Nikon Americas USA

105ArticlesRemaining

4.8 Rating
A Light in the Forest

Rod Planck on photographing critters in the field with a Speedlight

Advanced

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.5 Rating
10 Tips for Shooting Autumn Foliage

Nature photographer Rod Planck offers tips for shooting colorful fall foliage

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.6 Rating
Panoramas

Simple Steps to Big Pictures

Advanced

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.8 Rating
Repeating Flash Lighting Technique

Joe McNally uses the technique of repeating flash to capture the grace of balletic…

Advanced

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.5 Rating
Six Steps to Lighting Magic with Joe McNally

Follow lighting expert Joe McNally's instructions for easy flash photography…

Beginner

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.5 Rating
Photography Lighting Tutorial Part 1 - Control of Color

Go on location with Joe McNally for a video tutorial on lighting…

Advanced

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.4 Rating
Flash Points: The Control of Light

Color temperature, rear sync, slow sync: Three key elements in flash photography.

Advanced

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.4 Rating
Photography Lighting Tutorial Part 2 - Control of Color

Go on location with Joe McNally for a video tutorial on lighting…

Advanced

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.7 Rating
Speedlight Tutorial: Artificial Sunlight Technique

David Tejada uses Speedlights to add a late afternoon look to a scene

NEW
Read
Viewing
3.9 Rating
Exposure Compensation When Using i-TTL Gets Easier with the D4/D4s

Exposure compensation and flash compensation can be…

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.7 Rating
Speedlight Tutorial: Bounce Technique

David Tejada uses Speedlights wirelessly for pleasing portrait illumination

NEW
Read
Viewing
3.5 Rating
VR Image Stabilization

VR image stabilization technology detects vertical and horizontal movement and offsets it by…

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.7 Rating
Using Auto FP High-Speed Sync to Illuminate Fast Sports Action

Dave Black on using high-speed flash sync for sports…

Advanced

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.4 Rating
Quick Tips for Taking Better Portraits

Suggested Lens choices, exposure settings and focus modes

Beginner

NEW
Read
Viewing
0.0 Rating

Be the first to rate

20 Tips for Great Graduation Day Photos

Tips for taking great photos of your young graduate on their big day

Beginner

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.0 Rating
Moving Pictures: Riding the Rails

Riding the Rails for Smooth Moves

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.3 Rating
Exposure Bracketing: The Creative Insurance Policy

Get creative with your photography by using this age-old technique.

Advanced

NEW
Read
Viewing
3.4 Rating
Elements of Photography

Ideal class for those who want to take great D-SLR photos

NEW
Read
Viewing
3.1 Rating
Taking Pictures at Dusk and at Night

How do I take pictures at dusk and at night?

Advanced

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.4 Rating
Zoo and Wildlife Photography

Spend a day at the zoo with wildlife photographer Julie Larsen Maher

Beginner

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.0 Rating
Photograph Family and Friends During the Holidays

The holidays are prime picture-taking time. Get some great tips on…

Beginner

NEW
Read
Viewing
3.6 Rating
Setting White Balance

How do I set my camera’s white balance for different lighting situations?

Beginner

NEW
Read
Viewing
5.0 Rating
Sports Shooter Academy Workshop

Sports Shooter Academy gives you the opportunity to work with pros in a hands-on…

NEW
Read
Viewing
3.8 Rating
Summit Series of Photography Workshops

Come to the Summit for the ultimate workshop experience in all areas of…

Advanced

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.9 Rating
Tips from a Model Turned Professional Photographer

See how photographer Nancy Brown turned a 20-year modeling career in…

NEW
Read
Viewing
5.0 Rating
Bill Coleman: A Long Term Photo Project

Whether shooting the Amish of Pennsylvania or the landscapes of Maine or Italy,…

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.6 Rating
Underwater Photography

Tips for getting started shooting underwater with David Doubilet

NEW
Read
Viewing
0.0 Rating

Be the first to rate

Speaking For Themselves: The Veterans Portrait Project

The power of portraits

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.3 Rating
Which NIKKOR Lens Type is Right for Your DSLR?

Learn what the different types of NIKKOR lenses are and which ones will…

NEW
Read
Viewing
3.1 Rating
Shooting Wirelessly with Nikon Digital Cameras and Wi-Fi Adapters

Enjoy wireless transfer of images with Wi-Fi compatible…

Beginner

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.3 Rating
Balancing Photo Exposures with Nikon's Active D-Lighting

Bring light to the shadows with Nikon's Active D-Lighting

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.1 Rating
Image Overlay: Combining Images Together In-Camera

Image Overlay lets you combine multiple images together in-camera

Advanced

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.4 Rating
Understanding Focal Length

Focal length, usually represented in millimeters (mm), is the basic description of a…

Beginner

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.3 Rating
Marketplace: Step by Step

Taking it easy with the D3200

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.4 Rating
How to Choose Your Next DSLR Lens

What to look for when choosing your next lens for your DSLR

Beginner

NEW
Read
Viewing
3.6 Rating
Learning How to Use Your Camera's Histogram

The histogram is a useful tool that analyzes tonal range and helps in…

Advanced

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.4 Rating
How to Read Your Camera Manual

Your camera manual, it's not a novel, so don't try reading it cover to cover.

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.4 Rating
Summer Lyn: Photographing Babies, Toddlers & Kids

Careful planning or just being lucky—both can work in your favor.

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.3 Rating
Walkabout

Take a photo walk with Nikon pro Lindsay Silverman.

NEW
Read
Viewing
5.0 Rating
Caring for your Nikon 1 AW1 Waterproof Camera

Care and maintence for the Nikon 1 AW1

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.8 Rating
Caring for your Nikon 1 Waterproof Housing

Regular maintenence and care of the WP-N1/WP-N2/WP-N3 will ensure its…

NEW
Read
Viewing
3.8 Rating
You’re the Guest: How to Capture Unique Photos at a Wedding

Abby Liga discusses getting great photos when you're a…

NEW
Read
Viewing
0.0 Rating

Be the first to rate

Destination Asia: A Showcase for the Storytelling Power of Travel Images

Travel shooter Blaine Harrington offers tips for…

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.2 Rating
Shooting a Rock Concert

Whether you're taking photos at a major rock concert or at your child's school performance, these…

NEW
Read
Viewing
0.0 Rating

Be the first to rate

Miles of Aisles

Kevin Kubota establishes his clients' comfort level before the wedding, so that on the big day they will…

NEW
Read
Viewing
5.0 Rating
Mentor Trekking in Costa Rica with Bill Durrence

A Mentor Series instructor leads a group of photo trekkers through the…

NEW
Read
Viewing
3.9 Rating
The Importance of Quality Audio Capture

Simple tips for photographers shooting HD video with Nikon D-SLRs.

NEW
Read
Viewing
4.3 Rating
Shooting Wirelessly with Nikon’s WR-1 Wireless Remote Controller System

Learn how easy it is to shoot wirelessly with the…

NEW
Read
Viewing

A Light in the Forest

Tips for close-up critter flash photography in the field

Let's take a walk in the woods. Bring your Nikon D-SLR, a lens (or two), your Speedlight and a tripod. We'll be pursuing images of creatures small and quick, and chances are pretty good we're going to come back with some cool pictures. But because our subjects aren't as easy to photograph as, say, woodland landscapes or close-up details, we're going to need, in addition to the aforementioned gear, some clever strategies and a little patience.  

That's essentially the invitation offered to workshop students by natural history photographer Rod Planck, who recently talked with us about the skills and techniques he uses to make the kind of photographs you see here.

Why use flash? Because in the forest environment, it's often necessary to fill in shadows and reveal details. And, as we'll talk about further on, flash can be an effective way to freeze quick-moving critters in their tracks or their flight.

Ready? Let's go.

The Glass. For close-up photography of small critters you're thinking Micro-NIKKOR, and you're right, but while Rod uses the longest Micro-NIKKOR available, the AF Micro-NIKKOR 200mm f/4D IF-ED, he also shoots with an AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/4D IF-ED fitted with an AF-S Teleconverter TC-14E II. It's a combo that gives him a focal length of 420mm for a very nice reach at a very comfortable working distance. "It always helps to be farther away," Rod says. "The difference between being six feet from a butterfly and two feet is enormous. A butterfly is not worried about things six feet away; at that distance, you're not in its world."

The Camera. Rod often prefers to shoot these types of images with DX body Nikon D-SLRs, like his D300, D300S and D7000, because of their sensors' 1.5 magnification factor. (With that factor and a 1.4 teleconverter, Rod points out that you can also get great results with an AF-S VR Zoom-NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G IF-ED or an AF-S VR Zoom-NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED.)

The Tripod. You know the drill: strong, steady, solid; extend the legs, never the center column; perhaps one with a bubble level to keep your horizons (and maybe even your subjects) straight.

The Flash. Rod's forest critter close-ups are single Speedlight photos, and for the images here the Speedlight was either an SB-900 or SB-910, which was connected to the camera by a Nikon SC-17 sync cord (the current equivalents are the SC-28 and SC-29) and mounted to a bracket that positioned it above the lens. The bracket can be attached to the camera at the tripod socket or to NIKKOR lenses, like the 200mm Micro-NIKKOR and the 300mm f/4D, that have tripod collars. Here's what his typical setup looks like:

The Ways and Means

Rod likes to use manual focus when he's using an AF NIKKOR (these lenses don't have a built-in focus motor)—like the 200mm Micro-NIKKOR. With AF-S lenses, like the 300mm f/4D (and the AF-S VR Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED he just started using in combination with an AF-S Teleconverter TC-20E III), autofocus is, he says, "lightning fast." He favors single servo AF and puts an AF focus sensor point on the eye of the critter.

Although he's using one flash, he's dealing with two light sources: the Speedlight and the scene's ambient light. "The first thing I do is determine if the ambient light is the main light or the fill light," Rod says. "Whichever one it is, the flash becomes the other source."

He'll then set his exposure by adjusting f/stop, shutter speed and ISO to work with those light sources and their role in the image. He'll generally set ISO at 100, 200 or 400. There's usually no need for higher settings.

Rod will choose either full TTL (Through-The-Lens) operation of the flash or set his Speedlight for fill flash. In full TTL mode the camera and the Speedlight, working together automatically, will read the ambient light and fire a flash exposure suitable to the scene.

Basically, TTL means full auto operation, and Rod will use it when he wants the Speedlight to provide the scene's main light. "When I use full TTL, I'm considering the scene's ambient light the fill light," he says. "I'm looking for a balanced lighting effect where the flash is the main source of light, while the ambient natural light fills in the scene." When he's shooting full TTL flash, he generally sets his exposures manually and uses the camera's exposure compensation if necessary.

There's one more setting that can play an important part in flash photography of small forest creatures when you're shooting in full TTL mode. Under "Bracketing and Flash" in the Custom Function menu of select Nikon D-SLRs, you'll find settings for flash sync speed. "If you set the option for Auto FP High Speed Sync, you'll be able to shoot fill flash above the camera's normal sync speed." And you might want to do that to have the flash help freeze your subject, as we mentioned earlier.

For times when the ambient light is strong and all he needs the flash to do is fill in the shadows or balance the lighting, he'll use fill flash—which means he controls the output power of the flash by using flash compensation to increase or decrease the Speedlight's output in 1/3 stop increments. (Check your Speedlight's manual for details on accessing this compensation setting as well as full TTL mode.)

Rod suggests that a good starting point for fill flash compensation is a -1.7 setting. "That's like training wheels for fill flash," he says. "The flash goes off at 1-2/3 steps 'weaker' than the auto flash exposure calls for. Then you look at the shadows on the LCD playback of the photo. If they're still too dark, try -1/3 or -1 stop." When he uses fill flash, Rod sets the camera for aperture-priority exposure and handles all compensation via the fill flash compensation setting.

Add to these guidelines a degree of patience. "I don't place the subjects," Rod says. "I photograph them where they are, in their natural state in the natural world, and that's why this type of photography comes with a high frustration factor. That green damselfly [above photo 3] was darting everywhere; it took me an hour to get that shot. But I don't want these images to be just illustrations. I'm trying to put in as much poetry as possible."

Welcome to
Nikon Learn & Explore

We've made it easy to find all the videos, tutorials &
stories you care about, get tips and advice from pros,
learn new shooting techniques, discover classes and
workshops—in short, help you find new inspiration
every time you visit. (And we hope you visit often.)

Get the Learn & Explore iPhone App

Access all the photography techniques, advice and inspiration of Nikon's Learn & Explore anytime, anywhere with the free app for iPhone®, iPod touch® and iPad®.
photo of two iPhones with the Nikon L&E app on the screens

Take Today's Poll

Make your opinion count and check back often to participate in new polls.

Attend Nikon School

Take your photographic knowledge to the next level; get a working understanding of your camera's features; learn how to create DSLR videos; discover how to edit your images using Capture NX2 software and more.

Nikon School logo and Brian Skerry underwater photo of fish on a reef

Subscribe to the
L&E e-Newsletter

And get great tips and techniques to try next time you go shooting!

L&E e-newsletter examples graphic

Learn photo & video terms!

Learn & Explore features an expansive glossary of over 800 photographic terms. Visit the L&E glossary to learn about specific Nikon camera features or more general photographic or video terms and definitions. Browse the glossary by letter, number or icon.
glossary graphic