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Better Beamer

Success — In a Flash

Most photographers understand the benefits of using fill flash under harsh lighting conditions. Most modern cameras using either built-in flash heads or custom designed external units are capable of doing daylight balanced fill-flash.  These are are very convenient, simple to use, and can provide a high percentage of successful images.

White Faced Monkey #2 — Costa Rica, 2001

Photographed with a Canon EOS D30 and 100~400mm f/5.6L lens @ 260mm
1/30 sec @ f/6.7 — ISO 400 using Canon 550EX flash @ -1.5 with
Better Beamer Flash Extender

For many forms of wildlife, and in particular birds, fill-flash is frequently needed but difficult to accomplish. Such photography is typically done with long lenses — usually between 300mm and 600mm in focal length. Even the larger external flash units run out of steam beyond about 50 ft (15 meters) because their light is being dispersed over too broad an area.

This has lead to the recent development of several different devices whose purpose is to concentrate the light output of a flash head so that it has a greater reach. My research turned up what I regard as the best of these, Walt Anderson's  Better Beamer available from Art Morris’ Birds as Art web site. Art is one of the world's preeminent bird photographers.

Dark Monkey — Costa Rica, 2001

This frame shows the nature of the problem. Neither film nor imaging chip can handle the exposure range. If you manually open up by a couple of stops you'll properly expose the monkey, but will burn out the sky. Fill-flash solves the problem.

Beam Me Up Scotty

On a trip to photograph birds and other tropical wildlife at an eco-lodge in southwestern Costa Rica in February, 2001 I used this device for the first time with excellent results. You'll find numerous other photographs there and on linked pages that used the Better Beamer

Photos © 2001 Kevin Ferry

Part of the reason for the success of this device is that it's a no-brainer to carry along. Unlike competing models, it folds completely flat and weighs almost nothing. At less than $40 it also is inexpensive enough to experiment with freely.

The two photographs above show the Better Beamer being used together with a Canon EOS D30, 100~400mm f/5.6L lens and 550EX flash. The diagram below illustrates the three components — the fresnel lens, side supports and Velcro attachment band.

Illustration © Birds As Art

It's claimed that the device can effectively add 2 stops worth of "reach". I haven't measured it but I did find the flash to be effective in E-TTL daylight fill-flash mode out to at least 100 feet.

Sloth #1 — Costa Rica, 2001 

Photographed with a Canon EOS D30 and 100~400mm f/5.6L lens @ 400mm
1/80 sec @ f/11 — ISO 200 using Canon 550EX flash @ -1.5 with
Better Beamer Flash Extender

One of the challenges of shooting in the jungle is the huge contrast range. This Two-Toed Sloth at the top of a very tall tree presents a classic problem. Expose for sunlight areas and the shadows will go murky. Expose for the shadows and the highlights will burn out. The use of fill flash, as seen here, opens up the shadows without the appearance that flash was used.

I found that a -1.5 stop ratio between the flash and the camera's basic exposure provided enough fill to lighten shadows but without a fill-flash "look". Also, when shooting upward into bright skies I often adjusted the camera's meter to -1 stop as well, to prevent burn-out.

Humming Right Along

Hummingbird #1 — Costa Rica, 2001

Photographed with a Canon EOS D30 and 100~400mm f/5.6L lens @ 400mm
1/200 sec @ f/6.7 — ISO 200 using Canon 550EX flash @ -0.5 with
Better Beamer Flash Extender

This photograph illustrates how inconspicuous yet effective extended fill flash can be. One hardly notices that it's there, with the exception that the hummingbird's wings have been slightly frozen, and the iridescence of its body is nicely illuminated.

In both this frame and the one above of the White Faced Monkey you'll notice in the enlarged views that a catch light is just visible in the hummingbird's and monkey's eyes. This is vitally important to adding life a large print. Many photographers fake it in Photoshop, but as with all such effects it's better if you can get the real thing.

The Better Beamer as well as other products of interest to wildlife photographers are available though

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Concepts: Costa Rica, Camera, Light, Flash, Photography, Lens, Fill flash, Canon EOS D30

Entities: Canon, Costa Rica, Costa Rica, sec, Michael Reichmann, Walt Anderson, Art Morris

Tags: flash, Better Beamer, Canon EOS D30, White Faced Monkey, fill-flash, flash head, Costa Rica, photograph, Beamer Flash Extender, Canon 550EX flash, built-in flash heads, larger external flash, daylight fill-flash mode, Most modern cameras, harsh lighting conditions, preeminent bird photographers, southwestern costa rica, Velcro attachment band, huge contrast range, Art web site, Most photographers, wildlife, high percentage, particular birds, Many photographers, successful images, external units, Two-Toed Sloth, Such photography, fresnel lens, long lenses, focal length, greater reach, sunlight areas, light output, different devices, -1 stop, enlarged views, exposure range, wildlife photographers