Reducing shadows/off camera flash?

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Reducing shadows/off camera flash?

Post by ThatFrogGuy »

Hi all,

For the past two years I've been using my Canon Rebel T3 and loving it, however recently I've grown unhappy with the large dark shadows I almost always get under the head of the subjects. Using an on-board flash I know this is to be expected, and I've experimented a little using diffusors and reflectors, however I'm still not quite sure I've reduced them sufficiently. I am thinking about investing in an off-camera flash, with a budget of ~$500.

Here's a couple of photos that demonstrate the shadows.
ImageCave Salamander (Eurycea lucifiga) by Zach Truelock, on Flickr

ImageRinged Salamander (Ambystoma annulatum) by Zach Truelock, on Flickr

ImagePlains Leopard Frog (Rana blairi) by Zach Truelock, on Flickr


ImageRacer (Coluber constrictor) by Zach Truelock, on Flickr

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Re: Reducing shadows/off camera flash?

Post by chrish »


There are a couple of ways to get rid of that shadowing. You can move the flash to move the shadow to somewhere you don't mind as much, or you have to find a way to have a second light source. That could be a second flash or simply a reflector.

For reflectors, I have seen photographers use a piece of white paper, index cards, or collapsible reflective disks. These have the advantage of being lightweight, easy to come by and easy to use in the field. You can simply hold the reflector at such an angle that it will bounce the light of the flash into the shadows. There are also clip on reflectors that will screw onto the front a lens and hold a small reflector at the right angle for you. You do have to experiment with the angles at first, but with practice, you can get it right the first time. You can start doing this without buying any new gear - just get a white index card and hold it at the right spot. The bigger the reflector is, the better it will work of course. There is lots of good and creative info online about using reflectors.

An off camera flash held at the correct angle (and with a diffuser) can help a lot, but it is a bit cumbersome to manipulate the flash and the camera and the animal. There are brackets to hold the flash for you but they suffer from the fact that repositioning the flash isn't easy in the field at night.

Of course, having two light sources (or a really large light source) can also have the same effect. But this is more expensive and tricker to manipulate in the field.

This is the reason a lot of people like "macro" flash units because they allow you to light from both sides at once. I just posted a review of an "affordable" twin flash unit (viewtopic.php?f=15&t=20719) that is worth considering IMHO.

I also highly recommend looking at some of the setups described in Kurt's (orionmystery) blog - There are some really creative ideas on that blog as well as fantastic photos.

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Re: Reducing shadows/off camera flash?

Post by speedy »

Hi Zach,

I did have the same camera as you (I think,600D?). I use two Yongnuo 565ex ii flashes, they were about $120 Australian each. These are then mounted on to a Manfrotto 330B flash bracket. This works really well and I found the rebel controls the ettl better than my new 6D. You could probably get this setup or similar for around the $300 mark. For shiny things like frogs I use a few diffusers to limit getting bright spots.

With the old 600D.

ImageZigzag Velvet Gecko by R. Francis, on Flickr

With the new 6D. I had to buy a canon 90ex ($90au) to trigger the external flashes as canon never put a trigger in the 6D, not an issue with any Canons with a built in flash.

ImageEastern Beaked Gecko by R. Francis, on Flickr

Cheers Ryan

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Re: Reducing shadows/off camera flash?

Post by umop apisdn »

I have created several cheap DIY designs for use with a Canon speedlite 430ex ii. Find the old style isopropyl alcohol or acetone bottles, cut the top off, and they fit right over the end of the flash. Either buy an off-shoe cord or invest in a wireless flash trigger. You can make a ring flash diffuser or a regular diffuser without too much effort. You can also make a giant omni-directional diffuser by simply inserting the bottom of the bottle into a gallon water jug. Minus the epoxy to hold the two together, the alcohol bottle and water jug should only cost about $2-3.


After all I've played with DIY lighting, I found I grew tired of the near complete disappearance of shadow by use of twin-lite style lighting. At least with small macro subjects, making a large enough diffuser usually softens the shadow considerably, while still allowing some shadow for a sense of depth and texture.

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