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[Part 7] Quick Outdoor Flash Techniques for Shooting Flowers and Insects

Beautiful flowers in full bloom and the insects they attract are captivating subjects that can be surprisingly photogenic. Since this mainly involves outdoor photography, you might want to master the use of a flash. In this article, I will introduce some flash techniques that you can use in outdoor photography, when shooting dimly-lit scenes or in backlight conditions. (Reported by: Akira Ozono/ Yoshichika Ishii)

[1] Use a built-in flash to capture the brilliance of the sun and the flowers in the same image

EOS 60D/ EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM/ FL: 10mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/22, 1/250 sec, EV-3)/ ISO 100/ WB: Daylight (Photo by: Yoshichika Ishii)

With the large sunflowers as the main subject, I narrowed the aperture and took this shot with a composition that fully utilised the brilliance of the sun. However, the brilliance could not be captured unless the brightness of the sky was lowered and the under exposed. Since the sunflowers would end up becoming no more than silhouettes if photographed in this state, I used a built-in flash to capture the sunflowers brightly. I adjusted the framing so that the light from the flash was not blocked by the lens hood and created a space above of the sunflowers to bring out the expanse of the sky in the picture.

In order to use the flash as the main light source for the sunflowers, I customised the settings and fixed the shutter speed at 1/250 sec. I also set the flash exposure compensation to EV+3 because the built-in flash has a low light intensity. Consequently, I managed to take a vivid photo that could not be achieved with natural light alone.

A built-in flash can be extremely useful even in outdoor photography. You might want to fully understand what it is capable of.

On the EOS, when you narrow the aperture and use a flash in aperture-priority AE mode, the camera automatically sets a slow sync speed, which causes the background to be captured brightly as well. This is why you should use the custom settings and fix the flash alignment speed at 1/250 sec. Then set the shooting mode to Manual, the shutter speed to 1/250 sec, and adjust the aperture to the appropriate f-number.

You can also adjust the intensity of the flash in the custom settings. Flash exposure compensation will not be cancelled even if you turn off the power supply. Since this may also result in unexpected failures, return the setting to its default value after shooting.

[2] Shoot insects brightly in low-light conditions with light from a diffuser

EOS 5D Mark II/ EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM/ Aperture-priority AE(f/7.1, 1/125 sec)/ ISO 500 /WB: Auto (Photo by: Akira Ozono)

Rhinoceros beetles live in dim environments, often with bright sunlight shining in the background. As a result, there is usually a great difference in brightness within the same scene when shooting such insects. However, by using a flash as a supplementary light source as in this picture, you can make the overall image look brighter.

After adjusting the exposure to suit the bright background, weak light from a compact, clip-on flash was directed at the rhinoceros beetles through a diffuser.

A diffuser, which disperses light to achieve a softening effect, is used by attaching it to the flash head. The photo was taken with the Speedlite 430EX-RT. Using the bundled bounce adapter will give you the same effect as that from a diffuser.

Speedlite 430EX III-RT

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EOS 7D/ EF100mm f/2.8L Marco IS USM/ Aperture-priority AE(f/7.1, 1/80 sec, EV+0.3)/ ISO 500/ WB: Daylight (Photo by: Akira Ozono)

Jewel beetles have a lovely characteristic lustre. However, such vivid colours that are visible to the naked eye cannot be captured in the shade with just natural light. Neither will they be reproduced well using the artificial light emitted by a camera flash alone. As a result, I mixed both natural light and light from a camera flash in my shots.

Using natural light as the main light source, light from a built-in flash was directed at the shadow areas on the beetle’s body through a diffuser. The diffuser scatters the light coming from multiple directions, allowing the structural colours of the jewel beetle to be captured and reproduced.

Some diffusers can also connect to a built-in flash head, allowing light to be dispersed and softened.

[3] With a built-in flash, both the main and secondary subjects can be captured vividly

EOS 60D/ EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM/ FL: 15mm/ Aperture-priority AE(f/16, 1/80 sec, EV-1)/ ISO 100/ WB: Daylight (Photo by: Yoshichika Ishii)

I wanted to capture the camellia flowers blooming in the sunshine as well as the golden gingko tree sparkling in the background. However, as the difference in exposure between the foreground and background was large, when the exposure was adjusted to suit the camellia (main subject), the gingko tree (secondary subject) became overexposed. Therefore, I captured both subjects using a built-in flash. By tilting the overall picture a little, I made the picture look livelier.

To make it look as though a reflector plate was being used, I used a built-in flash was used as a supplementary light source. I underexposed the shot and didn't carry out flash exposure compensation in order to fully bring out the contrast between the blue sky and the gingko tree. The shutter speed was also left as Auto. The fact that you can illuminate a particular spot on the subject due to the built-in flash's narrow flash angle is also an advantage.

In this photo, the light of the flash is vignetted due to the lens and lens hood, casting shadows on the flowers. You will want to take note of this when using a built-in flash.

[4] Capture a dragonfly mid-flight with the Macro Twin Lite

EOS 7D/ EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM/ FL: 10mm/ Manual Exposure (f/8, 1/15 sec)/ ISO 250/ WB: Auto (Photo by: Akira Ozono)

Using a wide-angle lens, I captured a close-up shot of this jumbo dragonfly coming to spawn at a brook in the shade together with the surrounding environment. A dragonfly doesn’t move much when spawning, which makes this the perfect time to catch a photo of it. If you know roughly where it is headed, you can set up your flash beforehand and wait for a photo opportunity to come by.

The movements of the dragonfly are captured at point-blank range with a Macro Twin Lite. Since the background tends to get dark easily in close-up photography, a flash mounted on a mini tripod mount was placed near the edge to brighten the background a little without the flash getting into the picture itself. I also considered the balance between the dragonfly and background when setting the light intensity.

Macro Twin Lite MT-24EX. It can spread light around the entire subject to create a lighting effect when shooting small subjects such as insects. It is a multi-functional model equipped with a wireless, multi-light control as well as other functions.

Macro Twin Lite MT-24EX

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Akira Ozono

Born in Osaka in 1976, he is an insect photographer who has been taking pictures of insects and nature since he was young. Besides shooting insects in various regions, he has been photographing wildlife on the Bonin Islands which were designated a world natural heritage site.

Yoshichika Ishii

Born in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture in 1967. After working in a photo studio, he became a nature photographer in 2000.


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A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.

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