d find fresh drops on leaves and petals. There would be ladybugs, grasshoppers, caterpillars, butterflies and bees in all the right places, sitting perfectly still for their close-ups. Oh, and I’d find green tree frogs tucked in the flowers, just waiting for me. Yup, dream on! We can’t summon the perfect settings on command. Sometimes (rarely), we’re blessed with some of the best conditions. So when we head out, we need to put on our “happy face” and our “problem-solving cap” and move forward.
Magnolia Plantation, taken with Lensbaby Velvet 56 lens, f/1.6, 1/640 shutter speed, ISO 200.
Recently, I encountered several amazing gardens in Georgia (Gibbs Gardens) and North Carolina (Tryon Palace Gardens & local arboretum). The first line in Charles Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities” echoed in my mind. There was bright sun and no clouds one day, perfect overcast the next, and twice I had varied light with almost constant breezes. In other words, an excellent time to find a cactus to photograph. It was a reminder that we are not in charge of the sun, the wind, the rain or any other planetary influence. We are only in charge of our own response.
On the sunny days, I look for flowers that lend themselves to the light, or find blooms in shaded, wind-protected areas. I work bigger scenes where the light is balanced and manageable. On the overcast days, I look for blooms that are beautiful to me because of their colors or shapes. In all cases, I am on alert for clean backgrounds without distractions, or ones that complement the subject (the “star”). On breezy days, I choose apertures that give me faster shutter speeds, increase my ISO and embrace the softer, more abstract look. I sometimes ditch the tripod and practice a rocking motion with my eye glued to the viewfinder, pressing the shutter as the select area came into focus.
Canna Motion, taken with Nikon 24-70 lens, f/16, 1-second exposure, ISO 100, handheld.
Brightly lit areas are easier to manage with a diffuser (or if you’re lucky, a random cloud). Wind is less manageable. In public gardens you can’t bring wind breaks and plop them in well-tended beds (unless you enjoy being asked to leave for not respecting the efforts of the gardeners). If it’s your garden, have at it. Cut the flowers, bring them inside and have a field day. While you’re at it, be open to trying new techniques. Motion blurs and multiple exposures offer creative ways to deal with moving subjects and changing light.
Go Beyond The Name With Abstracts
It is freeing when you know that you (and the viewer) don’t have to identify the flower by name. Rather, simply capture the essence of the blooms. This approach releases you from the tack-sharp requirement, but not from considerations like visual flow or relationships of colors, textures and lines. Are the flowers blowing (or whipping like crazy) in the wind? How about slowing down your shutter speed and letting them create a canvas wash of color? (You might need a neutral density filter to accomplish that, but it’s probably in your bag.) With abstracts, I work areas of focus that look best in the frame. It’s not a rule-of-thirds approach, but rather finding a place for the eye to rest momentarily before traveling throughout the frame.
Tulip Abstracts, taken with Nikon 70-180 micro lens, f/9, 1/100 shutter speed, ISO 400, handheld while laying on ground.
Best Thing To Bring To The Garden
Regardless of how you approach flower photography, there’s one thing that you must not leave at home or in the car. PATIENCE is the virtue that is always critical in flower photography. If you wait, the light will change, the wind will calm down, people will move out of your scenes, and there’s always another flower waiting for your attention. We’re in the middle of a season that’s ever-changing, with new waves of colors and textures and patterns arriving each day. Embrace those evolutions!
Jamie Konarski Davidson is an award-winning freelance photographer, educator and presenter with a passion for capturing the beauty of the natural world. She is a Lensbaby Ambassador, often working in florals and abstracts. Her images range from macro and abstracts to intimate, grand and rural landscapes. Jamie is a long-time member of North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) and Carolinas Nature Photographers Association (CNPA). Via New Life Photos, she leads photo workshops throughout the East Coast.
Photo by Annalise Kaylor
Try These Techniques to Supplement the Sun
By Annalise Kaylor
Nature and wildlife photographers have the best and brightest light at their disposal – the sun. But most great things have their less-than-good sides, too, and the sun is no exception. The overhead sun, from midday through the late afternoon, creates harsh shadows. Every photographer has experienced seeing their subject in the perfect location, but badly backlit or facing a less-than-ideal direction. As a result, many outdoor photographers give up on midday shooting, and bring out their cameras only when the natural light is at its most favorable.
However, the addition of a flash to your kit creates a whole new world of photographic opportunities. To many, the mention of flash photography conjures up memories of harshly lit snapshots with red eyes and unflattering, overblown highlights. But when used – and understood – in a meaningful way, the addition of flash can take your work to the next level and provide you with many more options. What is photography, after all, if not the art of reading, manipulating and capturing light?
In nature photography, there are essentially two types of flash photography that come into play: using the flash to add a bit more light to your scene, and using the flash as a primary light source. Both techniques are worth practicing and can be applied to every form of nature photography, from the tiniest macro shots to migrating songbirds to the most magnificent landscapes.
Without a flash (left), the flower looks flat. By adding flash reflected from a bounce card, it comes alive. Photos by Annalise Kaylor.
Adding Flash Adds An Exposure (Kind Of)
When using flash, you’re working with two exposures to create one frame – one exposure from your camera and one from your flash. Your camera exposure is always reading the natural, or ambient, light in the scene. The flash exposure will always be focused on lighting the subject of the scene. The easiest way to remember the difference between the two exposures is that your camera should be set to expose for the background of your image.
In-camera exposure for the background is what every photographer is already familiar with: if you want a brighter, lighter background or you want to have some of the environmental context of your location easily visible, you set your camera exposure for that background. If you want a background that is darker and allows your subject to be more prominent, then you reduce the exposure to create a darker background.
With added flash and a slower shutter speed controlling ambient light, the flower in the second photo is more pleasing. Photos by Annalise Kaylor.
Manual Or Through-the-Lens Flash?
Adding flash to the mix offers two options: manual flash exposure or through-the-lens exposure, also known as TTL. Manual exposure with flash is just like it sounds, since the photographer chooses the settings of the flash. While there is no hard and fast rule as to which is better, manual flash tends to be the best option for static, non-moving subjects like flowers and some macro subjects. Generally speaking, if you are using a tripod and taking a fair amount of time to compose your scene around a subject, manual flash offers the most control.
Through-the-lens, or TTL mode, is ideal for moving subjects. This mode puts the camera and the flash in communication with one another, and the flash is reading the light through the lens of your camera, constantly judging the distance between your camera and your subject. As it gathers that information, the flash is adjusting itself accordingly to give you the best flash exposure possible based on the data it receives from your camera.
Using Modifiers With On-Camera Flash
Gone are the days when a photographer sets the flash in the hot shoe and blasts their subject with direct light from the flash alone. Not only does this look harsh in the final image, there are also ethical concerns about ambushing wildlife with a bright flash of direct light. Any time the light from your flash is coming from the same direction as your camera, less will always be more.
Flash modifiers are a great way to add another layer of creativity and control while using artificial light.
The larger the source of light, the softer and more natural the light will be. A spotlight, for example, is small and round with all of its light funneling through that very small opening. On the other end of the spectrum, a large picture window, with a sheer curtain hanging in front of it, will diffuse the light all around the room, creating a soft and even wash of light. This is the same reason a bright sunny day creates harsh shadows, while an overcast day creates even lighting all around. The same principle applies when adding a modifier to a flash.
Lavender with no flash at all (left), and lavender with direct flash mounted on the camera (right). Both images have issues. Photos by Annalise Kaylor.
Most flashes come with a small white card built into them – a “bounce” card that slides up from the back of the unit, allowing the flash to be positioned straight up while the light bounces off this card and forward toward the photographer’s subject on the other side of the lens. The small surface area of this built-in bounce card isn’t ideal, however, so adding a larger, third-party flash modifier creates higher-quality light. This can be a white bounce card with a bigger surface area, or a plastic or silicone globe that diffuses light all around. In a pinch, I’ve even bounced my flash off the white lining of my raincoat!
The same flowers as above, but this time a bounced fill flash creates a more appealing exposure. Photo by Annalise Kaylor.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is focusing flash. By nature, when you set off a flash, the light scatters everywhere. Focusing that light using a modifier, like a grid over the top of the flash or a set of barn doors, directs your flash much like a spotlight at a theater, where the star of the show is illuminated while everything else fades away into the shadows.
Moving The Flash Off Camera
Even more creativity is unleashed when you move your flash off the hot shoe atop the camera to somewhere completely off-camera. Wireless flash transmitters (triggers) are lightweight, fit in the palm of your hand, and allow you to place your flash anywhere in relation to your subject to achieve virtually any lighting setup. The transmitter sits in the hot shoe of the camera while the flash is placed anywhere nearby to achieve the desired effect. It may be positioned off to the side, strapped to a tree, handheld above the subject, or anywhere one pleases.
Moving the flash closer to the subject will result in a higher-contrast image with well-defined edges and shadows. Moving the flash farther away from the subject will create softer edges and an overall more balanced look. Off-camera flash allows the photographer to light a static subject from any angle for a dramatic effect, or even create the illusion of sunlight on an overcast day.
All of the modifiers that can be used with a flash while it’s on the camera can be used when the flash is off-camera, as well. Plus, most wireless triggers work with up to three off-camera flash units, creating myriad lighting scenarios with the addition of each flash.
Books have been written about using flash for nature photography, so this short article certainly can’t cover every aspect. But photographers looking to elevate their work will find a whole new world of creativity and versatility by adding flash to their toolkit. On-camera or off, with a modifier or without, the combination of options is endless. While there is nothing that compares to making a perfect frame in the perfect light of day, being able to make one’s own light comes pretty close.
Annalise Kaylor is a staff photographer and video producer at Habitat for Humanity International, a job that takes her around the world creating visual stories of human resilience. Annalise is a Georgia Audubon Master Birder and spends her free time birdwatching, hiking, kayaking and working in her native garden. A member of GNPA, she is based in Atlanta and lives with her partner Bill and their two dogs, Frank and Susan.